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May 20, 2020
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Global corporate campaigning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, part 4

People gather at a "Our Water, Our Right" rally in Lagos.

Welcome to a special blog series by Executive Director Patti Lynn, exploring the meaning and importance of taking on corporate power in this moment. Previous posts include Corporate campaigning during the COVID-19 pandemic part 1, part 2, and part 3.

There has been a myriad of global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of this response demonstrates the resilience, creativity, and power of justice organizing and grassroots movements around the world, particularly those led by Black and Indigenous people and people of color.

Previously in this series, I explored how corporate campaigning, at its core, is about transforming the brutal, racist economic systems that are being laid bare by this crisis. Much of this campaigning and mobilization of grassroots power on this front is happening internationally.

It’s easy and natural to turn inward in a time of crisis. And yet this moment, perhaps more than any other we have lived through, asks us to hold a global perspective. We must act together to strive toward the vision we hold: one of global justice, racial and economic equity, and a beautiful life for all.

This post highlights some of this work.

Global dispatches from board members

Corporate Accountability board members Bobby Ramakant, based in Lucknow, India, and Akinbode (Bode) Oluwafemi, based in Lagos, Nigeria, are veteran global corporate campaigners. (Incidentally, both were instrumental in ensuring the WHO’s global tobacco treaty included strong corporate accountability measures and put public health above trade and corporate profit.)

I asked Bobby and Bode, both currently in lockdown, to tell us about the grassroots organizing and progress toward transformation that they’ve been part of or are following in their respective countries.

From Bobby Ramakant, Director for Policy and Communications, Citizen News Service (CNS):

Reclaiming public health care

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, five states in India have realized the inability of the private health industry to respond adequately in this crisis. They invoked an old law, The Epidemics Act, 1897, and took all private health services and staff under government control. This move comes after years of the health justice movement and several people’s movements and groups in India calling for nationalizing all private health and private education services.

Implementing worker rights

Paid sick leave, paid salary for work from home, paid leave for those who cannot work from home, and other measures are a reality now in India to some extent in the face of the pandemic. These rights have been long-standing demands, and grassroots organizing forced the government to implement these measures in this moment. However, currently those who work with no contracts are not similarly protected.

Medication for people living with HIV

During the lockdown, people living with HIV in India have to show their care and treatment record in order to leave their house to collect their lifesaving antiretroviral therapy medicine. This violates confidentiality laws, and even then they are often not able to go. HIV network organizing and lobbying won the ability for volunteers to get special passes to home-deliver the medicine. To date, 45,000 have received medicine in this way. However, there are 1.4 million people on antitretrovirals, so imagine how many more are having to go without or having their privacy violated.

Challenges

We must stay vigilant so that the successes we’ve forced from the government so far don’t get reversed when the crisis passes. In addition, some of the successes mentioned above and others are not without problems around corruption and inequity due to caste, class, religion, gender, etc. Sex workers and transgender people are particularly excluded from these wins, for example. CNS continues to organize and advocate for equity and protection for all by demanding nationalization of all private health sectors in the country–the most important political corrective step governments can take in the wake of the public health emergency.

From Bode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation, Africa:

Resisting corporate health-washing

In Nigeria,  British American Tobacco (BAT) tried to give COVID -19 response donations to government. This is particularly outrageous because people who smoke and have respiratory illness because of smoking are particularly vulnerable to the disease. We successfully pushed back this blatant attempt to make publicity gains from the pandemic by an industry whose products kill millions of people every year.

Organizing for water access

We have also used the crisis to expand solidarity around water access and control. Because of the centrality of water in the COVID-19 response as well as our organizing with our labor allies, more voices are strongly calling on the Nigerian government to reject privatization for publicly controlled, accessible clean water.

And, the pandemic notwithstanding, we continue to work towards African regional organizing on water privatization. We are launching activities with organizers and labor activists from 10 African countries toward a regional strategizing session in the summer.

Global organizing and policy wins

For other examples of global organizing in this time, check out reports from U.S.-based organizations that fund global grassroots movements, such as Grassroots International and Thousand Currents. They highlight the brilliance and creativity of people around the world and especially in the Global South to organize and respond to the pandemic as it intersects with the many other factors they contend with on a daily basis.

More international policies and practical wins can be found in this article from allied organization Transnational Institute, including  how technology and knowledge can be and are used for the public good rather than private profit, and how “[s]olidarity shown by Chinese and Cuban doctors offering help to Italian doctors shows the power of transnational solidarity compared to the efforts of Trump to secure the  vaccine for Americans only.”

A vision for a “new normal” from the climate justice movement

As in the climate crisis, those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic are Black and Indigenous people, people of color, and communities in the Global South. For these communities, the pandemic crisis is compounded also by food shortages, the climate crisis, and other impacts of the racist and brutal economic systems under which we live.

In response, more than 150 organizations representing climate and social justice movements from around the world have developed a vision and a set of demands for a new course forward: “A new normal.” As a member organization of Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, Corporate Accountability is partnering with frontline communities to amplify and uplift this vision and demands, which include the following:

“It is clear now that we need a response of solidarity, equity and care, with massive public investment that puts people and planet first, not polluting industries and profiteers. Just recoveries and global and national new deals to build a regenerative, distributive and resilient economy are both necessary and increasingly politically feasible.

“The pandemic has changed the game. We have the resources to build an economic model that doesn’t trash the planet and provides for all. We have the momentum to recover from this crisis in a way that builds our resilience and fortifies our dignity as societies. Now is our time to claim it.

“As members of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, we demand a bold response to the COVID-19 pandemic that simultaneously helps address the wider climate crisis and transform the unequal economic system that has led to both.”

We are currently organizing Congress to take concrete steps that prioritize the communities most impacted in the U.S. and the Global South. You can take action toward that end here.

The only just response to this global pandemic is a global and racially equitable one. And, as these examples show, people around the world are coming together in exciting ways to create transformative change.

Photo credit: Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

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