“To grow or die”- Social Injustice, Indigenous People, and Multinational Corporations, By: Hannah McCartney, Katie Harman, and Amanda Crawley
In prehistoric times, dinosaurs lived in a world dependent upon evolution in order to out-live their competitors. Evolution depends on the survival of the fittest, where one dominates another in order to survive. Dinosaurs relied upon their adaptation to their environment in order to survive. This survival is crucial to the survival of one’s lineage, and the continuance of one’s family. The smallest, weakest, and slowest to adapt were forever lost to their superiors. In a human aspect, we also rely on evolution in order to survive, but we take the evolution a step farther to grow or die. We aren’t competing against other humans in the sense that dinosaurs were competing against other dinosaurs, however we are competing with the environment. Humans have the intelligence to develop technology, cities, and communicate; therefore we feel we are superior to the environment because we have the ability to change and create an environment to suit our needs. This grow or die thinking we have developed has caused production and consumption to be be of high importance. However, the continuance of growth also causes the use of more natural resources and more harm to the environment. We are continually taking from the environment, but not giving back. This is where Social ecology steps in to try to solve the problem. Social ecology explains how all of our ecological problems are due to deep-seated social problems when it comes to economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts. It is the way human beings deal with each other as social beings through the different social classes and hierarchical structure of society, and how we need to dig deep down versus scraping the surface to get to the root of the problem. We need to realize that the solution is not one where we are the superiors to the environment, but that we are one with the environment.
In social ecology the drive to grow the biggest isn’t always the best for all; in the process others are pushed out. These people consist of the poor, people of color, and indigenous people. This leads to environmental injustice. According to Guha and Martinez- Alier, “A major source of environmental injustice is the actions of large multinational corporations [and the way] in which large international corporate interests have marginalized and squashed the interests and knowledge of indigenous peoples, as well as impoverishing them, cutting them off from their traditional livelihoods and making many of them hopelessly depend on the whims of multinational corporations” (David Clowney and Patricia Mosto 284). Indigenous people aren’t defined as people of a specific country or nation in one area, indigenous people are defined by their tradition in the countries they live in, and how they are sustained by the land around them. They are usually small in number, have their own language, and their own individual traditions and rituals that they live by. Looking at environmentalism in the first world, we view how we can preserve the forests or wildlife; however, environmentalism means focusing on social issues in developing countries. The reservation of indigenous communities that has been part of their sustainable tradition are threatened and desecrated by big multinational companies and corporations due to their strive to “grow more”. People are constantly fighting a war over land or water just to sustain themselves, their traditions, and their livelihood.
Through the social interactions of humans with other humans and their hierarchical classes, indigenous people have been left out when it comes to resources. Indigenous people are not part of the higher class; they don’t have the intelligence and resources like first world people do. Therefore, they are seen as people to dominate, to take over and “help”. In order to “help” indigenous people, big corporations are coming and Westernizing their culture. The corporations don't stop and ask what do you need, they just do what makes them a profit. They end up stripping the people of their environment, of their resources, making them even poorer than they were before. The indigenous people are being stripped of their environmental justice every day. According to the EPA, “Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies”(www3.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/). Corporations are involving the people, but it isn’t fair treatment nor meaningful involvement. They aren’t asking them what they really need, they are just using them to grow and make a profit.
One of the most vocal people regarding the treatment of indigenous peoples at the hands of giant, multinational corporations is Vandana Shiva in regards to the people of her own country. Shiva is the quintessential environmental activist and has been speaking out for decades against many modern and advanced agricultural practices that have directly and negatively affected not only the people of India but also the environment and biodiversity. But wait... globalization is a good thing, right? The movement and spread of ideas and technologies across borders and beyond the boundaries of language and land: what could be wrong with connecting the world in such a manner? To Shiva, it isn’t the spread of the knowledge that is the problem, rather the reason it is spreading, namely through the exploitation of indigenous peoples and lands and resources in less developed countries. These lands and resources and peoples are exploited to the benefit of large companies from the West who swoop in wearing capes in hopes of acting like the ‘savior.’ They come in with the intention to help develop the land to the same standard that one would expect in a first world country when, in reality, they are destroying the local environment and depleting the natural resources and crushing a way of life that has persisted and succeeded for many years before. The indigenous people are being deprived of their environmental justice due to the lack of understanding and respect for the indigenous people and their environment. This can be seen by looking at the state of the earth currently, we have overdeveloped and over harvested our resources, our land, and our water system and in the end, just like the dinosaurs we too can end with extinction.
Monsanto is the biggest culprit of this in India specifically, and Shiva has been fighting the powerhouse alongside the foundation she created, Navdanya, since the nineties. The hold that large corporations have over something so essential to life is abhorrent to Shiva. She makes the claims that everything comes down to seeds: all life begins as seeds, and that allowing multibillion dollar operations like Monsanto to have patents over the seeds is, in essence, giving that same company control over the creation of life. This is where Navdanya’s “Seed Sovereignty” campaign comes into play, so named because Shiva sees the company’s claims to life (read: seeds) as an “Intellectual Property” (which it is so called because of the patents the company holds) is essentially slavery in that this company owns the rights to life by holding those patents on the genetically modified seeds. This legal monopoly of the seeds that these indigenous farmers need to make a living ultimately leads to a dark and gloomy path. These farmers will pay exuberant amounts of money to obtain the seeds they need to plant their crop and then, should their crop fail or even just do poorly for the season, they are left with little more than severe debt. This then becomes a vicious cycle of ever increasing debt and reliance upon these foreigners. Shiva remarks upon this trend which has often lead to many indigenous people deciding to take their own life rather than continue down the same, spiraling path.
So what can we do to helpindigenous people? First you must consider how your actions contribute to the goals of the multinational companies. One can start by doing the smallest things such as growing your own vegetables and fruit, buying at farmers markets, researching products that impoverish and affect others, and being more focused on shifting government based power to local power. Overall, if one person is environmentally aware, that can make a difference in the global fight against corporate companies. Everyone deserves to have the opportunity to be what they wish and to have their “greatest happiness”. There are many people who are fighting for indigenous people, but many others aren’t even aware of their existence. You can look into who indigenous people are, where they are, how they are being wronged, and what you can do to help them. Some sites that might be helpful in finding out about on indigenous people and seeing the latest news are: Survival International and Amnesty International (http://www.survivalinternational.de/tribes https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/indigenous-peoples/ ). You can also look into products that are supporting indigenous work and/or philanthropic brands or associations such as looking on Survival International, or brands like Serengetee that support small indigenous businesses ( www.serengetee.com ). In the end, the fight to help those who are being impoverished by the “growing dinosaurs” is important, we need to fight to reclaim our common humanity and sense of interconnectedness. Instead of creating shut doors we should start opening them for ourselves and primarily for others. Every small victory against multinational corporations leads to a world that is more planet conscious ,and has more opportunities not only for some, but for all.