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September 14, 2021
Social Justice


Insight by Sara Manisera, FADA Collective

Starting in the second half of the 19th century, after the Berlin Congress of 1878 that saw German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck divide up the African territory among the main European powers, the process known as the "Scramble for Africa" or "Partition of Africa" began, a period of rapid colonisation of the continent. More than a century later, with the spread of the globalisation process, history seems to be repeating itself with the difference that, today, the neo-liberal economic model seems to show an even more aggressive face through a new system of exploitation and neo-colonialism.

Land grabbing, deforestation, water grabbing, extraction of energy, mineral and natural resources are some of the actions of governments and multinational corporations that violate the fundamental rights of local communities. From Africa to South America, from South-East Asia to the Middle East. A phenomenon that often follows the classic North-South rapacious conquest model, but in other cases the South-South or intra-regional one (e.g. Latin America).

The neo-colonial phenomenon was first theorised by Indonesian Prime Minister Sukarno at the 1955 Bandung Conference, which led to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and taken up again at the Third Conference of Pan-African Peoples held in Cairo in 1961. A term to describe a type of foreign intervention - political, economic, military, diplomatic - aimed at depriving these countries of their independence. The NAM promoted the security and sovereignty of its members, mostly from the global South, who wanted neither to be forced into the Soviet bloc nor to accept US hegemony.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the transition from a bipolar to a unipolar world and the phenomenon of economic globalisation, certain benchmarks present during the Cold War have disappeared. The disappearance of planned economies has in fact led to the spread of a single global model of production and resources, based on the market, free trade and the exchange of goods and services.

Growing economic globalisation has accentuated interdependencies; we can say that today there is no corner of the world, no population group that escapes the influence of the world market. Production and trade are coordinated on a global scale, the processing stages of the various products are distributed over different countries, the financial markets are global: all this means that capital circulates globally without barriers, in search of the cheapest labour or speculative outlets.

But the fall of political and economic barriers, the opening up of markets and the development of world trade have also enabled economic actors and criminal organisations to move the centre of their activities, in whole or in part, permanently or temporarily, from one country to another, wherever the conditions (legal, economic, political) are optimal.

New centres of economic and financial power, such as multinational corporations, are eroding ever larger shares of state sovereignty, and the highly interconnected nature of the system means that the sphere of action is the whole world; hence actions produced in one place have consequences in other territories.

The scholar Umberto Santino, in this regard, speaks of "crimes of globalisation": "Criminal activities, from trafficking in drugs, arms, human beings, to environmental crimes, are segments of paths shared with other subjects, entrepreneurial and institutional, each of which has its own convenience and receives its share of the proceeds; entrepreneurial and criminal groups proliferate and activities develop in a context that is criminogenic for its structural characteristics and that from many parts is defined as criminal for the methods of accumulation and regulation".

While there is free movement of capital and goods, there is a lack of globalisation of rights and rules protecting the environment, health and the rights of people and workers. There is a lack of international courts that sanction multinationals and condemn their leaders. There is a lack of global governance capable of establishing common rules in terms of protecting the rights of people, workers and communities. Without international and/or regional laws and without the right sanctions for those who pollute, kill or destroy the ecosystem, we will increasingly find ourselves in a situation of imbalance where it will be the most fragile and poor countries and above all the local populations that will pay the higher price.

"Neo-colonialism is what rules half of the world: it is capital being put over people and the environment. As long as we have multinationals with bigger budgets than certain countries, with no rules and no accountability, we will always have these problems because poorer states will do anything to attract these companies, lowering taxes and avoiding environmental laws. What we do is to collect scientific data showing the violations by these multinationals of fundamental rights such as water, health and the environment," explains Flaviano Bianchini, founder of Source International, an organisation that collects scientific data against the exploitation of mining multinationals and provides local communities with tools to defend their rights.

Bianchini, who has been an Ashoka Fellow since 2012 as a social entrepreneur capable of offering innovative solutions to address society's most pressing problems, calls these companies to account, providing communities and human and environmental rights groups with the tools to assess the negative effects of mining, damming and oil extraction projects.

"Convicting or sanctioning these multinationals to pay 50 million Euro is not enough. The result on a global level is to see someone go to jail because through their activities they have caused death, disease and the destruction of natural habitats. What would be necessary is to force these companies to respect human rights, the environment, workers' rights and to pay taxes".

To do this, there must be a legal harmonisation at international or regional level so that there are common laws that protect the rights of a given region or continent.

Moreover, as Bianchini explains, many of these multinationals based in northern Europe, in the United States or in tax havens countries operate differently depending on the country in which they invest. "The mines of Lundin, a Swedish multinational, are beautiful when they operate in Sweden, while in Chile they have caused immense ecological disasters. So the technologies exist. Why are they applied in Sweden and not in Chile?".

The same argument applies to the issue of taxation or workers' rights, as we can see in Europe itself, where there are tax havens that allow multinational companies and citizens to move their assets while enjoying 'favourable' taxation.

Once again, therefore, the solution lies in the need for a new political vision: one that provides as soon as possible for the construction of a global governance that protects the fundamental rights of people and the planet.

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