Truthout Stories Mon, 25 May 2015 19:52:48 -0400 en-gb Towards Legalized Corporate Secrecy in the European Union?

How industry, law firms and the European Commission worked together on EU “trade secrets” legislation - a threat to consumers, journalists, whistleblowers, researchers and workers.


This report (pdf version) is based on the analysis of hundreds of documents, [1] obtained through an access to documents request, exchanged between the European Commission's DG Internal Market and the main corporate lobby groups involved in the development of the EU's draft legislation on so-called “trade secrets”.

Industry's main message throughout the process has been that trade secret theft is a major threat to the EU economy that demands a legislative initiative to improve and harmonise rules on the matter. Industry's recommended approach for this was to define trade secrets as a form of intellectual property (IP).

From the very beginning the Commission took a strong interest in the idea and went on to collect the evidence it needed to demonstrate that legal "fragmentation" and trade secret theft would, indeed, be a threat.

But it outsourced the research to law firms that have a structural interest in the development of new legal protection tools for their corporate clients. In the end, industry and the Commission acted together, working hand in hand on the methodology of the very evidence collection for the research, jointly organising a “Commission conference on trade secrets”, even coordinating media outreach on one occasion.

Eventually, the Commission followed industry's demands almost completely, stopping short of creating a new IP category for trade secrets in the EU but granting the associated means of legal redress.

The collaboration between DG Internal Market and the lobby groups seems to have extended to lobbying the other DGs, jointly preparing the submission to the Commission's Impact Assessment Board, and lobbying the two other EU legislators, the Council of Ministers (Member States) and the European Parliament.

When asked, the Commission did not dispute much of the above and failed to see how working for three years on a quasi-daily basis with lobby groups could be a problem. Emails show the opposite is actually true: the Commission, once the decision to initiate new legislation was taken, actually needed industry lobby groups' help. The Commission for example did pro-active outreach to business lobby groups to be sure that as many companies as possible participated in the public consultation. Non-industry groups were completely absent from the Commission's drafting process until the public consultation, and no pro-active outreach to them seems to have been undertaken by the Commission. 

Three other important observations should be made about this correspondence:

- Reference was often made to the upcoming TTIP negotiations to justify the action, as comparable legal action was being drafted in the US, and direct lobbying of TTIP negotiators to get trade secrets protected as IP under TTIP was undertaken.

- Lobbying is made easier by the lack of capacity on the public side of the discussion. Between 2010 and June 2012, only one policy officer and his head of unit were in charge of the technical development of the file, and in June 2012 one other policy officer joined them. Other levels of the administration also intervened but at the management level. On the other side, industry sent in teams of consultants, lawyers and executives, background legal research, field examples, and senior academic contacts –all free of charge for the Commission.

- To the Commission's credit, there are at least two moments in the correspondence where the head of unit objected to industry proposals that went too far from a political independence point of view (a meeting proposal from the fragrance industry to discuss a template draft legislation, and angry remarks about suspicious-looking exchanges between the law firm working for the Commission (Baker & McKenzie) and lobby groups active on the file), but his staff never wrote anything of the sort. On the contrary, there are several instances where they actually facilitated the lobbying work of industry by introducing various lobby groups and the consultants working for the Commission to one another. Who doesn't appreciate competent free help for one's work?

Introduction: A Very Contentious Proposal

In January 2015, French journalists mobilised massively against a long amendment on the protection of “trade secrets” tabled by the government within a broader piece of economic legislation going through the Parliament. This unusual mobilisation was undertaken to defend the whole profession: these amendments foresaw that the unauthorised acquisition, use and disclosure of trade secrets would be punishable with 375,000€ fine and 3 years in prison (and twice that when the country's “sovereignty, security and essential economic interests” are at stake). The justification was to fight industrial espionage, but the text used a definition of “trade secrets” so broad that almost any internal information within a company could qualify, endangering business reporting, investigative journalism on corporations and the confidentiality of journalistic sources. The government quickly understood the text was not acceptable to the press as it stood and withdrew it.

This was only the beginning, however, because it quickly appeared that these amendments were about adding to French law the key elements of an EU text still being debated by the European Parliament on the same issue (and with the same justification: fighting industrial espionage). The draft directive on the “protection of undisclosed know-how and business information (trade secrets) against their unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure” was published by the European Commission in November 2013 and amended and approved by the European Council in May 2014.

While it does not foresee the same drastic penalties as what was considered by the French government (the draft Directive only harmonises civil law remedies, not criminal law), the draft directive has also attracted the criticism of a very broad range of civil society groups (including CEO and many others such as the European Federation of Journalists, the European Trade Union Confederation, Wikileaks, Public health NGOs, whistleblowers' defense organisations...), and for comparable reasons. The same vague and all-encompassing definition of trade secrets is used, the text defines secrecy as the norm and freedom of information as the exception (with the burden of proof on the journalist or whistleblower to demonstrate that disclosure was needed and that he has acted in the public interest), and endangers workers' mobility and corporate accountability.

It is also feared that the directive would provide additional legal arguments for companies to refuse the disclosure of the data they file with public authorities for their products' market authorisation, such as clinical trials for medicines or toxicological data for chemicals and food products (such disclosure is seen as indispensable to guarantee a scientifically rigorous assessment of these products). The Commission says its text is “neutral” on this point but lobbying goes on in the European Parliament with clear attempts in this direction.

By going as far as possible towards making trade secrets a new category of intellectual property (such a new category is not created but trade secrets “holders” are given means of legal redress comparable to what they would have obtained if it had been created), the draft directive might even limit the free circulation of knowledge and workers and thereby innovation, one of the arguments nevertheless used to justify it (a stricter legal protection of trade secrets against misappropriation is presented as potentially contributing to enabling research partnerships between companies). M. Gallo, a French MEP supportive of the project who chaired a December 2011 event on the issue, indeed pointed out then that “one hurdle is to make it understood that IP is associated with development, and not monopolistic rights that inhibit creation and innovation”.

Recent cases where the trade secrets protection argument is used by companies in legal proceedings against whistleblowers, journalists and employees show that fears about the consequences of the draft EU directive on civil liberties and the balance of power between employers and workers are not unfounded.

For instance, whistleblower Antoine Deltour, one of the sources in the Luxleaks affair, as well as French journalist Edouard Perrin, who first revealed it, are being sued by PriceWaterHouseCoopers in Luxembourg for alleged trade secrets “violation” after they disclosed scandalous tax deals brokered by PWC between Luxembourg and hundreds of multinationals, an important source of tax evasion and therefore public indebtedness in the EU.

This dimension of the problem was not ignored by the Commission. Its impact assessment discusses to what extent the text might threaten whistleblowing and journalistic freedoms, and concludes that it “does not disproportionately limit the freedom of expression and information, and in particular journalistic freedom” since there is a necessary “balancing” of interests to be made between the right of trade secrets owners and freedom of expression and information, pending that a safeguard clause is introduced to protect journalists and whistleblowers from abuse. This safeguard clause however is seen by journalists as completely insufficient.

In the US, where trade secrets are considered a form of intellectual property, ongoing legal proceedings show how trade secrets litigation has become a daily resource for companies to expand the scope of what they can claim as their property, at the expense of the rest of society, particularly workers. Ongoing litigations show a doctor suing the state of Pennsylvania for being forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement to obtain the composition of fracking fluids for medical purposes; a company suing a former employee to claim ownership of the social media contacts made by this employee during her time at the company; or three former Nike designers suing the company after they realised it had spied (in vain) on their correspondence in search for evidence for trade secrets sharing with competitor Adidas.

The official justification for the text is the fight against industrial espionage. However, while the main culprits for such espionage are generally thought to be governmental intelligence agencies, the sophistication of these players' operations and their status means that identification and legal redress is very difficult. By contrast, former employees, easier to identify and prosecute, constitute the large majority of recorded legal cases for trade secrets misappropriation and it is unlikely any legislation can change this situation. One of the difficulties is therefore to find a way to enable legal redress against unfaithful employees without undermining employees' collective rights.

One possibility to avoid the problem would be to narrow the scope of the text to economic competitors and intentions of commercial gain, which is actually the existing legal standard in the majority of EU countries where trade secrets' illegal acquisition, use and disclosure is regulated through unfair competition legislation. Harmonising unfair competition legislation however was not an option followed by the Commission, and amending the text in this direction would probably be difficult as this would mean a fundamental change in the text's core structure and philosophy. Remaining options are therefore damage control, to try to bring legal clarity and certainty to the exceptions via amendments, or outright rejection.

This situation raises several questions. How is it possible that the Commission risked to undermine fundamental democratic rights when drafting the text? Why did they not foresee that such a proposal would face very serious opposition, to the point that the entire text would risk being rejected or severely amended? Could it be that “too successful” corporate lobbying played a role?

To find out, we filed an access to documents request to the Commission to obtain the correspondence between its department in charge of the file and the industry groups we suspected were the key players. Our intuition was correct: we received hundreds of documents, which we shared with journalists [2] to share the analysis and reporting effort – although some of the documents still haven't been disclosed, apparently for capacity reasons. It must be noted that although all these documents were stored electronically at the Commission, we were only sent paper versions, a major obstacle to analysis and subsequent disclosure [3]. This report describes some of what we found in them.

I. Meet the Lobbyists

The correspondence between the Commission and the lobby groups trying to influence its thinking on trade secrets legal protection illustrates how industry often manages to convince the Commission because the discussion happens in a vacuum, among a few individuals. At these early, technical levels of discussion, which are absolutely key because this is where the whole debate is framed, there is often little or no other interests intervening, and no media scrutiny. The trade secrets file is a near chemically pure example of this phenomenon.

Unquestionably, the main driving force in the lobbying campaign from industry's side has been theTrade Secrets & Innovation Coalition (TSIC), whose demands to the Commission in early 2010 seem to have spurred the Commission into action on this file.

The TSIC is a low profile organisation, a sort of dedicated working group of multinational companies on trade secrets protection lobbying. It has no website, and its work was facilitated by global law firm White&Case until late 2011, when it moved to Hill&Knowlton (H&K),[4] a global lobbying consultancy. Why exactly it changed consultants is not clear, and neither White & Case nor Hill & Knowlton answered this question. One possible explanation? Thomas Tindemans, Counsel on EU practice at White & Case, was in charge of the file at the beginning but became the EU Managing Director of the Brussels office of Hill & Knowlton in September 2010; he took charge of the file again when the TSIC moved to Hill & Knowlton, a bit more than a year later.

The TSIC case is an interesting example of the flaws of the EU's voluntary lobbying transparency register. White & Case, the law firm who represented the interests of the TSIC until 2012, is not registered, did not register its client, and answered all our questions with a blancket statement that “any work around trade secrets or engagement with EU institutions would have been rooted in legal advice around specific client work. Therefore, we would decline to comment further.” This is in line with the EU inter-institutional agreement that created the register, which stipulates that legal counsel activities are indeed excluded, but much less so with what White & Case employees actually wrote to the Commission. When T. Tindemans wrote in March 2010 to a Commission official that “something needs to be done” on trade secrets legislation, was this legal counsel to a client or lobbying?

The TSIC was eventually listed by Hill & Knowlton as a client and declared separately in the Register, but in January 2014, two months after the Commission published its legislative proposal and four years after the TSIC had started lobbying it.

But problems don't stop with belated registration. According to Hill&Knowlton's entry in the EU's lobbying register, the TSIC would have brought in a revenue of under 50,000€ for 2013, while the TSIC's own entry in the register states a lobbying budget between 50,000 and 99,000€ - a surprisingly low amount given that it declares 18 employees (the equivalent of five full-time on this file). After we sent H&K a few questions on their lobbying work with the TSIC, the coalition's entry in the lobbying register was changed: the 16 staff working 5-10% on the file were deleted and the lobbying expenses figure was increased to 60,000€ - Hill & Knowlton said this was because of double accounting and inaccurate calcultions by the Register[5] According to H&K, this budget would have been stable from 2011 with about 25% of it allocated to lobbying the institutions, the rest used for coordination activities among members.

Until 1st April 2015, the TSIC's entry in the EU's Lobbying Transparency Register failed to disclose its members and was very vague on its activities. According to emails released by the Commission and the TSIC's updated entry in the register, the companies behind it are industrial gas supplier Air Liquide, transport and energy firm Alstom, chemical giant DuPont, General Electric, Intel, Michelin, Nestlé and Safran (an aircraft components, missiles and aerospace multinational). Some of these companies, in particular Alstom, DuPont and Michelin, lobbied the Commission directly in addition to what the TSIC was doing, presenting their specific examples of trade secrets theft on multiple occasions (including the Commission's official conference on trade secrets held on June 29th 2012). H&K further specified in their response to our questions that the TSIC was working “in collaboration with Business Europe, the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), Europe’s 500, the European Semiconductor Industry Association (ESIA)[6] and the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).” However, a press release sent by the TSIC on June 29th lists CEFIC, IFRA and Europe's as members of the coalition.

Europe’s 500 describes itself as a “European organisation and networking platform for growth companies and their entrepreneurs.” Created in 1996, its main activity seems to be organising high-level public awards events where they publish their list of the most innovative companies in Europe but little seems to have happened since 2013. Their role in the lobbying campaign seems limited to have procured an SME/start-up speaker for the Conference organised on June 29th , R. Bonet, CEO of Fractus SA, a Spanish IT company. The contact was made via H&K. Interestingly, H&K is a partner of Europe's 5OO and Tindemans writes on his LinkedIn profile that he has been an executive officer there since 2007. However, Europe's 500 is not listed in the EU Lobbying Transparency Register, either independently or as a client of H&K if this was the case.

The European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) is the chemical industry's trade association and the largest lobby group in Brussels with a 150-strong office. Reported sometimes on the internet as a member of the TSIC (DuPont is a common member), it is not listed as such in the EU's lobbying register but did undertake common activities with the TSIC, and was lobbying the Commission on trade secrets as early as 2006. Throughout the Commission's drafting process, their most insisting demand has been to try to get the directive cover regulatory data, in other words make sure the directive would give them legal grounds to oppose disclosure demands by third parties to public authorities related to the information companies file with public authorities for the safety assessment of their products as a basis for these products' marketing authorisation.

Lobbying for Regulatory Data Secrecy - A Parallel Campaign

It is important to point out that the trade secrets file is not the only avenue used by CEFIC to lobby for the non-disclosure of their data filed with public authorities. The TTIP negotiations are another: a 31st October 2012 joint proposal for the regulatory cooperation aspects of the trade negotiations by CEFIC and the American Chemistry Council, sent to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, made clear from its very first point that “ensuring appropriate protection of confidential commercial information” was very important to them. They added: “Nothing in a chemical regulatory impact analysis should require the disclosure of confidential information, including information that would compromise a financial or commercial interest if disclosed, or if it is prohibited by law”, and proposed to use “robust data summaries” to “allow increased access to and transparency in information without jeopardizing commercial interests.”

But they also lobbied the highest levels of the Commission directly. A 7th March 2014 joint letter by EFPIA (the pharmaceutical industry's lobby group, fighting disclosure of clinical trials data),Europabio (the biotechnology industries' lobby group, fighting disclosure of toxicology data for GM crops for instance) and ECPA(the pesticides industry's lobby group, part of CEFIC) to the Commission's Secretary-General Catherine Day insists on “our strong concerns about the current implementation by EU agencies of the legislation dealing with public access to documents”. “Our memberships are extremely concerned at the trend they are seeing with regard to the implementation of EU transparency legislation (Regulations 1049/2001 & 1367/2006 and Directive 2003/4) and their likely effect on the competitiveness and attractiveness of the European Union as a place to do business for innovative companies, including many SMEs”.

Importantly, Catherine Day answered favourably to their request. “Thank you for your letter of 7 March 2014 in which you are pointing to the relationship between the European 'Access-to-Documents' legislation (Regulation 1049/2001) and certain elements of the Aarhus Regulation (1367/2006) that could have a direct impact on the effective protection of commercial interests and intellectual property in the EU. […] The European Commission shares your concern that a correct balance must be found between the two legal instruments (emphasis added). […] At this stage I feel that, a meeting between representatives of your organisations and the Secretariat-General at technical level would be the most suitable solution.” It is not clear at this stage what the outcome of this process was.[7]

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA), the global trade association of the fragrance industry, is based in Geneva but has a Brussels office too. An affiliate member of CEFIC, they began lobbying the Commission from early 2011 because the fragrance industry faces a major challenge: while its traditional method for protecting its key assets – formulae in particular – was secrecy, the constant progress of reverse engineering technologies makes it easier nowadays for competitors to access these. IFRA's lobbying to get an IP protection on such secrets has therefore been very intense. They hired two lobbying consultants to help them:

- Charles Laroche, a senior Belgian lobbyist who started a consultancy (Laroche Conseilh) after a career at Unilever. Laroche Conseil declared a revenue from IFRA of between 100,000 and 199,000€ in 2014 .

- Joseph Huggard, also an experienced lobbyist who created a consultancy (The Huggard Consulting Group) after an earlier career in Exxon Chemicals and Glaxo SmithKline. Claiming “over 30 years experience of working with some of the most controversial substances for a variety of industries“, selling the services of a team of product defense veterans and high-level risk experts. In 2014, he declared between 10,000 and 24,999€ in revenue from IFRA.

As with almost every policy file with an interest for big business, Business Europe, on paper representing all EU employers but in practice more multinationals than SMEs, was also active on the trade secrets file from early 2012 onwards, taking care of the high-level political work and kindly obliging the Commission's demands to help it reach out to companies around the EU in order to ensure good participation by businesses in the Commission's economic survey and public consultation (no other civil society group got the same privileged treatment). Business Europe's national members such as France's MEDEF were also active, to a lesser extent. The Association Française des Entreprises Privées (AFEP), a powerful and discrete lobby group in France, also followed the file.

II. Framing and Convincing: IP Versus Unfair Competition

In any lobbying undertaking, the framing of the problem is the most crucial moment. In this case, it seems that the TSIC's demands to have the Commission issue new legislation on trade secrets were met from the very beginning with lots of sympathy.

The TSIC’s campaign seems to have been launched early 2010. A March 2010 letter by Tindemans, then a Brussels based lawyer with White & Case, to Margot Froehlinger, who at that time was the director of the Commission unit dealing with copyright and trademarks, summarises their core lobbying message:

"In these difficult times R&D efforts are being undermined by products resulting from trade secret theft entering the European market. The implementation of the coalition’s proposals, namely (i) that the Commission publicly recognise the protection and enforcement of trade secrets and (ii) ultimately the harmonisation at European level, would go a long way towards alleviating this pressure. Something needs to be done and we hope therefore that we can assist you in shaping a coherent and effective strategy for including this item on the European Commission's agenda for IP rights."

Two weeks later, Tindemans followed with a series of trade secret violation cases involving TSIC members Alstom, Dupont and Michelin. It prompted a positive response from Froehlinger:

“If there was more support in particular from the European parliament, we could also consider a harmonisation at EU level of unfair competition rules. This is long overdue and is one of the missing links in the Internal Market. This could deal, not only with trade secrets, but also with look-alikes and other types of copying which fall short of IPR infringement but are economically very harmful for European companies.”

Froehlinger then added:

“Should you possess any more concrete information about the form and scope of trade secrets (including know-how) in different EU members states, we would be extremely pleased if you could share this information with us”.

Trade Secrets Protection: Via Intellectual Property or Unfair Competition Legislation? A TTIP Connection

As the exchange above shows, the TSIC framed their demands for trade secrets protection within the EU's intellectual property rights strategy, but the Commission's initial reaction was rather to suggest action on the level of unfair competition legislation. The fact is that, as both the Commission and the TSIC knew, the vast majority of EU Member States already do protect trade secrets with unfair competition legal instruments, which has the important benefit of restricting the scope of the law to commercial entities and actions as well as not requiring demonstration of IPR infringement (even though, according to various sources, the key problem for companies remains demonstrating the misappropriation). Considering trade secrets as intellectual property, on the other hand, would limit redress against broader unfair competition practices but would, on the other hand, enable their owners to sue whoever would acquire, use and disclose them without their authorisation, regardless of the reasons for the acquisition (the core problem with the current text, which prompted the most opposition). The Commission eventually followed this line of thinking, stopping short of creating new IP rights for trade secrets but granting the legal redress means associated, despite the additional advantages of the unfair competition framework as underlined by the Commission in its first response. The Commission's May 2011 communication on “A Single Market for Intellectual Property Rights” recognised that considering trade secrets as intellectual property was a real issue, concluding that “Considering the complexity of this issue and its various implications, the Commission needs to pursue its reflection and gather comprehensive evidence before taking a position on a possible way forward”. Indeed, whether trade secrets should be considered a form of intellectual property has been a matter of academic and judicial debate for a long time.

But in 2013, the Commission did not even consider unfair competition legislation harmonisation among the various scenarios it considered in its impact assessment. How did industry manage to convince the Commission to follow the IP route rather than the unfair competition one? When asked about this, the Commission answered, in perfect bureaucraspeak, that “Unfair competition law covers a broad area, most of which remains under national law. The Commission decided to make a targeted intervention, addressed at a specific problem. This is without prejudice to any future action that the Commission may decide to take on Unfair Competition Law, if justified.” The documents show a certain persistence in the messaging from lobby groups, with for instance the TSIC submitting comments to a public consultation on IP enforcement stating that “trade secrets are recognised in the EU as fully being part of IPRs and, as such, should not be treated differently from industrial property rights”. In July 2012, a TSIC member (an executive from DuPont) stated that the EU could “expressly include trade secrets as a form of IP protected by the directive on enforcement of IP rights”.

Could the TTIP dimension have played a role? An October 2013 joint letter from Business Europe, the National Association of Manufacturers (Business Europe's US counter-part) and the Transatlantic Business Council to the two politicians in charge of the TTIP negotiations in the EU and the US, K. De Gucht and M. Froman, explicitly demands that the two blocks “ensure that their respective trade secret laws contain the following core elements that make up a model and modern trade secret law relevant to the digital economy: - Expressly recognizes trade secrets as intellectual propertyin line with TRIPS Articles 1.2 and 39.”

According to a source familiar with the matter, Jean Bergevin, the head of the unit in charge, would have wanted to go for IP protection for trade secrets, fully in line with what industry wanted and further than what was eventually published. Why this was not done does not appear in the documents.

III. From Lobbying to Partnership: the Close Relationship Between the Commission, the Lobbyists and the Consultants

Its correspondence with business lobbyists shows that the Commission, once it had decided to initiate legislation on the matter, treated the lobbyists as partners, reaching out for their help every time it was needed, be it to obtain information or to lobby the other EU institutions. It actually even facilitated the work of the lobby groups by introducing them to each other along the way. Asked about why it did so and whether this could be a problem, the Commission simply answered that “The Commission is transparent about its contacts with other stakeholders interested in the same policy areas”.

3.1 A Coveted First Legal Study – Law Firms' Collective Interest in Trade Secrets Protection

From the first exchanges onwards, the TSIC, then represented by White&Case, sent to the Commission not only case studies (those from Alstom, Michelin and DuPont) but also legal briefings about trade secrets protection legislation in various EU Member States and abroad, in order to demonstrate the need for EU-wide legal harmonisation. The applicable civil and criminal provisions in the US and Japan in particular were detailed (trade secrets are considered a form of intellectual property in these two countries).

On September 30th 2010, an email from the TSIC to the Commission shows that things had not progressed very much there. The initial aim to have trade secrets mentioned in a 2010 European Commission communication on a single Market Act (“50 proposals for improving our work, business and exchanges with one another”)[8] did not succeed (the topic is not discussed at all in the paper), and a meeting with the Commissioner's cabinet showed that there was still little awareness of the issue at the Commissioner level ("One thing that was a little surprising was the issue of trade secrets seemed to be quite new to him [… ] is this a topic on which Mr XX has been briefed? In any event we left him a pack of information for review, but obviously briefing from within the Commission would be more useful").

However, a first element of good news for White&Case: the Commission took the decision to outsource (budget: 60,000€) a legal study to assess the legal situation among EU Member States, which was a job White & Case had already largely done on TSIC's behalf. Perhaps an opportunity to get paid for this work by the Commission, after having been paid by the TSIC members? A policy officer at the Commission was kind enough to tip the lobbyists: “I am sending you the preliminary version of the study, for you to see whether this would be something you would be willing to bid for" (email from the Commission to White&Case, 21st September 2010). However, there was a difficulty: the draft Invitation to Tender (ITT) “requires a statement that there are no conflicts of interest. We touched upon this last time but thought it would be good to discuss again.” Was this an issue because White & Case employees were acting as lobbyists at the same time on the same issue? We did not get any answer to this question.

In the end, White & Case was not chosen by the Commission, who chose another global law firm, Hogan Lovells. The document explaining this decision has been entirely redacted by the Commission, so it is not possible to know why the Commission chose one law firm and not the other. An October 15th 2010 email from White & Case refers to a “frank and open discussion” with the Commission, which might be related.

It is interesting though to see that Hogan Lovells, just like most corporate law firms, is not selling legal expertise on trade secrets to the Commission only. It is selling legal advisory and defence services on trade secrets to all potentially interested clients. The broad support for the Commission's initiative among corporate law firms is simple to understand: it adds a tool to the toolbox of services they can propose to their clients. On the other side of the Atlantic, for instance, the law firm Covington & Burling is acting as a lobbying consultant to a “Protect Trade Secrets Coalition” coalition of multinational companies with comparable goals to the TSIC. It is striking that the Commission uses consultants with such a structural interest in developing their own market.

The lobbying by White & Case on behalf of the TSIC continued in 2011, and in particular after a new head of unit, Jean Bergevin, was appointed in April 2011 to lead the work of the Commission on this file. I. Forrester, a lawyer at White & Case, used the opportunity to introduce him to a US academic specialised in trade secrets, R. Milgrim: “A friend of ours, Jean Bergevin, has been given a new job and a new task within the Commission, which is to consider the problems presented by stolen trade secrets” (email from White & Case to Milgrim, cc J. Bergevin, 1st July 2011). The introduction was followed by a detailed correspondence, which prompted the following remark by Forrester: “I am delighted to note that two talented persons are exchanging views and ideas fruitfully.” (email from White & Case to R. Milgrim and J. Bergevin, 28th July 2011).

3.2 Assessing the Economic Need for Trade Secrets Legal Protection

The economic survey assessing the importance of trade secrets for European companies is a key piece of information because it is the evidence on which the Commission based its demonstration that a legal harmonisation of trade secrets protection in the EU was needed. Its main finding that “86% of companies and research institutes participating in a recent survey considered trade secrets as an important tool for business and research bodies in the EU to protect their valuable information” is the first sentence of the impact assessment's executive summary. For this reason, the way it collected the evidence is very important, and in particular the questions asked.

3.2.1 "Policy-Based Evidence-Making"

One document is particularly interesting to understand how the European Commission sees its economic survey. It is a letter from Michel Barnier, then Commissioner for the Internal Market, sent to Business Europe's then director Philippe de Bück on May 16th 2012. It is worth quoting at length because it describes how the Commission is collecting the evidence it needs to demonstrate the necessity for the new legislation, as opposed to collecting evidence to assess this necessity:

“In order to complete the information necessary to evaluate the impacts of any future measure, my services have in the meantime commissioned a study on the economic impact of trade secrets. This seeks to provide a rigorous assessment of just how important their role is in the competitiveness of European businesses. It will include an EU wide survey involving the most concerned industries and my hope is that we will be able to demonstrate that all businesses in our services and knowledge based economy and in particular SMEs rely on trade secrets. In that manner we will demonstrate that the current fragmented legal framework for their protection undermines competitiveness and therefore investment and job creation in the Single Market. I sincerely hope that your organisation will continue to assist us in achieving this objective and am delighted to hear from my services of the excellent cooperation to date.”

The contract established in February 2012 between the Commission and the global law firm Baker & McKenzie, hired to complete the economic survey (cost: 400,000€), stipulates: “The study is aimed at allowing the Commission to make an informed assessment of the role of trade secrets and confidential business information as possible drivers for innovation, competitiveness and economic growth in the EU.”

The study's conclusions, in turn, appear perfectly aligned with the Commission's objectives:

“The Study describes the current fragmented scenario, its commonly perceived weaknesses and the widespread appetite for a harmonized approach. The final recommendations advocate for legislative initiative on trade secrets protection at the EU level and highlight the areas where intervention would be most beneficial in terms of balanced economic growth and competitiveness for the Internal Market”.

3.2.2 Helping the Lobbyists Lobby the Consultants

But the Commission was not the only one with an agenda for this survey's outcome. On 22nd of February 2012, two weeks after the contract for the economic survey was awarded to the Milan office of Baker & McKenzie, a legal officer at DG Internal Market obliged a TSIC request and sent them the contact details of the two lawyers in charge of leading the economic survey. In the following days, the TSIC, now represented by Hill & Knowlton and again by T. Tindemans among others, asked for a joint meeting with B&M and the Commission, which the Commission was happy to facilitate (it actually had to insist to convince B&M, as the contract stipulated a fixed number of meetings). The meeting eventually took place on March 22nd.

What was the nature of the following exchanges between the consultants and the lobbyists? Only documents where the Commission in is copy were obtained, but the interaction seems to have been intense.

A little too intense? Four days before the conference, on 25th of June 2012, an exchange between B&M lawyers and Bergevin points at a process possibly having gone out of hand. Following an email by B&M explaining their doubts about the idea of sharing the draft survey and methodology in advance with the conference's participants and explaining that TSIC and IFRA had already received it but would only be able to send comments after the conference for internal organisational reasons, Bergevin reacted strongly: “Apparently you have been testing the survey with certain companies and trade associations. These I understand have a revised version that we have not seen? Moreover you propose to wait for their reaction and as a consequence will not be able to present it to the conference because their internal procedures!!!! I find all of this very worrying. First you have a contract with us not certain interested industry groups. Secondly this approach is biased and totally lack transparency that we are all bound by. I would therefore insist that you transmit the revised questionnaire and a shortened version of the survey methodology no later than this evening”.

This was immediately followed by an email from another (more senior) lawyer at B&M, explaining that it was all a misunderstanding and that “I perfectly understand your point and agree on the absolute need to keep distance from interested industry groups. Be assured that we are well aware that this is the name of the game and that you, the Commission, are the only referee. In particular, needless to say, we don't even dream of playing any tricks with trade associations: besides any other consideration, we would never put our reputation at risk. […] We may hear comments from multiple parties (actually this is the purpose of our exercise), but in no event we would take account of any “suggestion” possibly received from the field.”

On 16th July 2012, two weeks after the conference where the survey methodology was presented, the TSIC sent an email to Baker & McKenzie with a long list of comments, making 16 specific suggestions for change. On 19th July 2012, an email was sent by a consultant working for IFRA (C. Laroche) to F. Gaudino, a lawyer at Baker & McKenzie, with editing suggestions (an IFRA colleague followed up with edits in track changes in the draft survey itself the next day, with some common ones with the TSIC's). On the same day, Ms Gaudino had sent an email to both IFRA and the TSIC to share with them a revised version of the questionnaire, saying that “we tried to accommodate your suggestions as well as of all the other stakeholders who provided feedback”. A comparison with the final survey document by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows that half the suggestions made by the TSIC were taken on board by B&M.

This, however, is seen as unproblematic by the Commission. “As part of the study, it was foreseen to present a draft questionnaire for the survey at the June 2012 Conference organised by the Commission with the intention of receiving feedback from interested stakeholders. The Conference was public and open to all. On the basis of that feedback and the Commission feedback, Baker and McKenzie refined the questionnaire for the survey.”

3.2.3 "Debating" Trade Secrets

So, on 29th June 2012, the Commission organised a public conference on trade secrets, whose main purpose was indeed to present the preliminary findings and methodology of the B&M economic survey. But while the Commission presents the conference as “A Commission Conference” on its website, this is somewhat exaggerated: the conference was jointly organised with Baker & McKenzie, as foreseen by their contract, and all the lobbyists and consultants competed in courtesies to have their own representative on the panels. The competition became so tough that Baker & McKenzie even complained at some point that they were not getting all the visibility they had expected from the contract's terms: “the conference is one of the Project' tasks and visibility, not money, is supposed to be the reward for us” (email from B&M to the Commission, 5th June 2012).

Baker & McKenzie was still very much in a leading position during the conference, flying in a US economist from the firm (Dr. Thomas S. Respess III) and presenting their work. They also brought in the only non-industry external speaker of the event, an Italian academic, to present the methodology of the survey.

From the Commission's point of view, there were clear advantages in organising a public event with interested lobbyists: it took less than 30 minutes to confirm the participation of three industry speakers from the TSIC. The usual suspects with their usual examples: Alstom with a power plant in Bulgaria, Michelin with its prototype tire stolen in Japan in 2005 during a rally, and DuPont with various trade secrets related to kevlar manufacturing being stolen.

Besides Commission officials, other speakers and panellists included the two Hogan Lovells lawyers who wrote the study on the existing legal framework for trade secrets protection in the EU for the Commission, four other law firms (Bardehle Pagenberg, Gleiss Lutz, Jones day and IIPTC), and the CEO of a start-up (Fractus SA). The minutes of the conference indicate that the potential impact of the legislation on non-industry sections of society, in particular journalists, whistleblowers or workers, was not discussed (employees were only referred to within examples of misuse or theft of trade secrets, so as potential threats).

3.2.4 Coordinating Media Outreach

On the eve of the conference, the TSIC sent the Commission a list of journalists who had expressed interest in covering the conference or at least receiving a press release (media titles mentioned include Europolitics, Bloomberg, European Voice, La Tribune, Dow Jones, IP Watch, Financial Times Deutschland and Mlex – AFP, Financial Times, Agence Europe and Les Échos were also said to be interested but probably too busy for coverage), asking “Thank you for letting us know if there will be a press statement from your side?”

The Commission replied with a copy of the draft official press release (midday express, in EU jargon) to be published the next day. To which the TSIC replied sending its own.

Asked whether coordinating press releases and media outreach with lobby groups was appropriate, the Commission answered the following:

“The conference held in 29 June 2012 ensured an open public debate on the legal protection of trade secrets, their economic relevance and the survey to industry, and stimulate participation of all stakeholders that had not yet been expressing any views on the subject. Strong press coverage is one important way of capturing the public’s attention and stimulating such debate.”

3.2.5 Business Europe to the Rescue to Provide Industry Participation

A few months later, on November 15th 2012, the Commission called Business Europe to the rescue again: the survey foreseen in the study needed business participation within a short deadline. The email explained that:

“In order for the Commission to be in a position to consider, prepare and propose an initiative on legal protection of trade secrets against misappropriation, a high rate of participation in the survey is of great importance. However, the timeline for participation in the survey is very short, namely until 3 December.

We think that Business Europe can play an important role in mobilising companies to engage in this exercise. Please find attached a link to our webpage where the survey is announced.

We will also launch in a few weeks a public consultation on the topic, and once again a high level of participation will be crucial in order to gather representative data.”

This latter demand was also important. The public consultation launched by the Commission in December 2012 was the first moment non-industry actors engaged with the file, in a marginal (only two groups, the Pirate Party and a French group called Collectif Roosevelt) but meaningful way (75% of individual citizens who took part in it opposed the very principle of issuing new legislation on trade secrets protection).

But it wasn't thanks to DG Internal Market: on the 11th December 2012, it sent the TSIC the link to the public consultation, insisting that this is “open to all citizens and all sorts of organisation (business organisations, unions, consumers etc.). It would of course be important to have the views of companies from all sizes, sectors and different geographic locations. I would therefore ask you to inform the members of the TSIC [...].” It then sent a similar email to all the participants in the June conference. Again, pro-active outreach to business groups only. The Commission responded to our questions on the complete absence of non-industry groups until the public consultation, and their very limited activity until autumn 2014, by pointing to the fact that it had published numerous documents and communications about its work and that "these organisations had ample opportunity to engage with its services had they wished to."

3.3 Lobbying Member States and the European Parliament

From then on, the main features of the project being more or less settled – pending the finalisation of the economic survey (eventually published in July 2013), the main priority of the “partnership” composed of lobby groups and the small team at the Commission is to ensure that the rest of the Commission supports their proposal, and that there is enough support at the two other EU legislators, the Council (Member States) and the European Parliament.

- On 12th October 2012, the TSIC enquires whether the trade secrets file will be included in the Commission's 2013 work programme in order to have “a more natural hook with Member States”. She adds that she is also going to lobby the cabinets of the Enterprise and Research Commissioners. The policy officer answers that he doesn't know yet.

- On the 16th October 2012, IFRA invites Bergevin to participate in a meeting of the SME Intergroup in the European Parliament, dedicated to “The Need of a Better Protection of Trade Secrets for SMEs”.

- On 13th November 2012, the same person at TSIC informs the policy officer that she “had a very good meeting” with Tajani's cabinet (Commissioner for Enterprise) who is “entirely supportive of DG Internal Market's action in this area”.

- On 20th February 2013, IFRA tries a bold move: on the day before a meeting planned earlier, it sends Bergevin a draft directive text, “a few thoughts in the shape of a legislative draft around innovation and know-how protection”. The text is structured like a template Commission proposal. Too bold? Bergevin answers that “for obvious reasons I cannot accept that my team discusses a legislative proposal with industry. For this reason, and given our workload, I prefer at this stage to cancel the meeting that had been set tomorrow.” (both quotes originally in French)

- On 25th February, IFRA sends DG Internal Market a socio-economic impact analysis of fragrance technologies, which proposes a monetary evaluation of the impact of trade secrets loss. Up to €15bn in GVA and 300,000 jobs would be at risk, it says.

- On 14th March 2013, CEFIC sends “new documents including facts & figures of interest with regard to trade secrets misappropriation”.

- On 13th March 2013, in a similar fashion as IFRA and CEFIC, the TSIC sends an email to them to share the results of an “internal interview exercise” meant to get data on the cross border and monetary dimension of the issue. This, in the hope that “this will help you in your current work, ahead of your end of March deadline with regards to the IAB”.

This is very important: the Impact Assessment Board (IAB) is the internal policy evaluation body of the Commission; in other words, the lobby groups are helping DG Internal Market pass the internal assessment procedures of the Commission.

- On 24th April 2013, Charles Laroche, consultant for IFRA, wrote to Bergevin to ask him to join a roundtable organised on the issue by the Kangaroo group and hosted by MEPs Edith Herczog and with the participation of MEP Malcolm Harbour. From then on, the email correspondence between the TSIC and the Commission appears more limited. The TSIC feeds in background readings and articles; receives a notification that the economic survey is being published in July 2013.


On the 28th November 2013, the day the Commission published its legislative proposal, the TSIC, via T. Tindemans, sent the following email to Bergevin and his colleagues:

Subject: “Congratulations!”


Allow me to sincerely congratulate you with the adoption of the Commission proposal. There’s a lot of work ahead, but this is a milestone, and your efforts will bear fruit.




1. All documents referred to in this report that are not online are available on request at CEO.

2. Nick Mathiason, from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, and Martine Orange, from Mediapart, in France

3. We thank on the other hand the person who organised them

4. H&K is a subsidiary of marketing and PR giant WPP.

5. H&K's full explanation: “Our previous entry did not take into account (a) de minimis principles excluding employees spending only a minimal percentage of their time on the activities covered by the register (b) double accounting – as the time declared for the 14 additional individuals is covered by their individual company or association entries, given that they are neither TSIC or Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ employees. The figure quoted of five full-time-equivalent employees is based on an automatic calculation by the Transparency Register and is incorrect. This has now been corrected.”

6. The European Semiconductor Industry Association (ESIA) was not included in the access to documents request. It is not listed in the EU Lobbying Transparency register.

7. The letters between the three industry trade associations and Catherine Day's office were obtained by journalist Stéphane Horel via an access to documents request.

8. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, “Towards a Single Market Act. For a highly competitive social market economy 50 proposals for improving our work, business and exchanges with one another”. 

News Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Not Lovin' It: Thousands Storm McDonald's Head Quarters to Protest Low Wages

In the largest protest of its kind, thousands of McDonald’s employees stormed the company’s headquarters on May 20 to demand that it stop spending millions manipulating stock prices, and start paying workers a living wage. McDonald’s cashiers and cooks came to the company’s shareholders meeting, at its corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. More than 100 were arrested for refusing to leave the property.

Marching with them were Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry; Moral Mondays movement leader Rev. William Barber; Rev. Marilyn Pagán Banks of North Side Power/A Just Harvest in Chicago, Illinois; and Rev. Rodney E. Williams of the Swope Parkway United Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri.

The company, which banned media from its shareholders meeting on May 19, responded by shutting down its corporate headquarters.

 McDonald’s is already under fire worldwide for dodging €1 billion in corporate taxes in Europe, and violating labor laws in Brazil. Now its in hot water back home for a share buyback scheme designed to inflate the company’s stock price, which means more money in the already well-lined pockets of shareholders and company executives. The company recently announced plans to return $18 to $20 billion to shareholders by 2016, through dividends and share buybacks.

Thousands of workers swarmed the company’s headquarters to protest McDonald’s spending nearly $30 billion manipulating stock prices instead of paying its workers a livable wage. Some carried blown-up copies of their paychecks to illustrate how little McDonald’s invests in its workers vs. how much is spends repurchasing shares.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project released a statement in support of the protest:

“McDonald’s workers are rightly bringing the fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union to their employer’s doorstep. For too long, the McDonald’s business model has served to enrich executives and short-term shareholders at the expense of workers and taxpayers. It’s time McDonald’s face the people who fry its fries and serve its customers but who are forced to pay for groceries with food stamps because McDonald’s does not pay them enough to feed their families.

“In the last decade, McDonald’s spent $30 billion on share buy backs—a widely discredited and short-sighted strategy to pump up the value of its stock. Spending billions on buybacks may provide short-term payoffs for a handful of rich investors, but it does nothing to benefit the company’s hundreds of thousands of employees, who are barely making ends meet. In fact, it misplaces resources that would be better used investing in growing the company or raising worker pay.

“More than half of fast-food workers are forced to rely on public assistance to support themselves and their families. McDonald’s costs taxpayers $1.2 billion every year in public assistance. McDonald’s is a $5 billion global corporation; its employees should not need to rely on food stamps, and taxpayers should not be subsidizing its profits.

“Today, as the workers protested, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Wage Board held its first hearing to significantly raise pay for fast-food workers across the state. And just yesterday, Los Angeles became the biggest city yet to vote for a $15 minimum wage, which is fast becoming a new baseline for workers across the country. The McDonald’s workers who are standing up and fighting for $15 and union rights are winning. This fight is not theirs alone—all of us have a stake in it. And when they finally get $15, all of us will be better off.”

The protest comes on the heels of the largest-ever strike against the fast food industry last month, when workers joined walkouts in 236 cities, as well as strikes and protests in 40 countries.

News Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Farmers Fight Real Estate Developers for Kenya's Most Prized Asset: Land

2015.5.25.Kenya.1David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. (Photo: Miriam Gathigah/IPS)

Ngangarithi, Kenya - Vegetables grown in the lush soil of this quiet agricultural community in central Kenya’s fertile wetlands not only feed the farmers who tend the crops, but also make their way into the marketplaces of Nairobi, the country’s capital, some 150 km south.

Spinach, carrots, kale, cabbages, tomatoes, maize, legumes and tubers are plentiful here in the village of Ngangarithi, a landscape awash in green, intersected by clean, clear streams that local children play in.

Ngangarithi, home to just over 25,000 people, is part of Nyeri County located in the Central Highlands, nestled between the eastern foothills of the Abadare mountain range and the western hillsides of Mount Kenya.

In the early 20th century, this region was the site of territorial clashes between the British imperial army and native Kikuyu warriors. Today, the colonial threat has been replaced by a different challenge: real estate developers.

Ramadhan Njoroge, a resident of Ngangarithi village, told IPS that his community’s worst fears came to life this past January, when several smallholder families “awoke to find markers demarcating land that we had neither sold nor had intentions to sell.”

The markers, in the form of concrete blocks, had been erected at intervals around communal farmland.

They were so sturdy that able-bodied young men in the village had to use machetes and hoes to dig them out, Njoroge explained.

It later transpired that a powerful real estate developer in Nyeri County had placed these markers on the perimeters of the land it intended to convert into commercial buildings.

The bold move suggested that the issue was not up for debate – but the villagers refused to budge. Instead, they took to the streets to demonstrate against what they perceived to be a grab of their ancestral land.

“We cannot have people coming here and driving us off our land,” another resident named Paul Njogu told IPS. “We will show others that they too can refuse to be shoved aside by powerful forces.”

“I was given this land by my grandmother some 20 years ago,” he added. “This is my ancestral home and it is also my source of livelihood – by growing crops, we are protecting our heritage, ensuring food security, and creating jobs.”

But Kenya’s real estate market, which has witnessed a massive boom in the last seven years, has proven that it is above such sentiments.

Those in the business are currently on a spree of identifying and acquiring whatever lands possible, by whatever means possible. It is a lucrative industry, with many winners.

The biggest losers, however, are people like Njoroge and Njogu, humble farmers who comprise the bulk of this country of 44 million people – according to the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated five million out of about eight million Kenyan households depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Land: The Most Lucrative Asset Class

Last September, Kenya climbed the development ladder to join the ranks of lower-middle income countries, after a rebasing of its National Accounts, including its gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI).

2015.5.25.Kenya.2This woman, a resident of Ngangarithi village in central Kenya, uses fresh water from the surrounding wetlands to irrigate her crops. (Photo: Miriam Gathigah/IPS)

The World Bank praised the country for conducting the exercise, adding in a press release last year, “The size of the economy is 25 percent larger than previously thought, and Kenya is now the fifth largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa behind Nigeria, South Africa, Angola and Sudan.”

According to the Bank, “Economic growth during 2013 was revised upwards from 4.7 percent to 5.7 percent [and] gross domestic product (GDP) per capita changed overnight, literally, from 994 dollars to 1,256 dollars.”

The reassessment, conducted by the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, revealed that the real estate sector accounted for a considerable portion of increased national earnings, following closely on the heels of the agricultural sector (contributing 25.4 percent to the national economy) and the manufacturing sector (contributing 11.3 percent).

David Owiro, programme officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a local think tank, told IPS, “Kenya’s land and property market is growing exponentially.”

His analysis finds echo in a report by HassConsult and Stanlib Investments released in January this year, which found that the scramble for land in this East African nation is due to the fact that land has delivered the highest return of all asset classes in the last seven years, up 98 percent since 2007.

Land prices in the last four years have risen at twice the rate of cattle and four times the rate of property, while oil and gold prices have fallen over the same period, researches added.

Advertised land prices have risen 535 percent, from an average of 330,000 dollars per acre in 2007 to about 1.8 million dollars per acre today. Thus, equating land to gold in this country of 582,650 sq km is no exaggeration.

According to Owiro of the IEA, a growing demand for commercial enterprises and high-density housing in the capital and its surrounding suburban and rural areas is largely responsible for the price rise.

Government statistics indicate that though the resident population of Nairobi is two million, it swells during the workday to three million, as workers from neighbouring areas flood the capital.

This commuter workforce is a major driver of demand for additional housing, according to Njogu.

As a result, two distinct groups who see their fortunes and futures tied to the land seem destined to butt heads in ugly ways: real estate developers and small-scale farmers.

What Is Sustainable?

While the land rush and real estate boom fit Kenya’s newfound image as an economic success story, they run directly counter to the United Nations’ new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be finalised in September.

The attempt to seize farmers’ land in Ngangarithi village reveals, in microcosm, the pitfalls of a development model that is based on valuing the profits of a few over the wellbeing of many.

2015.5.25.Kenya.3A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. (Photo: Miriam Gathigah/IPS)

Farmers who have lived here for generations not only grow enough food to sustain their families, they also feed the entire community, and comprise a vital link in the nation’s food supply chain.

Taking away their land, they say, will have far-reaching consequences: central Kenya is considered one of the country’s two breadbaskets – the other being the Rift Valley – largely for its ability to produce plentiful maize harvests.

In a country where 1.5 million people experience food insecurity every year, according to government statistics cited by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), pushing farmers further to the margins by separating them from their land makes little economic sense.

Furthermore, encroachment by real estate developers into Kenya’s wetlands flies in the face of sustainable development, given that the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified Kenya’s wetlands as ‘vital’ to its agriculture and tourism sectors, and has urged the country to protect these areas, rich in biodiversity, as part of its international conservation obligations.

For Njogu, the land rush also represents a threat to an ancient way of life.

He recounted how his grandmother would go out to work on these very farmlands, decades ago: “Even with her back bent, her head almost touching her knees, she did all this for us,” he explained.

“When she became too old to farm, she divided her land and gave it to us. What if she had sold it to outsiders? What would be the source of our livelihood? We would have nowhere to call home,” he added.

Already the impacts of real estate development are becoming plain: the difference between Ngangarithi village and the village directly opposite, separated only a by a road, has the villagers on edge.

“On our side you will see it is all green: spinach, kale, carrots, everything grows here,” Njogu said. “But the land overlooking ours is now a town.”

Various other villagers echoed these sentiments, articulating a vision of sustainability that the government does not seem to share. Some told IPS that the developers had attempted to cordon off a stream that the village relied on for fresh water, and that children played in every single day, “interacting with nature in its purest form,” as one farmer described.

“I am not fighting for myself but for my children,” Njogu clarified. “I am 85 years old, I have lived my life, but my great-grandchildren need a place to call home.”

Villagers’ determination to resist developers has caught the attention of experts closer to the policy-making nucleus in Nairobi, many of whom are adding their voices to a growing debate on the meaning of sustainability.

Wilfred Subbo, an expert on sustainable development and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, told IPS that a strong GDP is not synonymous with sustainability.

“But a community being able to meet its needs of today, without compromising the ability of its children to meet their own needs tomorrow, [that] is sustainable development,” he asserted.

According to Subbo, when a community understands that they can “resist and set the development agenda, they are already in the ‘future’ – because they have shown us that there is an alternative way of doing business.”

“Land is a finite resource,” Subbo concluded. “We cannot turn all of it into skyscrapers.”


Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

News Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"There's Nothing Left": Women's Future Under the Conservatives in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom went to the polls on Thursday 7th May. The second polls closed at 10PM, the BBC were able to reveal the results of their exit poll. The projected outcome - a huge swing to the incumbent Conservatives, the decimation of their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, and a sizeable loss of seats for the Labour party countered all previous opinion polling, which repeatedly projected a dead heat between Labour and the Conservatives, making a hung parliament seem a certainty for the second time in five years. Twelve hours later, as the results cascaded in, the BBC’s poll looked too cautious in its predictions for the Conservatives. After an election campaign in which every politician, journalist and analyst was confident the UK would see a hung parliament, David Cameron had secured a majority, and returned to Downing Street, unfettered by his former coalition partners.

When this reconfigured parliament sits for the first time, a change in make up will be evident amongst the new faces. More Conservatives, more Scottish Nationalists, but also more women. The number of women in the House of Commons rose by a third after all seats were returned. It’s a cheering statistic on its own, but one that merits more scrutiny. Of the 650 seats elected last Thursday, nearly 100 had all male candidates on the ballot paper. Even with the significant hike in the number of women MPs, the proportion still dwindles below a third - 191 women in parliament, compared to the 147 elected at the last election.

Of the big name politicians who lost, a large proportion were men, but for the Liberal Democrats, the loss of Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone means of their eight remaining politicians, none are women. Esther McVey, the Conservatives’ employment minister lost her Merseyside seat, and has been replaced by Priti Patel, albeit still in a male dominated cabinet.

But numbers aside, the outlook for women in the next government is far bleaker. Five years of cuts and austerity hit women in Britain far harder than men, with 80 per cent of public spending cuts affecting women. The Conservatives ran their campaign on an economic platform, arguing that they were the only party to continue to reduce the country’s deficit. Whether a deficit reduction programme is necessary or desirable depends on your political outlook, but both the Conservatives and Labour bought the neoliberal argument that austerity was the only option throughout the campaign.

Now in office, and with a majority, the Conservatives have to fulfil their election commitment to cut £12bn from the welfare budget - a sum that amounts to a 10 per cent cut in all non-pensioner spending. For those reliant on welfare benefits to make ends meet, the disabled, the low-waged, the families in poverty, this is almost unthinkable. The exponential rise in food bank demand, as a result of sanctions and stagnant wages, was arguably the most alarming fallout from the coalition’s time in office. Further cuts will not just entrench, but deepen suffering.

The Conservatives were curiously loathe to explain where the cuts would come from. To cut £12bn from the welfare budget requires some very deep cuts to benefits that have already been squeezed and reordered. Unconvincing mutterings from Conservative Party headquarters claimed the cuts would be achieved through behaviour change - but this is a canard, that is very revealing of the Conversative attitude towards poverty. People claim benefits because they need to - either their employer pays wages too low to live on and the state is forced to subsidise these business by paying benefits to their staff, or people are unable to work and feed their children, and need cash benefits to make ends meet. A ‘change in behaviour’ won’t stop the need for benefits. Someone disabled won’t suddenly decide they can work after all. A young mother won’t wake up and decide she can afford to work, pay her rent and bills and shell out for extortionate childcare purely by force of will.

Documents leaked to the Guardian newspaper mooted the shape of cuts considered by the Department for Work and Pensions. They include capping child benefit at two children, removing housing benefit for people under the age of 25, and making it harder for sick people to claim state aid when out of work. Some floated cuts affect women directly, such as making employers contribute more to the cost of statutory maternity pay, or as an alternative, abolishing it entirely.

Often women’s rights are seen as a continuum. Once fought and gained, it can be easy to assume those rights are secure, accepted as a societal duty and more, and the next battle can be fought. But threats to maternity pay can’t be seen as anything other than an attack on women’s position - if women have to choose between reproducing and working, we are intrinsically seen as second class citizens. During the last parliamentary term, huge cuts to legal aid and the introduction of fees for employment tribunals attacked women’s right to work free from discrimination. Women sacked for getting pregnant, or sexually harassed in the workplace only had access to justice if they also had access to capital. The poorest women were hung out to dry - this will only be compounded by attacks on maternity pay.

For women who do have children, and can’t find work, the leaked documents also propose forcing single parents, predominantly women, on benefits to seek work when their youngest child reaches the age of three. Currently, single parents have a duty to seek work once their youngest child reaches five years old, the age when they start full time education. At the age of three, any mother seeking work will need to find a job that pays for the extortionate childcare costs necessary for her to start work.

But as well as fresh cuts, the poorest women in the UK will experience more of the same. And “business as usual” for women in the United Kingdom since the recession has meant deep cuts and entrenched inequality. Prior to the election result, the abolition of the bedroom tax looked quietly imminent. The Labour party had promised to abolish it if elected, and Liberal Democrats had come out against it, meaning even a Conservative coalition government may have had to agree to a deal to scrap the controversial policy. Instead, the Conservatives will leave it in place. One in four households affected are single parent families, predominantly women, losing around £800 a year in benefit, and being forced deeper and deeper into debt and poverty. In total, 60 per cent of all people affected by the bedroom tax are women. Over 340,000 of the families hit by the Bedroom Tax are single women, compared to 160,000 single men and 160,000 couples. For the two years the policy has been in place, many households have just about managed to keep their heads above water, through applying for emergency grants from councils, to selling belongings. But those survival tactics only last so long: the discretionary housing payments for councils are temporary payments that are rarely permitted for longer than one or two years. On visiting a woman in Bradford affected by the bedroom tax, it was stark how bare her home was: barely any furniture, no electronics, just large, sparsely decorated rooms in an area with no smaller homes to move into. “I’ve sold it all,” she explained. “There’s nothing left.”

Equally, the rollout of Universal Credit - a much botched consolidation of multiple benefit payments - will continue. Many women’s groups and domestic violence charities have raised concern about the policy, which pays benefits to one person in a household. The potential for financial abuse and manipulation is heightened as a result: for women at risk of abuse, having all benefits paid to your partner leaves you completely financial dependent. The policy is a gift to abusers, and overlooks the many reasons benefits were paid directly to women for so long.

Breaking down the statistics, of the British population living in relative poverty, 40 per cent are women, and 23 per cent are children. Five years of the worst cuts since Margaret Thatcher’s government saw many people clinging desperately to a semblance of a life. A Conservative majority government promising deeper cuts that Thatcher looks set to rip that away, leaving a lost generation of women disenfranchised and alienated by poverty.

When you speak to the women affected, two things are stark - the anger and the fact that they are very aware that, contrary to right-wing ideology, poverty is neither something that passively happens to an individual, or a symptom of personal and moral failings. It is structural and economic violence inflicted on a section of society. The attempted atomisation of the poorest in society may not work though - when individuals reach a breaking point, rather than give up, they often fight back. Five years of cuts has pushed the women’s sector and the poorest women to the brink. Further cuts may act as the touch paper for wider resistance and fightback.

Opinion Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Success! Los Angeles Votes to Raise Minimum Wage to $15

The Los Angeles City Council approved a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour by 2020 in a preliminary vote that found only one of fifteen members dissenting.

Los Angeles currently has a $9 per hour minimum wage. The new measure raising the wage to $15 must return to the council for final approval.

Care2 teamed with LA Raise the Wage to petition the city council for a minimum wage increase, gathering thousands of signatures for the members’ consideration.

Like other cities who have implemented recent wage increases, the process will take place in increments over the defined period of years. According to Reuters, City Councilman Curren Price Jr. prefaced the preliminary vote by saying, “We are embarking upon, I think, the most progressive minimum wage policy anywhere in the country.”

ThinkProgress highlights that Los Angeles is the largest city in the country to move toward a $15 minimum wage. Seattle and San Francisco are the other largest regions to adopt that wage level. The highest new wage in the country is held by Emeryville in California, where minimum earners will be making nearly $16 an hour by 2019.

News of the Los Angeles wage hike comes alongside congressional Democrats’ new bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020. The current federal minimum wage is only $7.25 per hour, an amount that couldn’t realistically support a single individual in many U.S. localities.

Naturally, many Republican critics of minimum wage increases cite fears of layoffs in their resistance to raising workers’ pay. But the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) data actually shows that raising the minimum wage just to $10.10 has a projected positive impact on 95 percent of workers and results in $2 billion of real income growth.

Los Angeles is positioning itself as a national leader in the fight for increased worker wages.

Will New York City step up next?

News Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Bernie Sanders Takes It to Wall Street With Financial Transactions Tax

2015.5.25.Sanders.mainSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who recently announced he is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 6, 2015. (Photo: Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

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Last week Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont and only announced challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, took a strong stand for everyday people. He proposed a financial transactions tax (FTT), effectively a Wall Street sales tax, and to use the revenue to make public colleges tuition free.

While making college affordable to low and middle income families is important, the proposal for an FTT is a real game changer. There is no single policy that would have anywhere near as much impact in reforming the financial sector. A FTT would effectively impose a sales tax on stocks and other financial assets, so that speculators have to pay a tax on their trades, just like people who buy shoes or clothes.

There are three points people should understand about a FTT. The first is that it can raise an enormous amount of money. A FTT could be imposed at different rates. Sanders proposed following the rate structure in a bill put forward by Minneapolis Congressman Keith Ellison. Eleven countries in the European Union are working to implement a set of FTTs that would tax stock trades at a rate of 0.1 percent and trades of most derivative instruments at the rate of 0.01 percent.

Extrapolating from a recent analysis of the European proposal, a comparable tax in the United States would raise more than $130 billion a year or more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade. This is real money; it dwarfs the sums that have dominated most budget debates in recent years. For example, the Republicans had been trying to push through cuts to the food stamp program of $40 billion over the course of a decade. The sum that can be raised by this FTT proposal is more than thirty times as large. The revenue from a FTT could go far toward rebuilding the infrastructure, improving the health care system, or paying for college tuition, as suggested by Senator Sanders.

The second point is that Wall Street will bear almost the entire cost of the tax. The financial industry is surely already paying for studies showing the tax will wipe out the 401(k)s held by middle income families. This is nonsense. Not only is the size of the tax small for anyone not flipping stock on a daily basis, research indicates that most investors will largely offset the cost of the tax by trading less. 

Most research shows that trading volume falls roughly in proportion to the increase in transaction costs. This means that if a FTT doubles the cost of trading then the volume of trading will fall by roughly 50 percent, leaving total trading costs unchanged. Investors will pay twice as much on each trade, but have half as many trades. Since investors don’t on average make money on trades (one side might win, but the other loses), this is a wash for the investor.

While most middle income people don’t directly trade the money in their retirement accounts, they do have people who manage these funds. The research means that the fund managers will reduce their trading, so that the total costs of transactions that are passed on to the investor remain roughly constant. This means that the financial industry will bear almost the entire cost of the tax in the form of reduced trading volume.

This gets to the last point: a smaller financial industry is a more efficient financial industry. The purpose of the financial industry is to allocate money from savers to companies that want to finance new investment. As the industry has exploded in size over the last four decades there is no reason to believe that it has gotten better in serving this basic function. In fact, the stock bubble at the end of the 1990s and the housing bubble in the last decade might suggest that it has gotten worse.

A study from the Bank of International Settlements and more recent research from the International Monetary Fund find that a bloated financial sector slows growth. An oversized financial sector pulls resources away from more productive sectors of the economy. People who could be engaged in biological research or developing clean technologies are instead employed on Wall Street designing computer programs to beat other traders by a microsecond to garner profits at their expense. A FTT will make much of this activity unprofitable, encouraging people to turn to more productive work.

In short, a FTT is a great way to raise large amounts of money to meet important public needs. It will come almost entirely at the expense of the financial industry and should strengthen the economy. We now have one presidential candidate who is prepared to support a strong FTT. Are there others?

News Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"Incommunicado" Forever: Gitmo Detainee's Case Stalled for 2,477 Days and Counting

Even though the torture was over, Abu Zubaydah's ordeal was just beginning. For nearly a decade, he's been shuttled around the world and held in legal limbo - even as hundreds of detainees have been transferred or released.

2015.5.25.Gitmo.mainUS Army Military Police escort a detainee to his cell in Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on January 11, 2002. (Photo: Mate 1st Class Shane T. McCoy via Wikimedia Commons)

Since being seized in a raid in Pakistan in 2002, Abu Zubaydah has had his life controlled by American officials, first at secret sites, where he was tortured, and since 2006 in a small cell in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And, thanks to one of the strangest, and perhaps most troubling, legal cases to grow out of the War on Terror, it appears he’s not going to be leaving anytime soon—which was exactly the plan the CIA always wanted. Not even his lawyers understand what’s transpired behind closed doors in a Washington, D.C., courtroom.

In June of 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo had the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal court and that their cases should be handled “promptly’’ by the judicial system. The next month, lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, a detainee whose torture and waterboarding in secret prisons was among the most notorious of the Bush years, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging his detention.

The progress of that case has been anything but prompt. While more than 100 Guantanamo detainees have been released since then, and the military tribunals of even more high-profile detainees like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are moving forward in Guantanamo’s courtrooms, the federal judge hearing Zubaydah’s case has failed to rule on even the preliminary motions.

The seemingly intentional inaction has left even experienced court observers baffled. Richard W. Roberts, the U.S. District court judge handling the suit, is not a particularly slow-moving judge. His median time for resolving entire cases is slightly over two years; Zubaydah’s initial plea has already been pending 6 years 9 months and 12 days.

Because the entire file has been kept secret, it’s not possible to know why Roberts, who is the chief judge of the D.C. circuit, has let Zubaydah’s case languish. But this much is clear: Keeping Zubaydah from telling his story is exactly what the CIA wanted from the moment it began to torture him. And it’s exactly what they promised they’d do in 2002 during one of the darkest chapters of the War on Terror. (He was one of the first al-Qaeda suspects to face the harsh new regime implemented by the CIA following 9/11—a regime that FBI agents at the scene tried to prevent.)

Soon after the agency’s contractors began their program of “enhanced interrogation’’ at the secret black site in Thailand – placing him in a coffin-size box; slamming him against wall; depriving him of sleep; bombarding him with loud music; as well as waterboarding – they sent an encrypted cable to Washington.

The CIA interrogators said that if Zubaydah died during questioning, his body would be cremated. But if he survived the ordeal, the interrogators wanted assurances that he would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

Senior officials gave the assurances. Zubaydah, a Saudi citizen, “will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released,” the head of the CIA’s ALEC Station, the code name of the Washington-based unit hunting Osama bin Laden, replied. “All major players are in concurrence,” the cable said, that he “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

The decision to hold Zubaydah “incommunicado’’ was disclosed by the Senate report on torture, which was released last December. But the judicial inaction on his case has received virtually no public attention.

In all, Roberts has failed to rule on 16 motions, 13 of which have been filed by Zubaydah’s lawyers. Several of those allege misconduct by the government.

Roberts’ judicial inaction runs the gamut: Zubaydah’s motion for an un-redacted copy of his own diary, which the government seized, has sat for six years without any ruling by the judge. His habeas corpus petition was sealed at the request of the government. Zubaydah’s lawyers filed to have it declassified. It remains classified.

A lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been at the forefront of lawsuits to gain the release of Guantanamo detainees, says he has been baffled by the judge’s inaction. “It appears to be highly unusual,” says the lawyer, J. Wells Dixon, who has represented several Guantanamo detainees, but is not involved in the Zubaydah case. In contrast to Zubaydah’s case, Dixon said that 64 Guantanamo detainees who filed habeas petitions have seen their cases adjudicated.

Rooted in English common law, the principle of habeas corpus is a cornerstone of the American legal system. In England, it served as a check on the king’s power to lock someone in the dungeon and throw away the key. Dixon noted that the Supreme Court has said habeas was designed to be a “swift and imperative remedy.”

Yet Judge Roberts appears content to let Zubaydah’s case languish. Compared to his handling of other cases, the jurist has been anything but “swift” in Zubaydah’s case. For cases he closed in 2014, the median time from filing was 751 days, according to data assembled for ProPublica by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization at Syracuse University. The longest any closed case had been on his docket was 1,651 days, according to TRAC. Zubaydah’s case has been pending for some 2,400 days, and it will be years before it goes to trial, if it ever does.

There are few answers for why Zubaydah’s case has gone so far off track — and there’s nothing in Roberts’ background or recent behavior on the bench that would make him seem incapable of ruling if he desired. He was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1998 and has a fairly typical background for a federal judge: A Columbia law school grad, he rose through the ranks of the Department of Justice, working as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York and as principal assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He later spent three years as the chief of the criminal section at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Absent the apparently intentional aberration of the Zubaydah case, his court docket proceeds as normal in Courtroom 9 on the fourth floor of the U.S. District Courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

A spokeswoman for the federal district court declined to comment on the case.

One possible clue about the judge’s failure to act may be found in a motion Zubaydah’s lawyers filed in 2010. They asked Roberts for access to any “ex parte filings,” which is evidence the government shows the court outside the presence of the other side’s lawyers.

In other cases involving detainees, secret prisons, watch lists and challenges to domestic spying, the Justice Department has attempted to win dismissals by presenting classified evidence to judges in the secrecy of their chambers.

A rare insight into how that tactic is deployed was made public by a federal judge in San Francisco in a lawsuit by a Malaysian woman who challenged her placement on the no-fly list. The government sought to dismiss the case on the grounds of national security. In a ruling on the motion, the judge, William H. Alsup, described what happened next: “A telephone call came into the court staff saying that a federal agent was on the way from Washington to San Francisco to show the judge confidential records about this case, all to be relied upon by the government in support of its motion to dismiss (but not to be disclosed to the other side). The officer would take back the records after the judge reviewed them and would leave no record behind of what he had shown the judge.”

In that case, Alsup declined to receive the officials, although he did receive other ex parte filings in the case.

It’s not clear whether Judge Roberts has received a comparable offer, and if so, how he reacted. But it’s unlikely that if such a meeting or meetings happened, the public would ever know—and likely that not even Zubaydah’s own lawyers would know about it, unless Roberts came forward as Alsup did.

Although the case is an infamous one, it’s worth recalling the details of Abu Zubaydah’s custody in U.S. hands.

He was captured in a joint Pakistani-CIA-FBI operation in Lahore, Pakistan, in March 2002, during which he was shot in the groin, leg and stomach. Severely wounded, Zubaydah lingered near death as the CIA, which wanted him alive for interrogation, flew in a top surgeon from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Later, Zubaydah was handcuffed, hooded, drugged and flown to Thailand, where the CIA was in the process of creating one of its first “black sites.” Initially interviewed by the FBI, Zubaydah cooperated. FBI Special Agents Ali Soufan and Steve Gaudin even held ice to his lips so he could receive fluids. Zubaydah told the agents that Khalid Sheik Mohammad was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and gave them further detailed information about him, including his alias—the news ricocheted across Washington and Zubaydah became a pawn in the capital’s power tussle between the FBI and the CIA.

CIA Director George Tenet wasn’t satisfied with the progress on the interrogation. The agency was convinced that Zubaydah knew more, that he was a high-level al-Qaeda operative, and that he was withholding information about pending terrorist plots. Thus, Zubaydah became the guinea pig for what the Bush Administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The FBI pulled its agents out of Thailand as the CIA’s plans for the prisoner became clear—but not before the agents got one final useful tip: Zubaydah pointed them to a name “Abu Abdullah al Mujahir” that eventually led agents to José Padilla, a would-be jihadist who was arrested in Chicago on May 8, 2002.

Meanwhile, the CIA started in on Zubaydah. For 47 days, he was held in complete isolation, with only a towel. Then, shortly before noon on August 4, 2002, hooded security personnel entered his cell, shackled and hooded him, and removed his towel, leaving him naked. “So it begins,” a medical officer in Thailand cabled CIA headquarters about the first day’s session.

Interrogators placed a towel around his neck, as a collar, and slammed him against a concrete wall. They removed his hood and had him watch while a coffin-like box was brought into the cell. The waterboarding started, “after large box, walling, and small box periods,” the medical officer reported. “NO useful information so far.” He added, “I am head[ing] back for a waterboard session.” During the waterboarding Zubaydah frequently vomited, made “hysterical pleas,” and experienced “involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms.”

After a few days, some of the individuals involved in Zubaydah’s interrogation were deeply disturbed, to the “point of tears and choking up,” the team cabled Washington.

Over the course of the interrogations, Zubaydah “cried,” he “begged,” he “pleaded,” he “whimpered,” the team in Thailand reported to headquarters in various cables. But he never gave the CIA information about plans for attacks in the United States. And in the end, the CIA “concluded that Abu Zubaydah had been truthful and that he did not possess any new terrorist threat information,” the Senate torture report says. He was not even a member of al-Qaeda.

Yet even though the torture was over, Zubaydah’s ordeal was just beginning. For nearly a decade, he’s been shuttled around the world and held in legal limbo—even as hundreds of detainees have been transferred or released and court cases have moved forward for other suspected terrorists at Guantanamo.

After the first media reports appeared about a CIA secret prison in Thailand, Zubaydah was moved to a secret site in Poland. A year ago, the European court of human rights ruled that Poland had been complicit with the United States in subjecting Zubaydah to “inhuman and degrading treatment,” and ordered Poland to pay him reparations. After losing an appeal, Poland paid Zubaydah 100,000 Euros, which Zubaydah has said he will give to victims of torture.

Zubaydah, who was transferred from Poland to Guantanamo Bay in 2006, has not fared well with the American judicial system even as his lawyers have attempted to nudge the case forward to a conclusion.

Much of the case remains wrapped in secrecy, meaning that his lawyers are unable to discuss or elaborate upon much of their work or knowledge of the case. Glimpses into it, though, are possible through the languishing court filings. Zubaydah’s lawyers have filed two motions that raise questions about the government’s conduct in the case. In 2010, they sought an “order prohibiting the government from obstructing petitioner’s investigation.” The court hasn’t ruled, and we don’t know what might have prompted this request because the documents are sealed. Similarly, three years ago, Zubaydah’s lawyers asked for sanctions against the government because of what they said was “the improper seizure” of documents “subject to the attorney-client privilege.” Again, Judge Roberts has yet to rule.

Frustrated by the inaction in the case, Zubaydah’s lawyers filed a motion in January asking the judge to recuse himself for “nonfeasance.” It is an unusual motion. Judges are occasionally asked to recuse themselves because of conflicts of interest or bias, but not for simply failing to act. The government has filed its response, which is sealed, and the judge—perhaps not surprisingly, given the track record thus far—has not yet ruled.

“We don’t take this step lightly,” said Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaydah’s lawyers. Margulies, an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has represented several Guantanamo detainees and is a professor at Cornell University School of Law, added, “I have never seen a case in which there has been this much judicial inaction. There has to be a remedy.”

But there may not be. If Judge Roberts “ignores Abu Zubaydah’s case, there is very little we can do,” said Margulies. “The net effect is that the CIA wins.”

News Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
A Fossil-Fueled Fantasy

Extracting coal from the ground and disposing of its toxic byproducts makes a dirty mess no matter how it's burned. But this "clean coal" ruse is conjuring up billions of dollars in government subsidies. Burning the dregs from spent oil wells releases yet more carbon into the atmosphere, stoking climate change.

2015.5.25.Greco.mainZigging and Zagging Down a Slippery Slope, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

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Newfangled carbon-capture power plants supposedly burn coal without poisoning the planet. They don’t.

Extracting coal from the ground and disposing of its toxic byproducts makes a dirty mess no matter how it’s burned. But this “clean coal” ruse is conjuring up billions of dollars in government subsidies.

Take the 110-megawatt Boundary Dam plant in Canada’s Saskatchewan province, the world’s first carbon-capture operation. It cost $1.2 billion to get it switched on last year. That’s several times the price tag for a standard coal-fired plant or building a wind farm or utility-scale solar project capable of generating the same amount of energy — enough to power 100,000 homes.

Going with wind or solar would have produced zero emissions without burning any fuel, reducing environmental and monetary costs down the line.

Another carbon-capture boondoggle is slated to open next year on this side of the Canadian border: Southern Co.’s Kemper County plant in Mississippi. It’s an even bigger cautionary tale.

Kemper’s construction costs have tripled to more than $6 billion since crews first broke ground in 2010. The project is more than two years behind schedule and in trouble. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in February that the locals were unfairly shouldering cost overruns via higher electric bills.

“The ratepayers’ property (money) is being confiscated through governmental decree, by a rate increase imposed by a privately owned corporation,” the court’s majority declared, ordering Southern to issue refunds. The company has, naturally, requested a new hearing.

Other efforts to build or retrofit existing power plants to use these new systems face similarly grim prospects.

The Obama administration wisely let a $1 billion commitment to complete the long-delayed FutureGen carbon-capture plant in central Illinois lapse a few months ago. The canceled government money came from 2009 stimulus funds that expire in September.

Still, the federal government has injected $6 billion into carbon-capture coal to date. And President Barack Obama’s proposed 2016 budget calls for wasting another $2 billion in tax credits on this pipe dream.

Lawmakers backed by Big Fossil aren’t giving up on this corporate welfare either. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, both Democrats, just introduced bills that would direct the federal government to squander more money on carbon-capture systems.

Burning coal with this new twist will “reduce electricity costs for all of us,” Heitkamp asserted.

Really? She should check out what the Energy Department says: Carbon-capture coal technology jacks up costs by up to 80 percent and can render power plants as much as 30 percent less efficient.

Gasification, another pricey new way to burn coal, is equally futile. Just ask the ratepayers forced to subsidize Duke Energy’s costly experiment with it at the troubled Edwardsport coal plant in Knox County, Indiana. Or check out the predictable cascade of lawsuits over there.

Perhaps the most damning thing about this racket is what happens to the trapped carbon itself. Utilities may sell it to oil companies, which use the stuff to pry lingering barrels of petroleum from tapped-out oil wells.

The Border Dam plant in Saskatchewan is selling carbon sucked out of that pioneering, over-priced, and supposedly “clean” coal-fired power plant to the Cenovus oil company, which uses it to extract a fossil fuel that would otherwise stay in the ground.

This aftermarket defrays some of the money spent sequestering carbon. It also generates emissions that render the process no cleaner than equipping coal-fired power plants with modern filters, scrubbers, and other gizmos.

Burning the dregs from spent oil wells releases yet more carbon into the atmosphere, stoking climate change. If that doesn’t bother you, maybe pondering the possibility that injecting the carbon dioxide deep underground may trigger earthquakes will.

Opinion Mon, 25 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Hijacking the Anthropocene

How the anti-green Breakthrough Institute misrepresents science to advance a technocratic agenda and undermine grassroots environmentalism.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone,
“it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

What can lobbyists do when science contradicts their political messages? Some simply deny the science, as many conservatives do with climate change. Others pretend to embrace the science, while ignoring or purging the disagreeable content. That’s what the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) is doing with one of the most widely discussed issues in 21st century science, the proposal to define a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene.

BTI has been described as “the leading big money, anti-green, pro-nuclear think tank in the United States, dedicated to propagandizing capitalist technological-investment ‘solutions’ to climate change.”[1] Founded in 2003 by lobbyist Michael Shellenberger and pollster Ted Nordhaus, its philosophy is based on what’s known in academic circles as ecological modernization theory – described by Richard York and Eugene Rosa as the view that “industrialization, technological development, economic growth, and capitalism are not only potentially compatible with ecological sustainability but also may be key drivers of environmental reform.”[2]

In BTI’s simplified pop version, to which they’ve assigned catchier label ecomodernism, there is no “may” about it – their literature consistently couples a professed concern for the environment with rejection of actual pro-environmental policies, on the grounds that new technology, growth and capitalism are the only solution to all environmental concerns.

Most notably, BTI opposes efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, claiming that investment in nuclear reactors and shale gas will produce all the energy we need, and global warming will wither away as a side-effect. “The best way to move forward on climate policy,” write Shellenberger and Nordhaus, “is to not focus on climate at all.”[3]

As Australian environmentalist Clive Hamilton comments, BTI’s founders “do not deny global warming; instead they skate over the top of it, insisting that whatever limits and tipping points the Earth system might throw up, human technology and ingenuity will transcend them.”[4]

In 2004, Shellenberger and Nordhaus wrote a notorious pamphlet, The Death of Environmentalism. That title wasn’t an announcement – it was a goal. They declared their conviction “that modern environmentalism … must die so that something new can live.”[5] Their organization has worked to achieve that death ever since.

Bill Blackwater has exposed the “self-contradictions, simplistic fantasy, and the sheer insubstantiality” of BTI’s thought, and John Bellamy Foster has shown that ecological modernization theory involves “a dangerous and irresponsible case of technological hubris [and] a fateful concession to capitalism’s almost unlimited destructive powers.”[6] In this article I examine one specific feature of BTI’s current activity: its attempt to hijack the Anthropocene, to misrepresent one of the most important scientific developments of our time so that it seems to serve Breakthrough’s anti-environmental agenda.

Scientists define the Anthropocene

For scientists, the arrival of a new geological epoch signifies that there has been a qualitative change in the Earth System. For 12,000 years we have been in the Holocene epoch, but we now face conditions that are as different from that as the Holocene was from the ice age Pleistocene that preceded it. Paul Crutzen, the Nobel Prize winner who first suggested that such a change had occurred, and Will Steffen, former director of the International Geophysical-Biophysical Program, write:

“The Earth System has recently moved well outside the range of natural variability exhibited over at least the last half million years. The nature of changes now occurring simultaneously in the Earth System, their magnitudes and rates of change, are unprecedented and unsustainable.”[7]

The name Anthropocene, from the Greek anthropos, meaning human being, was proposed to emphasize that the new epoch is driven by a radical change in humanity’s relationship with the rest of the Earth System – that “global-scale social and economic processes are now becoming significant features in the functioning of the system.”[8]

The shift began with the growing use of fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution, and went into overdrive in the “Great Acceleration” of economic activity, pollution and environmental destruction in the second half of the 20th century. Now human activity is “overwhelming the great forces of nature,” to the point that if “the institutions and economic system that have driven the Great Acceleration continue to dominate human affairs … [then] collapse of modern, globalized society under uncontrollable environmental change is one possible outcome.”[9]

Foster describes the Anthropocene as “both a description of a new burden falling on humanity and a recognition of an immense crisis – a potential terminal event in geological evolution that could destroy the world as we know it.”[10] Similarly, the editors of Nature say it “reflects a grim reality on the ground, and it provides a powerful framework for considering global change and how to manage it.”[11]

By contrast, Nordhaus and Shellenberger want us to believe that everything’s going to be just fine. They tell the world that “by 2100, nearly all of us will be prosperous enough to live healthy, free and creative lives.” All we need to do is “once and for all embrace human power, technology, and the larger process of modernization.”[12]

Foolish environmentalists may “warn that degrading nonhuman natures will undermine the basis for human civilization but history has shown the opposite: the degradation of nonhuman environments has made us rich.” Environmental problems are merely unfortunate side-effects of developments that are fundamentally positive for humanity: “the solution to the unintended consequences of modernity is, and always has been, more modernity.”[13]

Hijacking a word, misrepresenting science

Given the huge difference in views, it would have been appropriate and honest for BTI to declare how and why it disagrees with the scientists who have identified profound changes in the Earth System and are proposing to declare a new epoch.

Instead, when the word Anthropocene started appearing frequently in academic journals and mainstream media, Nordhaus and Shellenberger jumped on the bandwagon and tried to steer it in a direction more congenial to their views. In contrast to scientists they deem to be depressing, pessimistic, and catastrophist, they declared that the Anthropocene isn’t a crisis, it’s an opportunity to build a global technological utopia, in which humanity embraces nuclear power and shale gas, and we all enjoy US-style consumerism forever.

What they offer is a homeopathically diluted Anthropocene, in which the only remaining trace of Earth System science is the fact that the Earth is dominated by human activity – and even that, BTI insists, is neither a recent development or a matter for concern.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger gave the game away in an article they wrote for Orion magazine and then reprinted in a BTI-published e-book. After agreeing that humans are “rapidly transforming nonhuman nature at a pace not seen for many hundreds of millions of years,” they wrote:

“But the difference between the new ecological crises and the ways in which humans and even prehumans have shaped nonhuman nature for tens of thousands of years is one of scope and scale, not kind.”[14]

Read that again. If it’s true, then there is no case for declaring a new epoch. There has been no qualitative change, so we are still in the Holocene, still doing what humans have always done, since long before the ice sheets retreated.

Landscape ecologist Erle Ellis, a Breakthrough Institute Senior Fellow, has been arguing for the “scope and scale, not kind” view in the Anthropocene Working Group, the international committee that is evaluating the proposal for a new geological epoch. He supports an early Anthropocene – the view that the Anthropocene began not recently but thousands of years ago, when humans first made large-scale changes to landscapes and ecosystems.

Official endorsement of an early date would strengthen the Nordhaus/Shellenberger claim that there is no qualitative break between current and past human impacts on the Earth. As Clive Hamilton and Jacques Grinevald write, the early Anthropocene option justifies a business-as-usual understanding of the present.

“It ‘gradualizes’ the new epoch so that it is no longer a rupture due principally to the burning of fossil fuels but a creeping phenomenon due to the incremental spread of human influence over the landscape. This misconstrues the suddenness, severity, duration and irreversibility of the Anthropocene leading to a serious underestimation and mischaracterization of the kind of human response necessary to slow its onset and ameliorate its impacts.”[15]

BTI’s website describes Ellis as “a leading theorist of what scientists increasingly describe as the Anthropocene,”[16] but doesn’t mention that his early Anthropocene position, while compatible with BTI’s philosophy, has little support among the other scientists involved.

In January 2015, over two-thirds of the Anthropocene Working Group’s 38 members endorsed 1945 as the beginning of the Anthropocene, both because the Great Acceleration is an historical turning point, and because it can be located in geological strata by the presence of radiation from nuclear fallout. The early Anthropocene argument, they write, unduly emphasizes just one aspect of the case for a new epoch:

“The significance of the Anthropocene lies not so much in seeing within it the ‘first traces of our species’ (i.e. an anthropocentric perspective upon geology), but in the scale, significance and longevity of change (that happens to be currently human-driven) to the Earth system.”[17]

The AWG hasn’t formally decided yet, but Ellis, who evidently believes he has lost the debate, recently told an editor of the journal Nature that he opposes making any official decision. “We should set a time, perhaps 1,000 years from now, in which we would officially investigate this…. Making a decision before that would be premature.”[18] That would allow BTI to continue misusing the word, but he seems to have little support: a recent article in Science, proposing to “avoid the confinement imposed by a single formal designation” has only four signatures, and of them, only Ellis is a member of the AWG.[19]

Oxymoron alert

Breakthrough has invited influential environmental writers to a luxury California resort in June, all expenses paid, for a two-day seminar on “The Good Anthropocene.”[20] So don’t be surprised if articles using that oxymoron appear in the mainstream media this summer. Phrases like “unprecedented and unsustainable” will not be emphasized, if they appear at all.

The seminar’s message was revealed in April, in An Ecomodernist Manifesto, signed by Nordhaus and Shellenberger and 16 others, all closely associated with BTI. Subtitled From the death of environmentalism to the birth of ecomodernism, it is self-described as “an affirmative and optimistic vision for a future in which we can have universal human development, freedom, and more nature through continued technological and social modernization.”[21]

The manifesto extends the oxymoron, promising “a good, or even great, Anthropocene” if only we will reject the “long-standing environmental ideal … that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse.”

Yes, you read that right. BTI’s pseudo-Anthropocene requires deliberately expanding the metabolic rift between humanity and the rest of nature into a permanent chasm. After all, “humans have remade the world for millennia,” so more of the same must be good.

A striking feature of all BTI propaganda is the gulf between the concrete problems they admit exist and what Bill Blackwater calls “the daydream quality of their positive solutions.”[22] That is clearly on display in their Ecomodernist Manifesto, which proposes to solve the pressing problem of climate change with “next-generation solar, advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion” – technologies that don’t exist and won’t soon arrive. In the meantime, BTI proposes reliance on hydroelectric dams, which can cause major environmental problems, and on carbon capture and storage, which doesn’t exist in any practical form.

Clearly, BTI’s “Good Anthropocene” won’t arrive before the climate and other essential elements of the Earth System reach tipping points. As Blackwater says, BTI’s purported realism is actually “the very height of fantasy,” a contemporary form of what C. Wright Mills used to call “crackpot realism.”

It’s time to defog

The pundits, politicians and CEOs whose interests are served by the Breakthrough Institute don’t want to be identified with the science deniers of the far right, but neither do they want the radical measures that responding to the real Anthropocene requires. BTI’s fantasy of a Good Anthropocene builds the illusion that both objectives are easily achieved. Don’t worry, be happy – technological ingenuity will save capitalism from itself.

BTI could have avoided mentioning the Anthropocene, but that would have left a widely discussed concept unchallenged, posing the possibility that public understanding of the state of the Earth System will grow, strengthening the environmentalism that BTI wants to kill. It’s far more effective to appropriate the word, to sow confusion by promoting a caricature that has nothing to do with the actual Anthropocene and everything to do with preserving the status quo.

There can be no question about which side the left is on in this conflict. We may not endorse every element of the Anthropocene project, but we must not allow Earth System science to be hijacked and misused by enemies of the environment.

As Dipesh Chakrabarty writes, the scientists whose work BTI is trying to undermine “are not necessarily anticapitalist scholars, and yet clearly they are not for business-as-usual capitalism either.”[23] Many are adopting more radical views as they study what’s happening to the Earth System. It’s our responsibility to help them blow away Breakthrough’s fog of confusion, and work with them to stop capitalism’s drive to ecological disaster.



[1]Notes from the Editors” Monthly Review 66, No. 2 (June 2011).

[2] Richard York and Eugene A. Rosa. “Key Challenges to Ecological Modernization Theory.” Organization & Environment 16 No. 3, September 2003

[3]Statement on ‘Climate Pragmatism’ from BTI Founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus.’” Breakthrough Institute, July 27, 2011.

[4] Clive Hamilton. “The New Environmentalism Will Lead Us to Disaster.” Scientific American Forum, June 19, 2014.

[5] Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World. Oakland, Breakthrough Institute, 2004.10

[6] Bill Blackwater. “The Denialism of Progressive Environmentalists.” Monthly Review 64, No. 2 (June 2012). John Bellamy Foster. “The Planetary Rift and the New Human Exemptionalism.” Organization & Environment 25 No. 3 (September 2012)

[7] Paul J. Crutzen and Will Steffen. “How Long Have We Been In The Anthropocene Era? An Editorial Comment.” Climatic Change 61 No. 3 (2003)

[8] Will Steffen et al. “The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship.” Ambio 40, No. 7. October 2011.

[9] Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen and John R. McNeill. “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” Ambio 36, No. 8, December 2007.

[10] John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York, Monthly Review Press, 2010), 18.

[11] Editorial. “The Human Epoch.” Nature 473, No. 7347, May 19 2011.

[12] Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, “Introduction,” in Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, editors,  Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene. (Breakthrough Institute, Oakland, 2011). Kindle e-book.

[13] Nordhaus and Shellenberger, “Evolve.” in Love Your Monsters

[14] Nordhaus and Shellenberger, “Evolve.” in Love Your Monsters

[15] Clive Hamilton and Jacques Grinevald. “Was the Anthropocene Anticipated?” The Anthropocene Review 2 No. 1. (April 2015)

[16] Erle Ellis, Associate Professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.” Breakthrough Institute, n.d.

[17] Jan Zalasiewicz, et al., “When Did the Anthropocene begin? A Mid-Twentieth Century Boundary Level is Stratigraphically Optimal.” Quaternary International, In Press, January 2015

[18] Quoted in Richard Monastersky. “Anthropocene: The human age.” Nature 519, No. 7542. (March 11, 2015)

[19] William F. Ruddiman et al. “Defining the Epoch We Live In.” Science 348, No. 6230 (April 3 2015)

[20] In “Ecomodernists Envision Utopia—but What about War?” Scientific American blogger John Horgan says his expenses are being paid.

[21] Ted Nordhaus, Michael Shellenberger et al. “An Ecomodernist Manifesto.” (April 2015)

[22] Bill Blackwater. “The Denialism of Progressive Environmentalists.” Monthly Review 64, No. 2 (June 2012)

[23] Dipesh Chakrabarty. “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry 35 No. 2 (Winter 2009).

News Sun, 24 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Mexican Auto Workers Fired for Protesting Sexual Harassment

At the new Mazda assembly plant in Salamanca, Mexico, 20 workers were fired in March for supporting a co-worker who was being sexually harassed by their supervisor.

According to workers, the accused supervisor would use the cultural practice of a kiss on the cheek as an excuse to get sexual. He would stalk women at work and force himself on them physically.

While traditionally most Mexican auto industry workers have been men, in the state of Guanajuato, where the Salamanca factory is located, women make up about half the auto workforce. They tend to be single—as in the maquiladoras, the Mexican textile factories which prefer women because bosses feel they are more vulnerable and can be paid less.

One worker first complained about this sexual harassment—to the company and the union, using the established complaint procedures—back in May of last year, but the situation was allowed to continue. Next, workers took their case to government agencies, with witnesses and support statements, again with no results.

So “we decided to protest,” said Tadeo Velaquez, one of the 20 fired workers. “We were [all] being harassed at work by this supervisor. It was so intense that it was really difficult to work in a good environment. He would mistreat and bully us all the time.

“Then we heard that one of our partners, a woman, was sexually harassed by him. He wasn’t just disrespecting us; he was also sexually abusing her.”

In March, workers on a subassembly line organized a work-to-rule slowdown. That grabbed management’s attention. A meeting was held. Management and the union agreed to handle the problem with the supervisor.

“We were informed that we weren’t going to be punished for the demonstration,” said Edgar Capetillo, another fired worker. “We had a mutual agreement with the union that nothing was going to happen to us. But 15 days later, we were removed from our duties.”

They were fired without explanation. All 20 of the workers were male.

Pushy New Plant

Representatives of the fired workers appeared on the local news program, Zona Franca, and asked their fellow workers for support. Another woman came forward with her story of harassment.

The supervisor was given two days off. Many workers feel he should be fired.

Supervisor bullies are common at this plant, where management is pushing arduous hours and an intense pace. Workers on the assembly line have suffered injuries to the tendons in their hands, spinal injuries, even convulsions.

Production would stop for nothing, according to the fired workers—if a worker was having convulsions, they would simply be carried away and replaced by another worker.

The plant opened last year with 3,000 employees. It’s in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, Mazda’s only North American assembly site.

This is the first time in decades that the company has run an overseas plant on its own. The last one, in Flat Rock, Michigan, became a joint venture with Ford in 1992, and Mazda ceased production there in 2012.

The Salamanca plant’s annual capacity is initially targeted at 140,000 vehicles. Production is slated to grow to 230,000 in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016.

After the plant reaches full production, about 30 percent of the Mazda vehicles sold in the United States will be sourced from North America—compared with virtually none today. At full capacity, it will employ 4,600 people.

Mexico's Auto Boom

Mazda isn’t alone. Mexico just surpassed Brazil as the seventh-largest auto producer in the world, producing 3.2 million vehicles last year. By 2020 it’s expected to reach 5.1 million.

Toyota has announced a new $1 billion plant in Guanajuato that will employ 2,000 workers and make 200,000 vehicles. GM is investing $5 billion between 2013 and 2018, adding 5,600 new jobs to the 15,000 it already employs in Mexico. Ford projects another $2.5 billion.

The combination of tariff-free manufacturing, low wages, cheap land, few enforced regulations, and easy access to global markets make Mexico a prime manufacturing center. In the last five years companies have announced $20 billion in investments made or planned.

Salaries have stagnated. One recent study—by a financial institution, the Grupo Financiero BVA Bancomer—found more than half of all working people in Mexico earn less than twice the minimum wage, or about $7 per day. Ten percent receive less than the minimum, $3.50 a day.

These days, if plants in Mexico are threatened with closure, it’s to move the work to Asia. But a Bank of America study found that while in 2003 Mexico’s average wages were 188 percent higher than China’s, today they’re 20 percent lower.

Corrupt Unions

All the workers in Guanajuato’s auto industry, including at the Mazda plant, are represented by the corrupt Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

The union sided with management in the firing of the 20.

Despite a law that allows workers the right to return to work after unjust firings, companies operating in Mexico can bank on getting away with firing permanently. Unions are regional, and contracts are negotiated plant by plant. Workers report that the CTM, a company union controlled by Mexico’s ruling party, will not defend them. Fired workers are often forced to sign away their jobs and accept a legally required cash payment instead.

To illustrate the level of corruption, look at Alejandro Rangel, a leader in the Guanajuato CTM who’s also a federal deputy. Union leaders often become federal and state deputies and senators.

Since taking office, Rangel has built himself a castle with a gigantic swimming pool in front. He used his position to have federal funds used to build a road from the main road to his castle.

Unfortunately for him, an error in the specifications labeled the paving project as meant for a nearby town. Like many in the area, this town only had a dirt road. When the error became known, townspeople demanded that their road be paved too.

As a side effect of a federal labor “reform” law passed in 2012, regional union leaders are now allowed to move into other regions. This means those who have the most power in the party and government are taking control of plants in other areas—making the corruption even worse. But they all belong to the CTM and oppose independent unions.

Those independent unions that do exist—in auto plants in Puebla and Cuernavaca—have been unable to expand into Guanajuato. An attempt to form one at the Honda plant in the neighboring state of Jalisco a few years ago ended with organizers being fired, though that’s still being challenged in court.

Revolutionary Legacy

Ford’s plants are close to the U.S. border. But most of Mexico’s auto production is in the center of the country. That’s where GM, Volkswagen, Honda, Renault-Nissan, BMW, Daimler, parts suppliers, and even research and development operations are concentrated.

From a mountain high point, the view is spectacular: an enormous plain filled with auto plants, all emitting the same brownish-pinkish smog. It sits in a layer over the plain, and extends into the surrounding mountains.

This is also the area where the Mexican Revolution of 1810 began. When Miguel Hidalgo announced independence, he demanded that the slaveholders immediately release the indigenous people who toiled in the mines here, carting out gold and silver for the empire.

Will Mexico’s workers be able to use their strength to confront the companies, the government, and the corrupt CTM to build independent unions that can give form to their anger?


Wendy Thompson is a former president of United Auto Workers Local 235.

Meanwhile in the U.S., workers in a Chicago Ford plant are also battling against sexual harassment on the job.

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News Sun, 24 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400