Multinational Monitor

JAN/FEB 2004
VOL 25 No. 1


U’wa Overcome Oxy: How a Small Colombian Indigenous Group and Global Solidarity Movement Defeated an Oil Giant, and the Struggle Ahead
by Atossa Soltani and Kevin Koenig

Controlling Big Tobacco: The Winning Campaign for a Global Tobacco Treaty
by Anna White

Out of Burma: Grassroots Activism Forces Multinationals to End Ties with the Burmese Dictatorship
by Jeff Shaw

Dousing the Flames: Communities Unite Globally to Lock Out the Incinerator Industry
by Monica Wilson

Working to Keep Antibiotics Working: Can the Superbugs Be Stopped?
by Julie Light

Taming the Banking Predators
by Jake Lewis


Taking on Sprawl-Mart: Sprawl-Busting, Community by Community
an Interview with Al Norman

Running Over Citi: Banking Goliath Citigroup Agrees to Environmental Screens
an Interview with Ilyse Hogue


Behind the Lines

Lessons From Winning Campaigns

The Front
Canada Peddling Nuclear - The Sugar Fix

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Book Notes

Names In the News



Lessons From Winning Campaigns

As bad as things are, there is hope.

As powerful as corporations are, they can be defeated and controlled.

As rare as prospects for global justice may sometimes seem, it is attainable.

These are the central messages of this issue of Multinational Monitor, which focuses not on corporate abuses, but on successful citizen campaigns to contain and remedy them.

The diverse campaigns profiled in this issue suggest a number of lessons for successful campaigning to restrain corporate power.

First, there is no single approach that will guarantee success in taking on corporations. There is no magic bullet in corporate campaigning. Campaigners have to be strategic minded and flexible.

Second, citizens seeking to redress corporate wrongs should be prepared to employ multiple tools. Sometimes, a biting exposÈ by itself can change corporate practices, or a lawsuit on its own can win a major victory. But those cases are the exception, and it is a mistake to rely on one tool alone. Better to follow the example of the Rainforest Action Network in its campaign against Citigroup. "Any tool that was in our toolbox, that fit within the parameters of nonviolent advocacy, we used," explains Ilyse Hogue in an interview in this issue.

Third, citizen groups are wise to follow the corporate model of forum shifting, choosing the venue where they have the most leverage. Often, the strongest power lies in national legislation. But, in the United States and elsewhere, the national legislature may be too firmly in the grip of corporate control. Citizens typically have more leverage at the local level, as Monica Wilson, Jake Lewis and Al Norman describe in this issue in separate discussions of campaigns against incinerators, predatory lending and the spread of Wal-Mart. Sometimes what can't be achieved nationally can be achieved in international fora, as Anna White explains in her story on the campaign for a tobacco control treaty.

Fourth, demands that cannot be won in the political arena can often successfully be posed to corporations directly. It was direct campaigning that drove Occidental Petroleum off the land of the U'wa in Colombia, demonstrate Atossa Soltani and Kevin Koenig. Before they were able to win a U.S. national ban on imports with Burma, campaigners were able to pressure companies to stop trading with the country, as Jeff Shaw reports. The new initiative to stop misuse of antibiotics on the farm is a long way from passing good legislation through Congress, reports Julie Light, but it is already beginning to win corporate commitments to stop serving meat and poultry produced with antibiotics.

Fifth, corporations care about their public profile, and they care about reputational harm. Campaigns that may tarnish expensively well-polished corporate reputations immediately obtain real leverage. But this asset for campaigners can be a weakness as well. Not all companies care about their public image. In particular, companies that don't sell on the retail market or don't rely on brand names, including commodity companies, are much less vulnerable to campaigns that work primarily to undermine a company's reputation. Unocal, the oil and gas company that continues to support the Burmese dictatorship but which no longer has a retail presence in the United States, is a case in point.

Six, campaigners will be most effective if they are creative in searching out different leverage points to influence harmful practices. The small, independent timber operations that are decimating Indonesian or Brazilian forests with illegal logging, for example, are nearly immune to public pressure. But the Rainforest Action Network has now extracted a commitment from Citigroup that it will certify that any forest products used in projects it is supporting (such as a pulp mill) come from legal logging operations.

Seventh, national and international solidarity efforts are essential. Together, people do retain power to control corporations, but success frequently requires uniting across borders. The campaign against Occidental's plans to drill for oil in the land of the U'wa, and the Free Burma movement, show what solidarity efforts can achieve.

Eighth, national and international networking is essential, so groups can share ideas, information and strategies with each other. This kind of cross-pollination facilitates collective learning and rising effectiveness, as groups benefit from each other's successes and failures. The campaigns against sprawl, for a tobacco control treaty and to stop incineration, among many others, all illustrate this point.

Ninth, long-term organizing and engagement in community affairs builds strength. ACORN's anti-predatory lending campaign feeds off of the credibility the organization has in the communities where it works. And its deep ties enable ACORN to generate information about predatory lending ó by tapping into the experience of its members and those in the communities where it works ó that others could not.

Finally, while top-down campaigns can sometimes succeed, the odds of success are much higher with grassroots empowerment and engagement. Genuine grassroots involvement will mean that organizing strategies may not unfold according to carefully developed plans in a central office ó but more often than not, the resulting diversity and unpredictability of activities will lead to a stronger, if slightly more chaotic, campaign.


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