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Currents

Issue 336

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Corporate Power

Schools in a spin
Adverts in the classroom

Teacher's pets or classroom bullies? Corporate marketing pamphlets from schools around the world. ‘Carry out a survey of 30 mint consumers to find out which of the four variants of Polo [mint] they find most appealing.’ This is the text of a lesson prepared by food giant and sweet manufacturer Nestlé currently being used in British schools.

Such classroom activities should please heavyweight corporate lobby group the European Round Table of Industrialists who noted in 1998: ‘All too often the education process is entrusted to people who appear to have no understanding of industry and the path of progress... The provision of education is a market opportunity and should be treated as such.’

Patti Rundall, policy director of Baby Milk Action, begs to differ. ‘Teachers are coming under increased pressure to accept schemes which push junk foods in exchange for cash,’ she says. Yet underfunded schools often jump at the chance for the money and resources these partnerships provide.

Hers is only one of a number of voices expressing disquiet at the way that through ‘corporate partnerships’ the private sector is increasingly setting priorities in the public sector. The British National Union of Teachers recently expressed its concern that the General Agreement on Trade in Services agreement of the World Trade Organization might promote the privatization of education. But sponsorship deals are already letting corporations into schools through the ‘back door’.

‘What is in the public interest is not always the same as what is in the interest of corporations,’ according to Patti Rundall. ‘Companies have a duty to maximize profit for their shareholders. But education is about opening kids’ minds, giving them the tools to think critically, not exposing them to the vested interests of corporations.’

Baby Milk Action has been campaigning for responsible marketing of babyfood for over 20 years. As a result Patti Rundall and her colleagues have learned to ask hard questions about who really benefits from corporate partnerships.

‘Some of the worst corporations,’ she says, ‘are very skilled at covering this all up with humanitarian gestures and “cause-related marketing”. We have to recognize this fact and do something about controlling them.’

Word corner

Malaria &
Mosquito

We now know that malaria is caused by the bite of a mosquito of the Anopheles genus. The word malaria (from the Italian mala aria, bad air) reached England in the 1700s when foul air from swamps was thought to cause the fever. Anopheles is from Greek and means unprofitable or useless. Mosquito is from the Latin musca, a fly. Some think the Caribbean coast of Honduras and Nicaragua may have been named the Mosquito Coast by early explorers because of the mosquitoes buzzing around the swamps and tropical rain forests. The more likely explanation is that the coast was named after the Miskito Indians.

Susan Watkin

‘Children are being used in a giant marketing project,’ she continues. Companies like Nestlé and Coca-Cola are providing educational material through corporate sponsorship of schools. The pamphlet ‘Nestlé in the Community’ is full of buzzwords like ‘sustainable development’. Tampax are providing menstrual health guides. Pepsi are providing free book covers advertising their brand. Students’ consumption preferences can be monitored through classroom activities. In the US the corporate encroachment into education is well established. The story of the boy suspended for wearing a Pepsi T-shirt to school on ‘Coke Day’ has become legendary, while the flagship US children’s show Sesame Street is now brought to viewers by chemical company Pfizer.

The phenomenon is now spreading to other countries. In Britain, the Government has set up a Business Development Unit to facilitate corporate relationships with schools. Its brochure explains that benefits to companies are ‘substantial’ including ‘investment in the next generation of employees and customers’.

Meanwhile, according to Arun Gupta of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) India, Nestlé has begun making inroads into the Asian educational system with glossy promotional material of its sweets and chocolates. Meanwhile in Russia Nestlé is sponsoring a ‘Good Nutrition Programme’ which by the end of the year will have reached 120,000 kids in 17 regions.

Health and consumer groups from around the world are now calling for a ban on advertising to children in schools. To help teachers and their students distinguish the genuine philanthropy from the corporate hype, Baby Milk Action and the Reading International Solidarity Centre have put together a groundbreaking educational pack called ‘Seeing through the spin: public relations in the global economy.’

The pack is fair-minded and imaginative, with 14 lesson plans on everything from dissecting brands to ‘Between the lines’ activities designed to make kids read printed information critically. That includes not just weighing up the corporate advertisers but their NGO critics too.

Katharine Ainger

Seeing through the spin’ can be obtained from
Baby Milk Action, 23 St.Andrew’s Street,
Cambridge, CB2 3AX, England. Tel: +44 1223 464420.
Price £15 + post & packaging £3 (Britain)
or £9 (elsewhere) or order from www.babymilkaction.org

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Sport

Bowling over the Taliban
The Afghan passion… for cricket

Afghanistan recently completed a cricket tour of Pakistan that was over in five days and four matches. Unknown to many in the cricketing world and blessed by the puritanical Taliban leaders, in May the playing fields of Peshawar hosted the first-ever cricket tour by an Afghan team.

Afghanistan may have lost this 40-over war of bat and ball to neighbouring Pakistan by three matches to one. But the one game it won by five showed the skeptics that all is not lost.

‘Although soccer is the most popular sport in Afghanistan, many youngsters are taking to cricket seriously,’ says bearded Allahdad Noori, the 28-year-old team captain.

Afghanistan’s strongly Islamic Taliban rulers – who are averse to any kind of entertainment, including music and fine arts – spent $1,300 buying cricket gear in Pakistan for the tour. The tour was given the go-ahead by sports minister Maulvi Kalamddin, who was previously in charge of the dreaded ministry that handled vice and virtue and enforced a strict Islamic code in the streets and public places of Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Ilyas Khan, a journalist who writes regularly on Afghan issues, believes the Taliban agreed to the Pakistani request for a cricket tour to soften its image as a reactionary group. ‘Through cricket they are trying to put up a benign face which is more in line with modern times,’ he says. ‘It’s a public-relations stunt to create good will among the people.’

The passion for cricket comes not thanks to the British, but to the Russians. For when the Russian army came to Afghanistan in 1979, hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled to neighbouring Pakistan. They were housed in refugee camps that dotted the frontier areas and Peshawar, the provincial capital.

While they brought their own culture to Pakistan – including the traditional sport buzkashi that is played on horseback – they also adapted to the local environment. Afghan children born in Pakistan have grown up playing cricket on the streets like the locals.

‘I am here to support my team. They will win, inshallah,’ said enthusiastic teenager Zabiullah, who was among 300 spectators at the Arbab Niaz Cricket Stadium braving the heat to cheer on his national side. Zabiullah, like the cricket captain Noori and most of the other Afghan players and spectators, came from the refugee camps scattered around Peshawar.

Noori returned to his native Afghanistan three years ago but his family still lives near Peshawar. It is interaction like this which has made cricket Afghanistan’s newest sport.

‘We want to prove that Afghanistan is not far behind in cricket and we should get associate membership of the International Cricket Council,’ says Noori, who has modelled himself on Pakistani fast bowler Wasim Akram.

But former Pakistan test cricketer Farukh Zaman, who coached the Afghan players in 2000, says: ‘Most of the cricketing world does not recognize them. They do not have the financial resources for building the infrastructure. Above all the cricket culture is missing in them.’

But cricket captain Noori has set his sights high. ‘It may sound odd to you but let me assure you that our aim is to play in the World Cup and win it,’ he says.

Nadeem Yaqub, Gemini News

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Broken olive branches
Since the start of the recent conflict in the Middle East 200,000 olive and fruit trees have been uprooted by the Israeli Defence Force and Israeli settlers. This destruction of Palestinian orchards and olive groves is scarring the ancient landscape forever and depriving thousands of Palestinian families of their livelihood.

During the conflict unemployment has soared as the borders have been closed with Israel preventing Palestinian labourers from getting to work. The current unemployment rate in Gaza is estimated to be around 50 per cent. Many Palestinians are unable to generate adequate income to look after their families. For farmers whose land has been destroyed the outlook is very bleak.

Geneva-based agency The Welfare Association is working with two local partner organizations, the Palestine Agricultural Relief Committees and the Federation of Agricultural Work Committees to provide seedlings to replant olive and fruit trees in the worst-affected Nablus and Gaza Strip areas. Reforestation work is also going on in the Tulkarm, Jenin, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron areas.

The Welfare Association,
www.welfareassociation.org/appeals/greener_report/greener_report.html

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Protest crackdown
The anti-globalization movement’s tactic of blockading economic summits is causing more and more of a stir.

In May the World Bank cancelled its 2001 Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics in Barcelona scheduled for 25-27 June because it feared disruption by protesters. The World Bank described the protests as a threat to academic freedom to discuss ideas. The Co-ordination Commission of the protesters responded: ‘They, who have at their disposal the resources of the planet, complain that those who have nothing wanted to have their voice heard.’

Meanwhile, over 100,000 people – including union members, debt campaigners and farmers – are expected to demonstrate outside the G8 meeting between 20 and 22 July in Genoa, Italy. Some are concerned by the extremist label that is being attached to them. With the new Italian right-wing administration headed by Silvio Berlusconi in place, this could be the most heated anti-globalization protest so far.

Meanwhile, in The Hague, the Netherlands police are organizing a conference between 3 and 5 October on ‘Maintaining public order’. In attendance will be members of national police forces from Europe, North America and Australia who will share tactics on how to police the kind of protests against economic summits that have erupted across the world in cities such as Seattle, Prague, Melbourne and Quebec.

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Climate Change

Alaska's global warning
Highways buckle as the permafrost melts

Wilson Sam crouches in his hide, shotgun at the ready. Every few minutes, flocks of cackling geese fly overhead – close, but just out of range. Disappointed, he stands up, stretches and points to the grass and bushes around the hide. ‘See all this area – this used to be a big lake. That’s what made it a good geese-hunting spot, with all the water. Now it’s not good any more, because the lake’s all dried up. Now it’s all just rough grass and willows, and the geese don’t like that.’

An Athabascan Indian elder from the interior of Alaska, Wilson has seen a lot of weather changes in recent years – which, according to scientists at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, are almost certainly early signs of global warming. The state has warmed by an average of 2°C since the 1950s and a massive 4°C in the interior during the winter months. Mountain glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate and many of the southernmost spruce forests are dying because of a plague of bark beetles driven on by the rising temperatures.

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Seriously... You couldn't make this stuff up

It's a riot
‘The oppressive American Trade Organization (ATO) has declared a state of emergency. State authorities are clamping down on organized resistance and restricting movement across the City to counter the spread of revolt. It is up to you to smash up everything and everyone in order to destabilize the ATO. Use any item available to begin fighting, including pipes, bricks and benches – even dismembered body parts.’

Is this an anti-capitalist vision of a dystopian future? Well, no. It’s the latest Sony Playstation game by software developers Rockstar. A Rockstar spokesperson acknowledged that the game was inspired by the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization in 1999, though it bears little relation to the actual event when over 50,000 people took to the streets to demand social, economic and environmental justice.

Sony is a member of the Movie Picture Association of America, a corporate interest group lobbying the WTO for more free trade, while Rockstar gamers describe themselves, accurately, as ‘impressionable and talentless individuals on a mission to entertain’.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the mission is to stop the World Trade Organization launching a new trade round at its next meeting in Dohar, Qatar. See civil society’s new statement, ‘Our World is Not for Sale’ at www.canadians.org

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Human capital
What’s in a name? The World Bank has just approved a $150-million loan to Colombia, to be paid back over 17 years. The loan, they say, will be used to improve health and education for a million poor Colombian children. It might be hard to object to that, except that the folks at the Bank have decided that a good name for this programme is ‘The Human Capital Protection Project’. The question we want to know is, do World Bank economists go home at night and tuck up their own units of human capital before reading them a bedtime story?

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Around Fairbanks, Alaska’s second city, roads are buckling and cracking as the frozen ground beneath them gives way. On one street all the houses lean at crazy angles because the permafrost they are built on is melting. Inside one of them, Vicki Heiker and her daughter Jessica have got used to living on a slope. ‘In my room all the furniture has to go at one end or it’ll fall down.’ She laughs and shows the living room: ‘The bookshelf over there is supported by the couch. See those glass ornaments? One leg of the table is supported by a book, the other by some wood, the other two are on the floor. If it wasn’t like that they’d all crash off.’ Jessica puts a tennis ball at one end of the room and it rolls towards the door, gathering speed as it moves. ‘And when you spill something you’ve got to clear it up fast or it’ll get away from you,’ she smiles. But things are getting steadily worse. Extending outwards from the kitchen window is a large crack. Several houses have already been demolished, and Vicki’s could be next.

A similar threat from a different source faces the residents of Shishmaref, an Inupiat Eskimo village in western Alaska, which is built on a low barrier island facing the Bering Sea. Robert Iyatunguk knows the danger better than anyone. He’s erosion co-ordinator for the village and has watched it get steadily eaten away by the sea. He says the problem is two-fold: at the same time as global warming has triggered stronger storms and higher winds, the sea ice which usually protects the coast in winter has been forming later and later – leaving the island’s sandy base increasingly vulnerable. During the last emergency, in 1997, nine homes had to be moved at the height of the storm. Four more were lost over the cliff. ‘We’re in imminent danger here,’ he says as he inspects the crumbling bluffs on which one house now sits precariously. ‘Every year the waters are getting higher and higher, and if we get another big storm this place is going to be wiped out in a matter of hours.’

Back at his home in the tiny native village of Huslia, Wilson Sam sits in his kitchen and ponders on the meaning of the changes. His house is modern, with running water and electricity, but hunting still provides most of the family’s food. ‘Back when we were kids, it was cold – really cold. It was worse than 60 or 70 below, and it lasted for days sometimes. In them days it was so cold that you can’t use the clothes we have nowadays, you had to have fur coats. And now we didn’t hardly see 40 below all winter. Maybe one day, but the rest of it was 20 or 25 below. That’s a big change.’

Wilson’s wife Eleanor remembers something, and looks up from the goose she is plucking. ‘My old grandpa, before he died, he made a prophecy in the Indian language. He said that it was going to change, that the cold weather is getting old. He said the cold weather’s going outside.’ She looks outside at the bright sunshine, where the snowmelt lies in puddles on their yard.

Mark Lynas

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Biteback by Cajas, El Comercio, Quito, Ecuador.

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