Interviewing Aziz Choudry

ZNet: Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book is about? What is it trying to communicate?

“Effective Strategies In Confronting Transnational Corporations” is the product of a collaborative research project which I recently coordinated for the Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN). With a secretariat in Manila, APRN was set up in 1999 to develop cooperation among alternative research centres, NGOs and social movements in Asia and the Pacific in order to strengthen advocacy from the community up to the global level. It now has 33 members in 15 countries.

The project and this book arose from a need to conduct more evaluation, reflection, analysis and sharing of experiences, challenges, setbacks and success stories in the fight against transnational corporations (TNCs) in the Asia-Pacific region. It discusses how particular campaigns have been waged and specific strategies employed, in order to identify strategies and tactics that may be useful in confronting TNCs in different contexts.

There are five case studies, all written by organizations/organizers involved in the campaigns. I wrote a short overview/introduction on TNCs in the Asia-Pacific in an era of neoliberal globalization, and a concluding section which identifies some common themes, concerns and factors arising from the case studies.

The case studies include national, regional and global campaigns. The contributors/campaigns are:

a) PAN AP (Pesticides Action Network Asia-Pacific, Malaysia): analysis of PAN’s campaign to resist agrochemical TNCs in the Asia-Pacific region.

b) TIE-Asia (Transnationals Information Exchange – Asia) – an examination of strategies used by workers, unions and labour organisations in the campaign for the right to organise, form and join unions and collectively bargain in the Free Trade Zones of Sri Lanka.

c) Moses Havini, International Representative of the Bougainville People’s Congress: the long struggle of the Indigenous Peoples of Bougainville, a small island in the Pacific against the huge CRA/RTZ (Conzinc RioTinto Australia/Rio Tinto Zinc) copper mine at Panguna which culminated in the forced closure of the mine in 1989, a ten-year war and which paved the way to current moves towards independence for Bougainville.

d) IBON (Philippines): analysis of the 1997 campaign against oil TNCs in the Philippines and the mobilization of thousands of Filipinos against the IMF-backed, Philippine government-imposed deregulation of the oil industry.

e) Education and Research Association for Consumers, Malaysia (ERA Consumer Malaysia): a report on the campaign on baby-milk in Malaysia, which was part of a major international campaign against TNCs like Nestle which have been aggressively promoting infant milk formula, especially in the global South.

ZNet: Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

APRN holds annual conferences on different themes. In September 2001, we met in Sydney, Australia. The theme was “Corporate Power and People’s Power: Transnational Corporations and Globalization”. Many of APRN’s member organizations have long histories of researching, analyzing and confronting TNCs. The Sydney conference reinforced the urgent need for further research into the rich body of experience of people’s struggles in contesting various manifestations of corporate economic and political power.

As activists and researchers in movements, NGOs, trade unions, and communities of resistance, we are often very good at analyzing and exposing the role and impact of TNC operations. Or in talking about “corporate power” in a broader political and economic sense. What seems much harder is to prioritize evaluation of campaigns which we are involved in, and to find ways to articulate and to share our concrete experiences, successes, failures, tensions and understandings about our struggles with others.

In building transnational resistance to corporate capital, communities in very different countries are often confronting the same TNC(s). What can we learn from other struggles against the same enemy? This is an important part of the rationale behind this book.

The contributors of the case studies either volunteered, or were approached to write on specific campaigns against TNCs. The project took place between mid-2002 and mid-2003. I think it is fair to say that it was quite a challenge for all involved to analyze and articulate their concrete experiences of campaigns. Writing about what worked, what didn’t and why is not always so straightforward. But the results make very interesting reading. There’s also a resource list for further resources on campaigns against TNCs.

ZNet: What are your hopes for “Effective Strategies In Confronting Transnational Corporations”? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

The case studies in this book are important in their own right, but they represent just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many more stories to be told, just in the Asia-Pacific region, let alone the rest of the world. It is not meant to be a manual on how to wage a successful campaign against a transnational corporation as such, but I think there are some valuable lessons to be learnt from the cases. If the book is a resource that encourages others to reflect, analyze, evaluate, articulate and share their concrete experiences of struggles against TNCs, that would be a great outcome.

Finding time and space to do this can present real challenges even to seasoned campaigners, activists and communities in struggle. Nevertheless I think that it is imperative to do so if we are to build stronger, more effective campaigns and movements against corporate capitalism. That does not necessarily mean that we have to only write more books, articles or papers, but we do need to be serious about creating processes of self-evaluation into our organizing, struggles and campaigning.

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