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Editorial

Black Diwali: E-commerce eating away small retailers’ livelihood
 

This editorial complements the previous editorial from August 2019 where we highlighted the Indian government is facilitating the rapid expansion of two major international e-commerce conglomerates, Walmart (Flipkart) and Amazon. This expansion threatens millions of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), such as hawkers, small traders and retailers, kirana stores, mom & pop shops, whose sales and profit margins are squeezed further every day.

The use of e-commerce has accelerated in recent years, supported by the global digital revolution. Asia, led by China, has been playing a leading role, followed by other Asian economies like India and Indonesia which are experiencing strong growth rates in e-commerce sales- over 20 percent in 2017 alone. [1] Two studies by McKinsey in China and Indonesia show how e-commerce generates new consumption. In China, the study found that for every US$100 in Internet spending, close to 40 percent represents incremental new consumption, while the remaining 60 percent is diverted from traditional offline retail channels.[2]

During this year’s festival season from September-October, India witnessed a massive shift in consumers’ preference from offline retail to online to the extent that in several cities across India, small shop owners called this year's Diwali Hindu festival a "black" or "dark" Diwali. Pre-festival sales at small-offline retailers were at record lows, largely because of sales by online retail giants, like Amazon and Flipkart/Walmart, which offered deep discount sales.

About 30% of the total value of annual retail business occurs during India's long Diwali festive season. According to the Confederation of All India Traders, retail trade in India generates a yearly business of about US $634 billion, of which US$84.5 billion occurs during the Diwali season. But the 2019 Diwali was very different, as online retail sales like the Great Indian Festival, launched by Amazon, and the Big Billion Days, launched by Flipkart, diverted offline customers to online retail mainly through indulging in predatory pricing, deep discounts and other unfair business practices. The festival sales offered a bumper Diwali to these two digital market places with estimated sales of over US$3 billion in just six days.[3] To eliminate their offline competitors, the e-commerce giants introduced new features to tempt more customers such as same day doorstep-delivery, touch and feel before buying, easy return policies, cash back offers and options to pay in installments.

Due to these unscrupulous online retail practices, there was a huge decline in sales of offline retail. This is despite the efforts taken by the offline trading community to attract customers through posters, pamphlets and social media messages and slogans, saying “Boycott Online Shopping”, “Indian consumers should buy from Indian traders and not from foreign online retailers”, or “East India Company is back to loot Indians through Online Shopping”.

With the great slump in their business, offline retailers decided not to decorate their markets on this Diwali as a mark of protest against e-commerce companies' unethical business practices and their flouting of foreign direct investment (FDI) rules. The issue is one of life and death for millions of local neighborhood kirana stores who are the backbone of India’s retail trade. On November 20, the Confederation of All India Traders held massive protests against the e-commerce companies Amazon and Flipkart. The confederation also called on the 200or so Indian and foreign companies supplying goods to small retailers as well as to big online giants to offer one price to both because the dual pricing and discount policy of Corporate Retail & MNCs was causing great hardship to the brick and mortar traders.

It is a serious breach of fair market practices if these suppliers continue to offer huge discounts and exclusive products to e-commerce companies while keeping high prices for small retailers and kirana stores. The government of India needs to take this issue seriously to protect the interest of small retailers and kirana stores so that they don’t lose their livelihoods and don’t face the same fate of closing down their shops as is happening in other parts of the world due to the increasing market share of online retail.

In this last bulletin of 2019, we also want to highlight experiences from other region, where the livelihoods of small traders and the policies that favour multinationals are at the center of struggles in Chile and Senegal, and in Palestine, where efforts to bring back local foods to markets and dining tables is part of a struggle for autonomy in the midst of repressive occupation.

[1] Tidiane Kinda, “E-commerce as a potential new engine for growth in Asia”, IMF Working Paper, WP/19/135, July 2019, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/07/01/E-commerce-as-a-Potential-New-Engine-for-Growth-in-Asia-46950
[2] ibid.
[3] Retail Economic Times, “E-tailers set to celebrate Diwali worth Rs 35,000 crore”, October 2019, https://retail.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/e-commerce/e-tailing/e-tailers-set-to-celebrate-diwali-worth-rs-35000-crore/71741764

Across the region

Bring back heirloom produce to local market, an act of gaining back autonomy

Interview with Vivien Sansour from Palestine Heirloom Seed Library

 
GRAIN had the opportunity to speak with Vivien Sansour, founder of the Palestine heirloom seed library, a project to conserve and reintroduce local food crops to local farms and markets, which arose out of Vivien's desire to find some of the foods she used to eat as a child growing up but are now almost unrecognizable to the younger generation of Palestinians.

(GRAIN) Can you say a bit about yourself and why you established a heirloom seed library?
(Vivien Sansour – VS) I’m just an ordinary person who was born and grew up in Palestine and then migrated to the United States. When I returned to Palestine 10 years ago I tried to reconnect with the farmers and with the food I loved so much as a child but could no longer find.  So, I tried to bring them back to life and I started to collect and grow seeds and began sharing about it on social media, and slowly more and more people became interested. That’s when I started to have the idea to maked it on a bigger scale.

It was a process that took some time. I didn’t start with the intention to set up a seed library; everything that happened was like a grace of God.

My idea was that I definitely want to tell the story of the people-- the farmers and others who produce food on the land.  But I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening, how I was being immersed and called into doing something big. I was just following my own joy; it just came from that. I love plants, I love seeds, farmers, the land. You could say I just dare to follow what I love.

(GRAIN) What are some of the key factors behind the changes to food and agriculture in Palestine?
(VS) Since the Oslo agreement[1] happened some 20 years ago, which I think is the worst thing that happened to Palestine, there was an idea that it would bring peace and stability but instead it’s just been a way to destroy the infrastructure that had helped us to survive.

It brought the introduction of a lot of new method of food production, neoliberal policies and activities that quickly transform people from autonomous entities to dependent ones. In the name of so-called development we have more projects that left farmers in debt, that changed our agriculture from soil and sun based agriculture to greenhouse, chemical input agriculture. It has also transformed farmers to be more like workers who work in ever-expanding agribusiness in Israeli settlements that have taken over more and more of land that was once very diverse, where farms were doing a lot of intercropping. Today Israeli settlers subsidized by the Israeli government have taken a lot of land and transformed it into monocrop farming for big industry.

As well, of course, the suffering Palestinian farmers had their water sources diverted, which caused a lot of farms to become basically deserts. Like in the village of Auja in the Jordan Valley for example, this village used to be the bread basket for the West Bank because of the longer season it has to produce food and its access to water springs. But the farming community that was farming the land for generations was separated from these springs. The water is piped through their village but they can’t access it anymore. So many farmers really saw their farms being transformed into deserts.

One farmer that I know, Ahmad, he had this beautiful lush farm that he and his wife lived off and he showed me pictures of it, but when we visited there you can’t imagine that it was once a farm; it’s pure desert now. And he had to become a worker on the neighbouring farm owned by an Israeli settler which gets massive amounts of water to irrigate dates and other monocrops.

And of course land confiscation is another issue. A lot of farmers who’s lands have been confiscated no longer have a place to grow food. With the Oslo Accord and Paris Protocol,[2] the market has been drowned with agribusiness products that small scale Palestinian farmers cannot compete with.  It’s an issue that farmers across the globe strugge with; it’s not just unique to Palestine. But when you combine that with the full political reality it means serious destruction to old methods of food production.
The Paris Protocol, which came out of the Oslo Agreement, links the Palestinian economy to the Israeli economy for which there is a real imbalance. For example, the price of tobacco went up, and many farmers who can no longer sustain their lives by growing vegetables and fruits were approached by tobacco companies to rent their lands, and so, instead of growing food we’re now growing a lot of tobacco. Tobacco is taking over, but that is because it offers people a way to generate income that is more guaranteed than producing sesame for example.

(GRAIN) Are these factors also affecting local food markets?
(VS) Of course! We used to produce our own sesame but now sesame is being imported from Turkey and other places. We used to be more reliant on ourselves for wheat production, but now we also import. It’s really sad, and it is a similar story in many other countries, where you have this soil, you could produce your own food and you don’t have to import. But local production is undermined by political restrictions on land access or sudden violence or new neoliberal policies that favour imports.

And for us, the tragedy is a lot of what we are eating is coming from our oppressor, from the same entity that is controlling our lives. So now they control everything. We are like prisoners in these ghettoed communities that are surrounded by walls and we depend on our prison guards for food.
And that’s the core reason for an initiative like the seed library and other efforts that people in Palestine are undertaking to create a more autonomous space again, so we could have some form of autonomy again.

(GRAIN) Producing your own food is thus an act of gaining back your autonomy?
(VS) Absolutely! And this is doesn’t apply to Palestine alone. When you are able to produce your own food, you have the ability to survive on your own, you’re not dependent on somebody else and you can decide what goes into your body, what goes in to your soil. So the quality of your life is also determine by yourself and not somebody else's decision. And when we think about agriculture and personal agency we have to think about how having sovereignty over our seed, soil, all leads to us having more intellectual and emotional and political agency. Because then you are really a creator of life and not just a receiver of whatever you can get to survive.
For me, I’m not interested in just surviving. I only want to survive in way that’s life giving and that’s really what we’re struggling for and what we want to create, which is life.

(GRAIN) What’s the most crucial thing needed to protect local agriculture and markets in Palestine?
(VS) That’s a big question. There’s a lot that is needed. We need to rehabilitate our soils and our souls.
We need to remember that there’s value in who we are and there’s value in our soil and that we need to regenerate that sense of self value so we could regenerate our commitment to rehabilitating our soil and understanding its value. Our ancestors survived so long because our soil gave them their lives.

What is needed in my opinion, from experience with what we are doing and from what others are doing in different fields, is to keep insisting with a sense of determination that we’re going to live and we’re going to live well, even in the midst of all this pain and violence. It’s hard; most days are hard.

But I think having seed autonomy which we’re working on is a big part of that. It allows people to ask the right questions, like how do you want to live? Who do you want to be? What kind of society you want to create? When you allow yourself to start asking these questions it is big because we live under military occupation, so we have to de-programme our minds which have always been under the mercy of our occupier to figuring out how we can liberate our minds, so we can liberate our body and our community.
That’s one thing, and, with the economy, we obviously need to produce more and to enjoy what we produce, eating what we produce more than buying things. There are things that we consume that we don’t need.

One of the main challenges is all the fast food restaurants that are popping up everywhere. These have been very hard to combat. Because people think it’s prestigious to eat at Popeye’s or KFC. And I have to say that this been very very difficult. But also raising awareness that we don’t need such things to be valuable, that the olive oil and bread that we grow up with is much better than fast food.

(GRAIN) What are the challenges to introduce the old crops back to the market in Palestine?
(VS) There’s a lot of local food. We just couldn’t find it anymore because not so many people are growing it or nobody’s growing it anymore. So these foods leave the memory and the market. When I talk about certain crops to the new generation they don't know what they are. So our big challenge is to make them know, so these old varieties go back to our field, to our market and our dinner table so they become part of the living culture. So that when I talk to someone younger about white cucumber, I don’t have to talk about it as if from a history book, but rather, here, taste it, feel it, touch it, that’s when you know your culture as a living culture and not just as part of a history book.

The farmers still remember how to grow and are open to growing these crops again. The challenge is to make sure there’s a market for it because they also need to make a living.

That’s what we’ve been doing, I focus on how to tell the story of these varieties, to give them a contemporary feel for young people. For example, with the white cucumber, last year we worked a lot on it, we have more people growing it, and I posted a lot of things about it on social media. It’s about creating enough stories for people to be curious and to want to taste it. Once there’s a story, there’s a desire, and once there’s a desire obviously people start asking about it.

But it takes a long time, and it takes believing in your mission, even when you don’t see any progress you have to believe progress is coming. Like with this wheat that we are working on now, we made a song about it and it become popular. I then had young people come and ask about it and want to know more about it. I would say my work is more of a story teller; I’m not an agronomist. I do work directly with the farmers, but the bulk of the work is more on how to tell new stories that make these practices possible.

(GRAIN ) What can people from outside Palestine do to support the work of the seed library?
(VS) They can tell the story as well. They can follow us, visit us, and of course support to keep the work going. But mainly telling the story even more, and sharing it more and doing the work in their own community. This is not just about Palestine. We’re part of a global tapestry of people working to save our planet and conserve biodiversity. We want to be included in your conversation everywhere about biodiversity, climate change, all of these relevant issues for all of us around the world.

The way people can support seed library is also by including us as part of the conversation and recognizing our contribution the way we recognize other people's contribution to the world. We are not  people with nothing to offer; we have something quite valuable to offer, from indigenous knowledge to our current efforts. Exchanges of farmer-to-farmer, people-to-people are important so we are rewoven into the global conversation.

For more information about the Palestine heirloom seed library see: https://web.facebook.com/palestineheirloomseeds/

For further reading: Food is the first frontier of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/food-first-frontier-israeli-palestinian-conflict


[1] The Oslo Accord is a set of agreements between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed in 1993 which marked the start of a peace process aimed at achieving a peace treaty. The Accord created a Palestinian Authority tasked with limited self-governance of parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and acknowledged the PLO as Israel's partner in permanent-status negotiations about remaining questions such as the Israeli and Palestinian border, settlements etc.
[2] The Paris Protocol was an agreement on economic relations between Israel and the PLO, signed on 29 April 1994

‘Auchan, get out!’
Interview with Guy Marius Sagna from Senegal’s Auchan Degage campaign.


Auchan, the French-based multinational retail group that owns hundreds of stores from China to Thailand, is aggressively expanding its supermarket chains to countries in West Africa, like Senegal, where it is targeting popular urban neighborhoods that are currently served by small, local food vendorsSmall vendors are the first to feel the effects and have initiated protests, and this has quickly melded into a much larger rejection of the foreign takeover of Senegal's food system. GRAIN spoke with Senegalese activist Guy Marius Sagna of the "Auchan dégage" collective about what they are doing to resist the company's aggressive actions.

(GRAIN) How did the "Auchan dégage" (Auchan, get out!) campaign start in Senegal? Who are the main actors in this campaign?
(Guy Marius Sagna/GMS) The "Auchan Dégage" campaign arose out of a convergence of two mobilisations. On the one hand there was the Senegalese traders who came together to form the "Auchan Dégage" collective and, on the other, the anti-imperialist and pan-African youth who are part of the Front pour une Révolution Populaire et Panafricaine (FRAPP) (Front for a Popular and Panafrican Revolution) and who had launched a campaign a year earlier, entitled "Pour la souveraineté monétaire France Dégage!” (For monetary sovereignty, France get out!) 

This convergence is a reaction to the recent entry into Dakar, or I should say, to the invasion of Dakar by supermarkets (Auchan, Utile, Carrefour...) over a very short period of time. Traders began to set up "Auchan Dégage" spaces in markets in different neighbourhoods of Dakar (Castor, Parcelles, Keur Massar, Sandaga...) and to organise press conferences, while the FRAPP explained to people how this invasion would lead to the elimination of Senegalese traders by large retail stores. FRAPP contacted the traders and since then the fight has been conducted jointly. Thus, joint press conferences were organised and there was an "Auchan Dégage" caravan that involved meetings in urban centres outside of Dakar— Thiès, Diourbel, Kaolack and Mbour.

The small traders, who were not organised under a legally recognised structure, joined an organisation defending the interests of traders— UNACOIS. Through this organisation, they held meetings with the government of Senegal, which was forced to enter into negotiations because of the massive size of the "Auchan Dégage" caravan. A large rally was held at a central plaza in Dakar, the Place de l'Obélisque. This rally pushed the President of the Republic to meet with the traders and to issue a decree regulating the establishment of supermarkets in Senegal.

(GRAIN) What is the current status of the campaign, has it achieved some (or all) of its objectives?
(GMS) The campaign is going through some major challenges because of the way the traders were betrayed by UNACOIS, which used the just and legitimate anger of the traders and their struggle for its own interests. However, the massive mobilisation around the "Auchan Dégage" campaign succeeded in forcing the Minister of Trade and then the President of the Republic to meet with the traders, which resulted in a decree regulating the establishment of supermarkets in Senegal. In other words, before the struggle, there were no laws or regulations governing the presence of large retail stores in Senegal. It is thanks to the "Auchan Dégage" struggle that this decree was issued. The Minister has since begun implementing orders under this decree.

The decree issued by the President of the Republic and the Minister of Commerce is based on a shared analysis between the traders and the FRAPP on the dangers posed by the entry of large retail stores. It defines a minimum distance between supermarkets and local markets (1,000 m) and a minimum distance between two supermarkets (800m). These minimum distances did not exist before.

The decree also provides for the establishment of regional committees (Senegal has 14 regions) which must now authorise the construction of new supermarkets. And, finally, the decree states that the Minister of Commerce will determine a list of products that are banned from sale in large retail stores. The fight was not fought for these ridiculous distance requirements of 1,000m and 800m but this must nonetheless be seen as a victory of the movement. So too must the new requirements for supermarkets to get authorisation for the construction of new stores as well as the lists of products that will now be excluded from large supermarkets, as these will offer some protections to small scale traders.

But some of our objectives have not been achieved. These include the organisation of national consultations (assises nationales) on trade and markets and studies on the impacts of the growth of supermarkets in Senegal. 

(GRAIN) What are the biggest challenges for the campaign and how do you try to overcome these collectively?
(GMS)
The challenges are threefold. First, to enforce the law, particularly when it comes to the distances between supermarkets and local markets and the distances between supermarkets. Second, to force the Minister of Commerce to comply with the decree, in particular, by publishing the list of products banned for sale by large retail stores. And third, to fight for national consultations on large-scale retail, for credible impact studies about the growth of supermarkets in Senegal, for an amendment to the decree regulating supermarkets, and for a moratorium on the construction of new supermarkets.
We still need to make an assessment of this first phase of our struggle and to collectively define the way forward.

GRAIN: What lessons have you learned from this campaign that you can share with social movements in other regions, such as Asia?
(GMS) Although we have yet to do a complete and collective evaluation of the first phase of our struggle, I think the following points are important to emphasise:
1. Struggle is the only means of liberation. If we don't struggle, we've already lost. If we struggle, we can win. And this struggle has already won meetings with the authorities (something that was very hard to achieve), a presidential decree regulating supermarkets, and orders by the Minister of Commerce establishing minimum distances between local markets and supermarkets.

2. No struggle is safe from betrayal. The traders were betrayed by UNACOIS, which was supposed to defend them. But there were signs that the traders refused to see. UNACOIS never wanted to extend the "Auchan Dégage" struggle to actors other than traders. For example, UNACOIS merely tolerated the presence of FRAPP members within the campaign. During the large rally on the Place de l'Obélisque, UNACOIS refused to allow FRAPP to speak. UNACOIS effectively refused the principle of a multi-struggle front uniting traders, tailors, market gardeners, who were all threatened by imperialist invasions by multinationals. Why? Because FRAPP was considered too radical. Because UNACOIS wanted to be face-to-face with the traders so that it could more easily manipulate them. Because a multi-struggle front is more difficult for UNACOIS to handle. This betrayal was a sledgehammer blow to the movement. Many traders became discouraged and it took a heavy toll on the movement.

3. Each socio-economic sector must give importance to its relationship with the rest of the population. The more popular a movement is, the more supporters it has, the easier it is for the movement to win. For instance, Senegalese traders are criticized by Senegalese consumers for always increasing prices, especially during Muslim religious holidays (Muslims make up 95% of the population). Because of this, the traders did not receive massive consumer support.

4. Never trust the unpatriotic, bourgeois bureaucrats who are subjects of imperialism in neo-colonies like Senegal. The draft decree that was submitted to the traders did not specify that the decree was not retroactive. We were very surprised when we saw, in the final version of the decree, a sentence which had not been previously discussed, which said that the decree was not retroactive. The issue was that if the decree was retroactive it would have required the relocation of several supermarkets that are located less than 1000m from local markets.
 
Further information on Auchan Degage Collective:
https://web.facebook.com/auchandegagesenegal/?_rdc=1&_rdr


 

Walmart uses FTA to sue Chilean government for insufficient repression of popular protests


In the midst of a brutal police and military crackdown on massive popular protests in Chile, Walmart, the world’s largest multinational retail corporation, is taking the Chilean government to court to demand that the “forces of law and order” protect its stores and “restore order and the rule of law”. Walmart's demand is based on the privileges afforded to foreign companies in the free trade deal Chile signed with the US, writes Chilean activist Camila Montecinos.
 
On Wednesday, 16 October 2019, high-school students in Santiago, Chile launched a call for a massive evasion of subway fares, which are the highest in Latin America, after the government had increased ticket prices a couple days earlier. The police reacted with force to their peaceful action, but the protests only grew in size. On Friday, October 18th, there were massive protests not only in Santiago but in all major Chilean cities. That night, the Government declared a state of emergency, which meant that for the first time since the end of the Pinochet Dictatorship in 1990, the military were on the streets to repress social protests. During the following days, social protest spread to the entire country: from big cities to very small towns, people demonstrated. In a single day, over 3 million Chileans (out of a total population of around 17 million) were in the streets. One common demand had sprung up everywhere: NO MORE ABUSES.
 
Chile was the first country to adopt neoliberalism as national policy, even before the governments of Thatcher in the UK or Reagan in the US. In 1980, the Pinochet Dictatorship enshrined neoliberalism within a Constitutional mandate; since then, property rights have been untouchable under the Chilean Constitution and are situated at the top of a hierarchy of rights, over any social rights such as education, health care, housing, or labor rights. Under the Constitution, the State cannot protect rights if such actions in any way limit property rights.
 
Almost 40 years later, Chile has become one of the most unequal countries in the world. Hence, it was only natural that a second demand arose rapidly everywhere among the protestors: A NEW CONSTITUTION.  This second demand sent alarm bells ringing for those controlling economic or political power. While the protestors' objections to being abused could be watered down with some temporary hand-outs offered by the government, a new Constitution would mean the end of decades of privileges for a tiny minority.
 
Repression immediately got much worse. To date, almost 300 persons, most of them youth, have lost one or both eyes from being shot with pellets by the police. Almost 25,000 people have been arrested, 24 killed, and over 2000 wounded. Of those arrested, over 10% are children. There are over 300 cases of documented human rights violations, including rape, sexual harassment, torture and illegal arrests. But protests have not stopped.
 
It is in this context that Walmart is suing the Chilean State for not providing enough police protection and is demanding (by invoking the right to property protected by the Constitution) permanent police protection as well as “dissuasive” action by the  “forces of law and order” in order to “restore order and the rule of law”.  The legal basis for this is that Walmart is guaranteed “national treatment” by the Chile-US FTA; that is, thanks to a Free Trade Agreement, Walmart enjoys full Constitutional protection in Chile. Just as a comparison, immigrants do not have such rights in the US, in Europe or in other countries.
 
Walmart has set up 384 stores throughout Chile, and controls over 40% of the sales by supermarkets. Since it was incorporated in Chile, Walmart has become widely known for illegal market control strategies, labor abuses, anti-union policies, low wages, illegal charges, and anti-competitive policies. Although demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, there have been attacks against banks, supermarkets, pharmacies, private health insurance companies, big retailers, public transportation and retirement funds administration companies. They all represent highly concentrated sectors and transnational conglomerates which have been central in keeping wages low, as well as fares and indebtedness high, while providing low quality services and using all sorts of abusive practices. In the case of Walmart, 105 stores have been attacked, some of them burnt down. Although the vast majority of protesters do not support these actions, it is also understood that they have been provoked by rage and a generalised sense of being permanently abused.
 
So, the question now is what does Walmart want? More repression? More blinded people? More deaths? More people in prison? A wider use of torture? Justice in Chile has a well-known bias in favour of economic power and big capital, and it would be no surprise if the courts ruled that permanent police protection be granted to Walmart. But Walmart can easily say that whatever is granted is not enough, as social protest will continue, and hence move its legal action to international investor-state dispute settlement panels, where it can request further police protection as well as significant economic compensation. Walmart can invoke Article 10.4 of the US-Chile FTA which grants “full protection and security” by police forces.
 
Social organisations that have been active against FTAs, since the infamous Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was being negotiated and later defeated, have warned about FTAs being used to worsen repression and police abuse. Throughout, governments, parliaments, political parties, business associations and the like have labeled such concerns as “paranoia”. It just took one strong and massive protest movement to show that FTAs can and will be used as a tool to repress and maintain abuse.
 
We, the people of Chile, will keep mobilising until abuse is ended, whether it comes from Walmart, the government, the police, transnational corporations, or from the national elite.
 
Article by
Camila Montecinos
Chile
 

 

The E-Commerce threat to agriculture at the WTO

IUF presentation to the WTO Public Forum 2019 panel Re-Imagining Agriculture in the New WTO Architecture, Geneva, October 9, 2019

The push for global rules for what is misleadingly called E-commerce has raised a variety of concerns, for  example privacy protection and internet governance. But in a digitalized world, E-commerce as a subject for rules on trade is infinitely elastic, and has implications for every aspect of human activity, including the way food is produced. To understand the full scope of these implications we have to take a step backwards and look at it in the specific context of the WTO and in the development of trade and investment regimes more generally.

Talks on 'E-commerce' are currently being fast-tracked at the WTO, as part of a cluster of 'new issues'. The misleadingly titled 'E-commerce' agenda is not about online shopping. It proposes to transform all productive activity, including work in agriculture, into a bundle of outsourced, offshored services over which workers, and governments, would have no control. Agricultural labour would be organized by service producers operating without any local presence, employment, or content requirements, and the data flows underpinning their operations would be mined and protected offshore under E-commerce rules. E-commerce rules applied to agriculture would intensify already high levels of poverty, precariousness and casualization.

An IUF presentation at the WTO Public Forum in Geneva on October 9 explains the mechanisms and the implications of the transformation of labour, including agricultural labour, into a 'bundle of services' through these proposed new global 'trade' rules. Click here to read the presentation.

See: http://www.iuf.org/w/sites/default/files/AgricultureandEcommerceE.pdf

News brief

Oxfam reveals poverty pay, harsh working conditions & gender discrimination in intl. supermarkets' food supply chains; Includes company responses

Business and Human Rights Resources Centre

Oxfam has released new research, which included in-depth interviews with workers in India and Brazil and a survey of workers in five other countries, revealing widespread labour rights allegations - including poverty pay, harsh working conditions, and gender discrimination - in food production linked to international supermarket supply chains as part of its Behind the Barcodes campaign.

In October 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the supermarkets named in the reports to respond to the allegations and Oxfam's recommendations. Albertsons, Aldi North, Aldi South, Kroger, Morrisons, REWE Group, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Walmart, and Whole Foods Market have responded.
 
Big C opens first supermarket in Cambodia

Inside Retail Asia

The opening made Cambodia the fourth country to host a Big C branch. In addition to Thailand, Big C already has a presence in Vietnam and Laos. Big C focuses on mid-to-low income customers with a wide selection of goods at affordable prices. It was earlier reported that Big C invested $6.8 million in the project, which is now the most high-profile shopping destination in that part of the Kingdom.
 

Handcuffed for selling churros: Inside the world of illegal food vendors

Sharon Otterman, NY Times

On the male-dominated black market, a permit for mobile food vending can easily cost $25,000. A video of police officers handcuffing a woman selling churros in a subway station in New York City has focused attention on this subset of street sellers, who generally work without permits or permanent locations. Often puts them at risk of fines, property confiscation and arrest. The Street Vendor Project estimates that some 20,000 vendors work on the city’s streets, more than half of whom sell food.

Alibaba: Going where Amazon has not gone

Eric Yeh, Medium

The war to bring the 6.8 million mom-and-pop convenience stores around China into the digital era. Alibaba calls this initiative 零售通 (pronounced Ling Shou Tong), and it literally means retail integrated. This initiative aims to not only transform the convenience stores physically, but it also aims to transform how these convenience stores do business. While Alibaba has the lead right now, the war has no clear winner yet. JD, another e-commerce giant in China, aims to build 1 million franchises in 5 years.
 
 

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