Democracy, Accountability and the Power of Protest

by Lorne Mitchell on 02/05/2013

This week three events happened that highlighted to me that the way that the world owns, controls and governs the 7bn people on the planet is under extreme pressure.  Yet signs that the new world is responding in sensible and more conscious ways are encouraging.

As the old-world sovereign-states governments try to balance their own budgets and wrestle with their own, unique, local problems, multinational companies increasingly put two fingers up to them to avoid paying corporation tax.  Apple is a good example which, this week, apparently saved over $9bn in tax with a “bond manouever”.  If you were Tim Cook, you’d probably have done the same.  Yet the countries that need the tax revenue  to help get themselves out of the debt that they have are being out-manouevered by the multinational tax avoidance network that serve the corporate giants that belong to no country and are accountable to, well, their shareholders, of course.  Big companies seem to get it all their own way.

In the middle east, even after all the investigations over the justification of the Gulf War and whether or not Saddam Hussein did or did not have weapons of mass destruction, we are fed confusing news that civilians are being sprayed with nerve gas in Syria – and that West military intervention is, once again, becoming more intellectually justifiable.  Soil samples have degraded and there is not enough evidence for going to war.  So we have to wait.

Yet there are interesting counter-pressures.  As a beekeeper, I have been keenly following developments on the EU which, this week, voted for a two-year restrictions on the nerve-agent pesticides (called neonicotinoids) blamed for the dramatic decline global bee populations. The EU decided on a narrow majority of 15/27 votes.  The UK was one of eight countries that voted against the ban in spite of a petition signed by 300,000 people presented to Downing Street last week by fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett.   The Independent has also campaigned to save Britain’s bee population.  The British government’s choice to vote against the ban was based on the fact that “there was not enough evidence” that bees were being affected – and that the samples in various tests had been contaminated.  The uncanny similarity between degraded soil samples from Syria and contaminated samples that voided tests for the bees made me think: how convenient!  How convenient it is for a government or a leader to ignore evidence when “tests are inconclusive” or when the “evidence is not clear”.  No decision is better than a decision that you could be held accountable for!

However, we beekeepers must thank the internet protest networks – led by Avaaz.org – who managed to get enough support in countries (other than the UK) to swing the vote against the vested interests of  Bayer and others who have, until now dominated the decisions taken in our food chain –  from the seeds we plant, the agricultural methods we adopt through to the quality of foods we eat.

4-Beekeepers-AFP

The bees have a short respite and Avaaz is now pursuing the real Dark Lord in the battle for  Mother Earth.  Go on.  Vote.  It can only help a growing wave of public opinion to counter the madness of global corporate arrogance that they are accountable to no one.

I believe that there is hope for us all with this new type of democracy emerging.  The vote to ban neonicotinoids was a turning point for me.  It would appear that these online campaigns really are starting to get policy makers in multinationals to think again and change their minds.  They have a new body that they need to recognise – and a protest can come from nowhere and expose issues is uncontrollable ways.  PR companies and even newspapers are becoming less and less effective in this new world of informed  internet politics and political activism.  Even governments must be encouraged as it gives them a new reason to act, not just sit on the fence because “there is no evidence”.  After all, most of them want to get voted back into power.

Interested to know what you think – please do leave a comment below.

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