issue 195 - May 1989
Colgate sees the light
Now for the good news. Third World agencies and individual action against multinational corporations can be effective.
Last October the NI featured in its Brieflies the Darkie (sic) brand of toothpaste, owned by Colgate-Palmolive and widely sold in South-East Asia. A campaign against this grossly offensive 'Sambo' style of racist stereotyping, spearheaded by the Inter-faith Center on Corporate Responsibility (a coalition of over 240 US Church groups) has been fought over the last three years. Our story provoked still more letters of protest to Colgate-Palmolive.
Bowing to pressure this January, the company said that it would change the name of the toothpaste to Darlie and make the logo a portrait of a man of ambiguous race (see illustration). 'It's just plain wrong,' said the chairman of Colgate-Palmolive. 'It's just offensive. The morally right thing dictated that we must change. However, understanding the immorality of their previous position must have been helped by Church investors threatening to divest from Colgate shares, the bad publicity in Third World countries where the company has so many sales, and the tiresome hassle of dealing with consumer protest in the industrialized world.
Colgate-Palmolive is an international conglomerate selling toiletries, shampoo, detergent and other household products. With six billion dollars worth of sales in 1988 it is one of the world's 100 largest companies. Annual sales of Darkie (sic) toothpaste, amount to three per cent of world sales, concentrated in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. There, it holds a market share ranging from 20 to 70 per cent.
Privatizing the Third World
Good things happen when you privatize.
That, at least is the message of the Center for Privatization, a two-year-old pet project of the US Agency for International Development (AID). With help from the corporate world, AID is out to sell developing nations the blessings of free-market capitalism.
Ever since President Reagan launched his conservative revolution in Washington seven years ago, AID has been struggling to redefine its mission as the world's largest bilateral donor. Long critical of the AID bureaucracy, conservatives have urged the administration to be more forceful in putting its ideological stamp on the agency.
Shortly after Reagan took office, the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation called for major changes. These appeared in the book A Mandate for Change, a massive compendium of right-wing policy proposals that set much of the agenda for the administration's early years. Heritage proposed using foreign aid to pressure developing nations into changing their economic policies.
The plan called for linking the release of US aid dollars to specific structural changes advocated by free-market economists - such as the dismantling of state enterprises, deregulating markets and cutting consumer subsidies. This would have brought AID into line with the 'hard money' approach of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which demands similar structural reforms in exchange for its assistance.
While the administration has not gone as far as Heritage and other conservative critics have advocated, the Center for Privatization is attempting to institutionalize conservative philosophy. Gordon Johnson, the Center's deputy director, states that its goal is to promote growth in developing countries by broadening and strengthening the private sector.
He even argues that privatization helps keep American corporations honest. Putting state-owned Third World enterprises into private hands would make them more efficient and less corrupt, he claims. So it would be easier for US firms dealing with them to stick to the law, the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits US companies from giving bribes to foreign officials.
According to Johnson the Center's mandate is to become a source of 'knowledge and information about privatization for the use of AID and its mission overseas'. The Center offers advice and technical assistance to foreign governments interested in selling off state concerns. It is already involved in Honduras, Belize, Egypt and Tunisia.
But so far the real success in the privatization campaign has been to change the terms of the ideological debate. Debt-strapped governments are on the defensive and the pressure for restructuring may eventually become impossible for them to resist, despite the social and political costs.
The Center's work is only beginning.
Samantha Sparks / Third World Network
Freedom in chains
The Walvis twist
This month should see the withdrawal of 12,000 South African troops from Namibia as part of the independence accord signed in December last year.
This looks like an unexpectedly good ending to the illegal occupation of the country since 1966 by its powerful, white minority-ruled neighbour. Some see the withdrawal as a sign that Pretoria is trying to turn over a new leaf - in its foreign policy, at any rate.
However, to believe this you have to turn a blind eye to Walvis Bay. Which is a little difficult to do. For it is not only Namibia's main and only deep water port but also has the largest concentration of military might anywhere in Africa - all of it South African.
It should come as no great surprise then, that Walvis Bay is precisely the area that South Africa is refusing to return to Namibia. With Walvis Bay under Pretoria's control South Africa can continue to keep its economic and military stranglehold over Namibia even after formal independence.
South African policy has always been to channel Namibian imports and exports through just two routes - Walvis Bay and South Africa. Only high value commodities such as diamonds and uranium are flown out. If Walvis Bay is to remain in the Republic's hands then Namibia would be effectively landlocked.
The military picture looks even more sinister. The South African Army, Navy and Air Forces are all there - the Army has a training camp and garrison, the Navy has a port installation and garrison of marines. The presence of all three arms of the South African defence force - with up to 6,000 troops - gives Pretoria the capability to intervene anywhere in Namibia and into neighbouring states. This is not something that South Africa has any qualms about doing - as any Angolan knows.
The struggle, as they say, continues - despite signatures on pieces of paper.
No return ticket
Journalists at risk
Foreign correspondents covering stories in Third World trouble spots have a romantic, dare-devil image in the popular imagination. Usually they are white-skinned Westerners jetting out on dangerous assignments into war zones or sneaking, in disguise, behind rebel lines.
The people we rarely hear about are the journalists who take tile real risks, day in day out - without the security of a foreign passport and a return ticket.
These are the Third World journalists at work in repressive regimes who may be harassed, beaten or imprisoned time and again - but carry on writing.
Take Chilean Luis Tricot, so badly beaten by police his back was broken. While he was receiving electric shock treatment at the hands of Chilean police, other journalists were covering President Augusto Pinochet's signing of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.
Or Miu Thu who disappeared for a year after being arrested because of a story he wrote about Burmese socialism. When he was let out of his tiny eight foot by nine foot cell he found himself homeless and penniless in his own land.
Or Gift Sipho Siso, handcuffed and roughed up by South African police who burst into his Johannesburg apartment one night recently.
They had no warrant, no real purpose for their visit. It was just routine intimidation of a black journalist.
Sometimes intimidation works and troublesome truth-tellers are silenced. Often they are not.
In Sri Lanka, journalist Gamini Navaratne was for years virtually the only Sinhalese civilian living and working in the Tamil-dominated north. He both angered the military - by witnessing and reporting on army brutality - and was seized and held by anti-Government rebels. Despite the danger coming from all sides, he has continued chronicling the situation as he sees it.
Such perseverance can claim an impossibly high toll. Nigerian editor Dele Giwa paid the ultimate price when he was killed by a parcel-bomb. Scores of other journalists have suffered the same fate.
However journalists fighting for free speech in Zambia won a milestone victory recently when reporter Augustine Phiri was acquitted by magistrates on a charge of publishing false information with intent to cause fear and alarm.
Phiri, a 35-year-old Zambia News Agency (ZANA) reporter cabled a story to his editor alleging that a five-month-old baby had been trampled to death in a mealie-meal stampede outside a state-owned store in the town of Mufulira on the Copperbelt, Zambia's political hot-bed. The story appeared in the Times of Zambia and embarrassed the Government because it was published at a time when the Copperbelt was facing a critical shortage of mealie meal, Zambia's staple food. They had Phiri arrested and charged.
He was freed amid jubilation from friends, relatives and fellow reporters who regarded the acquittal as a victory for Zambian journalism.
Daniel Nelson and Mkwapatira Mhango / Gemini