Did Monsanto Write Seed Policy in Malawi?

An Interview with Timothy A. Wise

In this interview, conducted by Sharmini Peries of the Real News Network, Timothy A. Wise of the Small Planet Institute discusses the role of Monsanto in developing Malawi’s new restrictive seed policies. Wise also discussed these issues in his recent article “Did Monsanto Write Seed Policy in Malawi?” for Food Tank (also posted on Triple Crisis here. —Eds.

Originally published by the Real News Network.

Full text below the jump.

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The Trump Supply Chain and the Art of the Sweatshop

John Miller

John Miller is a professor of economics at Wheaton College (Norton, Mass.) and a member of the editorial collective at Dollars & Sense magazine. This article is forthcoming in the September/October 2017 Special Labor Issue of Dollars & Sense.

Reports that the President’s and his daughter’s clothing lines are not made in the United States put the lie to the White House’s “Made in America Week” this past July.

It was the height of hypocrisy. With the exception of his “Make American Great Again” hats and a few suits that are “stitched” in the United States, everything in Donald Trump’s clothing line, even the ties, is made in China and other developing countries, not the United States. And not one of the 838 products—garments, accessories, and shoes—advertised on Ivanka Trump’s website is made exclusively in the United States.

The Garment Supply Chain and the Trump Brand

That Trump brand garments are made outside the United States is hardly unusual. In 2015, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), 97% of clothing consumed in the United States was imported. China, the top country of origin, supplied over one-third (35.9% by value) of U.S. apparel imports, followed by Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and then nearly 150 other countries.

Garments are designed, produced, marketed, and sold through a multilayer, multinational supply chain. Typically, brand-name retailers, headquartered in either western Europe or the United States, develop designs for an ever-changing line of fashionable clothing. The retailers’ buyers then place orders across the developing world, negotiating with competing manufacturers—the contractors—over the materials used, the delivery date, and the price. Larger contractors often subcontract production to smaller factories, typically with fewer quality controls, worse working conditions, and lower costs, which they keep to a minimum by hiring and firing workers to match demand and forcing them to work overtime.

This global supply chain relentlessly drives down costs. For example, in 2013 a pair of George jeans made in Bangladesh sold for £14, or $22, at Asda, a British subsidiary of Walmart. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that Walmart paid out just $1.16 per pair of jeans to the Sepal Group, a large Bangladeshi manufacturer to make the jeans. Sepal pocketed 26 cents per pair of jeans and the remaining 90 cents went to cover factory costs (excluding materials). If garment workers in Sepal Group factories were paid the Bangladesh minimum wage of $68 per month and worked 50 hours a week, about 45 cents per pair of jeans would have gone to wages.

The supply chain for Trump garments is similarly international, penny-pinching, and exploitative. Let’s take a closer look at the Ivanka Trump line, which is far larger and more profitable than the now nearly defunct Donald Trump clothing line.

In 2012, the Ivanka Trump Brand, which employs just twelve employees, signed a licensing agreement with G-III, an apparel group whose clients include large brands such as Guess, Calvin Klein, and Donna Karan, and other celebrity brands such as Jessica Simpson. G-III, located in the New York City garment district, designs the brand’s line of clothes and accessories. The company’s buyers then place orders for the manufacture of those designs with contractors in China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and other developing countries. G-III also imports the finished garments and accessories and distributes them to retailers throughout North America. The $157 blush-colored sheath dress Ivanka Trump wore to address the Republican Convention last year and other Ivanka-branded dresses, blouses, coats, denim jeans, and handbags are sold in department stores, such as Macy’s and Dillard’s, in discount outlets such as T.J. Maxx and DSW, and online by Amazon. Later this year, the Ivanka Trump Brand will open its own store in Trump Tower.

The workers who stitch and sew garments for the Ivanka Trump brand and other international brands are not only poorly paid. Garment workers, who are overwhelmingly women with few other employment opportunities, work long hours often without days off, and have been subjected to physical abuse, pregnancy tests, and other indignities. They work under dangerous conditions that have cost them their health, their limbs, and even their lives.

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UN Role in Reforming International Finance for Development

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Growing global interdependence poses greater challenges to policy makers on a wide range of issues and for countries at all levels of development. Yet, the new mechanisms and arrangements put in place over the past four decades have not been adequate to the growing challenges of coherence and coordination of global economic policy making. Recent financial crises have exposed some such gaps and weaknesses.

Multilateral UN inclusive

Although sometimes seemingly slow, the United Nations (UN) has long had a clear advantage in driving legitimate discussion on reform because of its more inclusive and open governance. Lop-sided influence in the current international financial system is a principal reason why many countries lack confidence in existing arrangements. Rebuilding confidence in such arrangements will require that all parties feel they have a stake in the reform agenda.

But the UN is also suited to drive the discussion because of its long tradition of reliable work on international economic issues. The UN secretariat has developed and maintained a coherent and integrated approach to trade, finance and sustainable development, with due attention to equity and social justice issues.

The ongoing ‘secular stagnation’ has again highlighted the interdependence of global economic relations, exposing a series of myths and half-truths about the global economy. These include the idea that the developing world has become “decoupled” from the developed world; that unregulated financial markets and the new financial instruments had ushered in a new era of “great moderation” and “stability”; and that macroeconomic imbalances — due to decisions made in the household, corporate and financial sectors — were less dangerous than those involving the public sector.

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Did Monsanto Write Malawi’s Seed Policy?

Timothy A. Wise

In late July, a short article was published in a Malawian newspaper: “Press Release on Organization of Seed Fairs.” Issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development, in conjunction with the Seed Traders Association of Malawi, the short statement advised the public that “only quality certified seed suppliers registered with Government to produce and/or market seed should be allowed to display seed at such events.” The release was signed by Bright Kumwembe for the Agriculture Ministry.

I received this news in the United States as I prepared a research trip to Malawi, and I was shocked. Malawi is in the final stages of a multi-year effort to reform its seed policy and laws, and the largest point of contention at this point is the failure of the draft policy to recognize and protect so-called “farmers’ rights” to save, exchange, and sell the seeds they grow on their farms.

Remarkably, the policy seeks to define the word “seed” as applying only to certified seed from commercial companies. Farm-saved seed is referred to in the policy as just “grain,” unworthy even of the word seed.

Some 80 percent of the crops grown in Malawi come from farm-saved seeds, and many of those seeds are displayed, exchanged, and sold at local seed fairs. These are often community events organized by local non-governmental organizations or district agriculture offices to promote seed improvement. Farmers show their most successful varieties, sometimes alongside seed from commercial companies that have bred, patented, and produced “improved” varieties that are then certified by the government for quality.

What this press release implied, in no uncertain terms, was that henceforth farmers would not be allowed to display their seeds. The formal and informal seed sectors have coexisted for decades. Why was the Malawian government, embroiled in a controversy over a still-unfinished seed policy, threatening to ban farm-saved seed from the market?

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Trump and the Infrastructure of Fascism

Gerald Epstein

Infrastructure investment: it’s that economic policy sweet spot that everyone loves to love.

Fixing bridges, building roads, modernizing airports, improving mass transportation, keeping lead out of our water: nearly everyone can relate to the need for it and can imagine how much better their lives would be with more of it.  For years, most people have faced crazy-making delays in traffic, long lines at airports, and have seen pictures of bridges collapsing. And the experts agree. Economists and engineers have warned us about the problem for decades.  The most recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a D+ on its infrastructure building and maintenance, which means that, overall, our infrastructure is in critical condition. These civil engineers estimate that over the next 10 years, the U.S. will have about a $1.2 trillion in infrastructure financing shortfall unless something dramatic is done. Studies have confirmed that, properly done, infrastructure investment can generate millions of jobs, create big time saving efficiencies, and keep people safer. These infrastructure shortfalls, fed by years of Republican austerity initiatives at the Federal and State levels, too often aided and abetted by Democratic bankers and other Democratic “deficit hawks,” are much in the everyday texture of American life.

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump jumped on the bandwagon, decrying America’s “Third World” infrastructure and touting his ability to fix it in short order—as “demonstrated” by his “building prowess “in New York City and “around the world.” Trump promised to quickly fix the country’s decaying infrastructure and generate millions of good paying job with a $1 trillion program that will “Make America Great Again.”

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After Neoliberalism, What Next?

Jayati Ghosh

We may be living through one of those moments in history that future historians will look back on as a watershed, a period of flux that marked a transition to quite different economic and social arrangements. Unfortunately, in human history a ‘moment’ can be a very long time, so long that it could be decades before the final shape of the new arrangements are even evident; and in the interim, there could be many ‘dead cat bounces’ of the current system.

What is clear is that the established order – broadly defined as neoliberal globalised finance capitalism – is no longer capable of delivering on its promises of either growth or stability, even as it generates more inequality and insecurity across the world. In Marxist terms (as befitting the 150th anniversary of Das Kapital), the property relations under which production is organised have become fetters on the development of productive forces themselves, and generate more and more alienation. This may explain why, perhaps even more significantly, the system is also losing legitimacy in most countries, under attack from both right and left.

Whether we look at straws in the wind or green shoots in the ground, there is no doubt that there are incipient signs of change. But at this point there are many directions in which such change could go, and not all of them are progressive or even desirable. That is why it is important to get social and political traction for alternative trajectories that focus on more equitable, just, democratic and ecologically viable outcomes for most of humanity.

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Leadership Failure Perpetuates Stagnation

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

What kind of leadership does the world need now? US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership was undoubtedly extraordinary. His New Deal flew in the face of the contemporary economic orthodoxy, begun even before Keynes’ General Theory was published in 1936.

Roosevelt’s legacy also includes creating the United Nations in 1945, after acknowledging the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the Second World War. He also insisted on ‘inclusive multilateralism’ – which Churchill opposed, preferring a bilateral US-UK deal instead – by convening the 1944 United Nations Conference on Monetary and Financial Affairs at Bretton Woods with many developing countries and the Soviet Union.

The international financial institutions created at Bretton Woods were set up to ensure, not only international monetary and financial stability, but also the conditions for sustained growth, employment generation, post-war reconstruction and post-colonial development.

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Transnational Capital and Transnational Labor

William K. Tabb

In this interview, economist William K. Tabb addresses questions on the causes and fallout of the global crisis, the emergence of a “transnational capitalist class,” and the possibilities of a new anti-capitalist politics on a world scale. Tabb is the author of The Restructuring of Capitalism in Our Time (Columbia University Press, 2012) and other books.

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An Empire Upside Down, Part 3

Christy Thornton

This is the final part of a three-part article on the United States and Latin America in the Trump era, originally published in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense magazine. Part 1 focused on Argentina, part 2 focused on Peru, and this part focuses on Colombia. Christy Thornton is an assistant professor of history and international studies at Rowan University.

Ramping up the Drug War

Beyond issues of trade, the White House visit this May from President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia reveals how the United States under Trump is poised to stymie important progressive changes led by Latin American governments—particularly when it comes to the drug war. Colombia has long been the United States’ staunchest ally in the region, as the Colombian ambassador reinforced before Santos’ trip, telling reporters, “There are very few countries that will come and tell that we love the United States, and we want to partner with the United States.” Colombia, he insisted, loves the United States. And Santos himself, who holds degrees from Harvard and the London School of Economics, has long had a relationship with his counterparts in Washington: before becoming president in 2010, he was the country’s defense minister, working very closely with the U.S. on drug and security issues. The visit, then, appeared cordial, and both presidents issued statements reaffirming the close ties between their countries.

During their joint press conference, however, Trump implicitly reprimanded his Colombian counterpart, drawing attention to the issue of coca growing in Colombia. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reported that coca production had reached record-high levels in the country in 2016. The increases came after the termination of a controversial aerial eradication program in which U.S. pilots sprayed suspected coca crops—and frequently the people, animals, and plants in their proximity—with glyphosate, a chemical that the World Health Organization (WHO) has linked to cancer. Ending the aerial spraying of the chemical put Colombia at odds with a crucial part of the United States’ counter-narcotics strategy in the country, though the Colombian government allowed on-the-ground eradication efforts to begin again this year. For many observers, this change marked a new willingness of Colombia to defy the United States.

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An Empire Upside Down, Part 2

Christy Thornton

This is the second part of a three-part article on the United States and Latin America in the Trump era, forthcoming in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense magazine. Part 1 focused on Argentina, this part focuses on Peru, and Part 3 will focus on Colombia. Christy Thornton is an assistant professor of history and international studies at Rowan University.

Trade and Multipolarity

When Peru’s newly elected President, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, arrived at the White House for a meeting with Trump, the narrative seemed to be one of continuity rather than change. During Kuczynski’s visit, Trump took the time to highlight to reporters his approval of the sale of military vehicles to Peru. The deal was for $668 million in reconditioned Stryker armored infantry carriers—mid-sized, rapidly deployable, armed people-movers, used by the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly in urban areas. (Notably, they are manufactured and reconditioned by a General Dynamics subsidiary in Canada, not the United States.) During his White House press briefing with Kuczynski, Trump told reporters, “I understand they’re going to be buying quite a bit of our military—some of our military vehicles. And they are great vehicles. I just looked at it and we’re approving it.”

While Trump took credit for approving the agreement, the deal was actually worked out in December, under the Obama administration. That Trump’s administration decided to continue a policy of selling security-related materiel to a Latin American country was no surprise. Security aid and arms sales have long been a backbone of the relationship between the United States and Peru, which, according to the Stockholm Institute, has received more than $1 billion in arms sales since 1950.

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