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World: Antiglobalization Groups Receive Funds From Corporations, Governments

  • Mark Baker

One of the demands of the antiglobalization movement is to limit the power of transnational corporations. Yet many of the groups that make up the movement rely on those same companies for some of their funding. A peek behind the scenes of the protest movement also reveals funding from trade unions and taxpayers -- in the form of government subsidies. RFE/RL correspondent Mark Baker spoke with analysts and members of the protest movement to find out who pays for the protests.

Prague, 23 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- From the outside, the headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum -- the umbrella organization that coordinated the protests at last month's G-7 plus Russia summit in Italy -- appears to be as poor and down-at-the-heels as the people the anti-globalization groups say they represent.

The offices are housed in a modest school building in a depressed section of Genoa. Graffiti covers houses along the street, leaving a strong impression of poverty and neglect.

But a step inside while the Genoa summit was going on revealed a different reality. There, dozens of forum workers seated at modern computer terminals surfed the Internet and broadcast news of the protests. Others were busy manning phones and fax machines. Representatives for the forum's "media center" were there to meet and greet journalists, handing out laminated press cards and maps showing where the protests would occur.

It's no secret that the well-organized protest cost money, but it may be surprising for ordinary Italians to learn -- especially those Genoa residents who had to clean the streets of broken glass and overturned cars -- that their tax dollars helped to fund the protests in the first place.

Before the summit, the Genoa Social Forum received a grant from the Italian government that ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Kendra Okanski, a fellow at the International Policy Network -- a London-based think tank -- has studied funding sources for the antiglobalization protest movement. She says governments -- and some multinational corporations -- play a major role in funding the protest movement.

Okanski says that, in addition to outright payments to umbrella organizations like the Genoa Social Forum, governments frequently set up what are called "social justice" funds to provide matching grants to organizations like trade unions that have a protectionist or antiglobalization agenda.

She says that in Canada, for example, the government contributes up to $3 for every $1 in private contributions from unions. The unions, in turn, funnel the money to protest groups. "For contributions of $250,000 in Canada, the labor unions then have a million dollars to work with to set up organizations that [support] their point of view and go out and protest and try and drum up support for their positions among the public."

She says that multinational corporations, through contributions to philanthropic organizations, are another major source of funding for the protest groups. She says these contributions run into the millions of dollars each year. Many of these philanthropic groups are based in the U.S., since under American law, corporations can deduct contributions to charities to lower their tax bills.

One of the largest of these, she says, is the San Francisco-based Foundation for Deep Ecology, which in turn supports one of the leading antiglobalization umbrella groups -- the International Forum on Globalization. The foundation was set up by Douglas Tompkins, who built up a fortune as owner of the Esprit clothing company.

Okanski says groups like the Foundation for Deep Ecology act as "seed funds" for the anti-globalization movement. She says the foundation's underlying philosophy is that man should reject technology and live more like indigenous peoples:

"The Foundation for Deep Ecology basically helps to promote the point of view [that people should live more simply] by funding small organizations and individuals around the world to espouse its belief."

RFE/RL contacted the Foundation for Deep Ecology, but the group did not agree to a telephone interview. In a letter to RFE/RL, however, the group rejects Okanski's characterization that it is a "seed fund" for the protest movement. In the letter, the foundation goes to great lengths to separate itself from groups that espouse violence. The letter reads:

"The Foundation for Deep Ecology is not a 'venture capital fund.' Rather, it is a charitable non-profit organization. As required by law, its property is dedicated solely to charitable purposes, and its mission and activities are strictly charitable. It does not provide funding for or otherwise support violence or illegal activities."

Not all protest groups are dependent on outside funding. Susan George, the leader of the French-based protest group ATTAC, tells RFE/RL that contributions from the group's 30,000 members in France, plus contributions in kind from local communities, make up the bulk of ATTAC's financing: "ATTAC runs almost entirely on membership fees. If you join, you pay according to your age or whether you are out of work or have a reasonable income."

ATTAC's main aim is to redress what George calls an "obscene" imbalance in incomes between the developed and developing countries. ATTAC favors placing a tax on international capital transfers and has called for sweeping reforms of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

George says support for her group runs the gamut of the political left, but she says ATTAC excludes any organization that promotes violence. "[ATTAC's supporters] would go, let's say, from the left, Catholics, to the socialists, to the ex-communists, to the more radical parts of the [political] left, but it would exclude anybody who adopts violence as a tactic, because we believe that it's tactically and morally wrong to use those methods."

She refutes Okanski's claim that protest groups are awash in corporate charities and government subsidies: "The rest of the movements -- you know, we really run on a shoe-string. Compared to the other side, it's laughable." George says ATTAC has what she calls "cordial" relations with the Foundation for Deep Ecology through the International Forum on Globalization, but says she sees nothing wrong with that.

Okanski and George both say the protest movement will continue to grow, even as international organizations move quickly to scale back their planned meetings or to move them to less-accessible locations.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have already said they will shorten to two days a planned week-long annual meeting set for next month in Washington, D.C. The United Nations has come under strong pressure from the Italian government to move the Food and Agricultural Organization's world food summit -- planned for November -- from Rome to an unnamed location in Africa. That decision is expected sometime next week.

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