The consumer and environmental movements are increasingly going international. As giant multinational corporations and their brand names sell the same pesticides, pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, junk foods and other products in dozens of countries, the consumer focus on what is responsible behavior for manufacturers and sellers takes on an international character. Likewise, workers and community groups are interested in workplace and environmental hazards regarding branch factories or mines of large companies whose domicile is in the U.S., Europe or the Far East.
In the troubled but freer countries of Eastern Europe and throughout the Soviet Union, there is a hunger by diligent and committed clusters of citizens to get more information from abroad, and more fax machines, computers and copying equipment to get underway.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has opened many contacts with Soviet citizens and has conducted what amounts to training and orientation conference on problems of toxic chemicals. Horrible damage has been done to people in Eastern Europe, especially workers and children, from almost unimaginable levels of pollution of air, water, soil and food. The sheer amount of heavy metal contamination of food grown around Moscow has become a widely publicized scandal. The fledgling Soviet consumer association spends much of its effort finding laboratories to volunteer their services to test food and other products. One skill they have in abundance in that country is scientific knowhow.
Over on the other side of the world lies the besieged Amazon River region. Alliances are forming between natives of the Amazonian tropical forests and human rights and environmental groups. In the early Eighties we hosted an international conference of indigenous peoples to help initiate such ties. The stories that these native peoples related, from the Arctic to Australia to South America, about the reckless and cruel behavior of mining and other international natural resource companies were the best reasons for people pulling together across national boundaries.
The need for information is often the first occasion for these connections being made. Southeast Asian indigenous groups want material on the effects of road-building in rainforests. A consumer group from India wants the texts of U.S. consumer protection laws and worker safety standards. Health Action International from Pakistan sought data on ineffective or harmful medicines and profit margins for pharmaceutical multinationals.
African community groups are becoming more active. They want information on asbestos, tobacco use, food safety and evidence regarding dumping of contaminated products by western companies into their homelands.
Of course the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU), founded by Colston Warne and others, has for years been spreading its model of a consumer protection magazine and testing capability in one country after another. But until about 15 years ago, IOCU’s emphasis has been on western countries. Out a Malaysian, Anwar Fazal, came on the scene with his intense energy and spread IOW’s influence and help in several Third World countries. Presently, IOCU, based in The Hague, is strengthening consumer organizations all over Africa.
There are many career opportunities for young people in these areas. For more information, write IOCU, Emmastraat 9, 2595 EG, The Hague, The Netherlands.