WHAT IS FREEDOM? WHOSE FREEDOM? WHOSE SOVEREIGNTY
(Reclaiming People’s Freedom in Times of “Free Trade”)
by Dr Vandana Shiva
“Freedom” has become such a contested term. We use freedom, corporations use freedom.We refer to people’s freedom to live and have livelihoods, to have access to vital resources-seed, food, water, land. And we refer to the freedom of the Earth and all her beings, based on recognizing the Rights of Mother Earth, Pachamama ,Bhoomi, Gaia……..
“Free trade” rules are written by corporations to enlarge their freedom to commodify and privatize every last inch of land, every last drop of water, every last seed, every last morsel of food. In the process they destroy the freedom of the Earth and Earth’s Family, and destroy the freedom of people to their lives and livelihoods,their cultures and democracies, by enclosing the commons, commodifying and privatizing every aspect of life.
For example, the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement of the World Trade Agreement, imposes patents on seeds, and patents allow corporations like Monsanto to prevent farmers from saving seeds. Worse ,as in the case of Monsanto vs Bowman farmers cannot buy grain in the market and grow a crop from it. And worse still, as in the case of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer whose canola crop was genetically contaminated with Monsanto’s Round Up Ready Canola, Monsanto can use patents, to sue farmers whose crops it has contaminated with its GMOs .
Monsanto acknowledges as having drafted the TRIPS agreement . A Monsanto representative stated that they were the “patient,diagnostician,physician” all in one,in drafting the TRIPS agreement . And the “disease” they diagnosed and sought to cure was that farmers saved seeds. The cure was that farmers should be prevented from saving and exchanging seeds by defining these fundamental freedoms as a crime.
For me, saving and protecting life on Earth, specially biodiversity and seeds, is the highest duty, the highest Dharma. That is why I started Navdanya in 1987, when I heard the corporations spell out their vision of total control on life through genetic engineering and patents on life and seeds and a “free trade” agreement.
Navdanya is dedicated to creating Earth Democracy based on Bija Swaraj (Seed Freedom/Sovereignty), Anna swaraj(Food Freedom/Sovereignty) Bhu Swaraj (Land and Forest freedom/sovereignty) Jal Swaraj (Water Democracy) Van Swaraj (Forest Sovereignty) Gyan Swaraj (Knowledge Sovereignty). Swaraj was used by Gandhi to describe self rule and self organization by people and communities to govern themselves. It is the highest expression of people’s sovereignty. Since 1987 we have used swaraj,freedom and sovereignty as interchangeable terms.
Bija Swaraj=Seed Freedom=Seed Sovereignty. Commons are spheres of life self governed by local communities. They are not governed by the market or the state. The state ,at best can recognize the rights of local communities,but it cannot prohibit the freedoms of communities to self govern the coomons. There is a difference in laws of recognition, an laws of prohibition. While laws of recognition of people’s sovereignty at higher levels strengthen people’s sovereignty, laws of prohibition extinguish it. For eg,India has enacted a Tribal Self Rule law to recognize the rights of self rule of local tribal communities. (The Panchayati Raj extension to Scheduled Areas) ,as well as the Forest Rights Act for which I was a member of the drafting group. And the draft on the Collective Rights to Biodiversity and knowledge of local communities is what enabled us to enshrine Farmers Rights in our laws on Plant Varieties as a sui generis system, instead of UPOV when the then Agriculture Minister, Shri Chaturanan invited Shri S P Shukla and me to be part of the expert group for drafting . The law titled Plant Variety protection and farmers rights Act 2001 has a clause on Farmers Rights
a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this Act
For us seed freedom includes farmers rights to save ,exchange, breed, sell farmers varieties-varieties that have been evolved over millennia without interference of the state or corporations.
We use “Seed Freedom” as the right of the seed as a living ,self organized system to evolve freely into the future, without the threat of extinction, genetic contamination from GMOs ,and the threat of termination through technologies such as the ‘Terminator Technology’ designed to make seed sterile. . In “Seed Freedom” is the freedom of bees to pollinate freely, without threat of extinction due to poisons. In “Seed Freedom” is the freedom of the web of life to weave itself, in integrity and resilience,in interconnectness and well being for all.
We refer to “Seed Freedom” as the Freedom of farmers to save and exchange farmers varieties freely among themselves. Seed and biodiversity is the ultimate commons, and commons are governed by local communities through local self rule and self governance,not by markets through privatization,nor through centralized authrority and its bureaucratic apparatus. We refer to “seed Freedom” as the freedom of eaters to have access to food grown from seeds bred for diversity,taste, flavour, quality and nutrition. In “Seed Freedom” is the duty to save and exchange native seeds bred by farmers .This is seed sovereignty.For farmers varieties conserved,used,bred as a commons, this means self organization and self rule at the level of local communities. At national and international levels, it includes the obligation of governments to protect the freedoms of biodiversity and people by regulating corporations to prevent them from undermining people’s sovereignty through Biopiracy on the one hand, and threats to Biosafety from genetically Engineered seeds and crops on the other. Freedom and Sovereignty is to have the freedom to self govern at the level of the community to take care of the commons, and to share sustainably and equitably in their fruits. It also involves freedom from harm through national and international regulation on Biosafety and prevention of biopiracy.
Regulation by the state of those who can cause harm to others creates the context for the practice of freedom in people’s space.
That is why rapists do not have the freedom to rape, murderers do not have freedom to murder, polluters do not have the freedom to pollute.
Corporations have unprecedented capacity to harm the Earth and people with new technologies like genetic engineering, and new monopoly power through intellectual property rights on seeds in so called “free trade” treaties, which are based on the freedom of corporations, and the creation of unfreedom for people.
Defending people’s freedoms in times of “free trade” means challenging the laws that create and expand corporate rule to every dimension of our lives. That is why we created the International Forum on Globalisation , stopped the WTO Ministerial in Seattle, and declared, our World is not for Sale.That is why we started The Indian People’s campaign against WTO under the inspiring Chairmanship of late Shri V P Singh, a former Prime Minister, and Convenorship of S P Shukla, India’s Ambassador to GATT during the Uruguay Round .
However, even though WTO went into intensive care since the Seattle Ministerial,the ideology of free trade as corporate rule continues to be imposed undemocratically on people across the world.
To push free trade as corporate freedom, three processes must be imposed simultaneously.
The first is the privatization of commons such as seeds, through IPR and Seed Laws imposed by the state or interstate bodies on behalf of corporations.
Thus patents on seeds were imposed through genetic engineering. This is the privatization of seeds and life as a commons. It is the enclosure of the biological and intellectual commons. Genetic Engineering has failed to increase yields ,or control pests and weeds.(See Navdanya report The GMO Emperor has no Clothes). And growth in Monsanto’s superprofits through collection of royalties goes hand in hand with farmers going into debt to pay for royalties and committing suicide. When the failure of GMOs and the high economic and social costs borne by farmers is taken into account, there is no justification of privatizing of seeds through patents. Intellectual property rights on seed lead to policing and regulating of citizens by the state to increase corporate control. Instead of being a defender of people’s sovereignty by regulating corporations, the state becomes an instrument of corporate sovereignty and people’s slavery.
Seed laws for compulsory registration which are being pushed everywhere are based on illegitimate restriction of people’s freedom in order to enhance corporate freedom to establish seed monopolies. An example of the expansion of corporate freedom by extinguishing people’s freedom to save and exchange farmers seed varieties is the proposed EU seed law, and the push for harmonization of Seed Related laws in Africa.
Another example is the 2004 Seed Law of India which could never be enacted because of our resistance through a Seed Satyagraha, and the Columbian laws passed to implement the US Columbia Free Trade agreement. These include
-Controls on the production, use and marketing of all seeds in the country (Resolution 970 of 2010)
-Expansion of intellectual property rights to include seeds (Law 1518 of 2012).
-Prohibition of the production and marketing of heritage-breed chickens (Resolution 000957 of 2008)
All of these laws favor large-scale industrial production over small-scale producers that do not have the resources to comply with such regulations. Campesinos are incredulous: “When we produce things like milk or chickens for our communities, of course we ensure that those products are safe because our families are the ones consuming them. It is an economy based on trust. But these new laws destroy that,” expressed one community member in Cauca (http://citizen.typepad.com/eyesontrade/2013/08/colombia-uprising-is-this-what-free-trade-looks-like.html)
The laws have been put on hold because of an uprising.
The second process for establishing corporate rule and increasing corporate freedom is deregulation of areas that need to be regulated by the state.For eg GMOs can cause ecological harm through genetic pollution, harm to public health , and socio economic harm through seed monopolies leading to farmers distress. That is why we have Biosafety laws at national levels and The Cartagena Protocol for Biosafety at the International level. Attempts to change India’s Biosafey laws, and impose BRAI, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India is an example of such deregulation. Another example was the Monsanto Protection Act of the US, which died during the budget debate.
The third process to enhance corporate freedom at the cost of people’s freedom is to direct public wealth to corporate welfare, away from public welfare. The US shutdown over Obama care in the US illustrates this well. It is health care for people and public expenditure on food for people that the corporate rule ideology of the Tea Party would like to end , not the subsidies for agribusiness, and the benefits to the pharmaceutical industry.
During the shut down, a spokesman for ending Obamacare said
“ More Government, less freedom,
less Government, more freedom”.
However, as Free Trade shows, corporations want more, not less government to police and regulate citizens ,to enclose the free spaces of the commons and threaten other countries to grab their resources and markets , through trade and military. They want more, not less government for corporate welfare. The inefficient model of industrial agriculture pushed by global agribusiness would collapse tomorrow without the $400 billion of public money agribusiness appropriates as agriculture subsidies.
But they want less government for public welfare . They want less government for protecting citizens from the corporate harm. This is what deregulation is about.
Corporate rule through free trade first created corporate states – states that work for corporations ,not for people. This has created an inverted state, which protects corporations from democratic control , instead of protecting people from predatory corporations. “Free Market Democracy” is rule of the corporations, for the corporations, by the corporations. People will not give up their freedoms without resistance, so we see the next step of the creation of the corporate military state. Why else would US intelligence spy on anti GMO activists? Why else would FBI go after activists of the Occupy movement. Why else would NSA have surveillance over citizens and governments of the world as revealed by Snowden? Why else would governments and corporations impose Seed laws to prohibit the use of local seeds and breeds which have been evolved by farmers and have been proven safe over millennia.?
And the next generation of “free trade agreements” give corporations power to sue governments that protect their people.This is at the heart of the Trans Pacific Partnership, and the US Europe Free Trade Agreement. Investment chapters in free trade agreements contain highly controversial provisions (dubbed ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ or ISDS) empowering an investor, ie corporation, to sue the host state. This is not about trade any more. It is about totalitarian corporate rule which cannot co-exist with people’s freedom.
We want freedoms for people ,not corporations. We want governments to regulate corporations that cause harm, and not police citizens through undemocratic seed laws and food laws whose only objective is to criminalise citizen freedoms in order to establish corporate totalitarianism over our seed and food.
And to ensure that unjust laws do not destroy our last freedoms we must remember Gandhi’s call “As long as the Superstition exists that unjust laws must be obeyed, so long will slavery exist”.
And there is only one way to defend freedom in the face of unjust laws-Satyagraha-the Fight for Truth. We are being called on to practise Seed Satyagraha and Food Satyagraha to defend our every day Seed Freedom and Seed Sovereignty, and Food Freedom and Food Democracy.