Political and Social Activists and Non-governmental Organizations

Although not usually officially sanctioned by the government, the impact of political and social activists (PSAs) can also interrupt the normal flow of trade. PSAs can range from those who seek to bring about peaceful change to those resorts to violence and terrorism to effect change. When well organized, the actions of PSAs cans succeed.

One of the most effective and best known PSA actions was against Nestle and the sale of baby formula in Third World markets. The world wide boycott of Nestle products in substantial changes in the company’s marketing. More recently, activists of the Free Burma Campaign (FBC) have applied enough pressure to cause several US garment companies to stop importing textiles from Burma (now known as Myanmar). Furthermore, activists on several US college campuses boycotted Pepsi Cola drinks and PepsiCo owned Pizza Hut and Taco bell stores, saying the company contributes to abysmal human rights in Myanmar. The results of the boycott were serious enough that PepsiCo sold its stake in its joint venture in Myanmar and withdrew from that market. The concern was that potential losses in the United States outweighed potential profits in Myanmar. Holland’s Heineken and Denmark’s Carlsberg beer companies withdrew from Myanmar for similar reasons.

PSA groups such as Greenpeace and Consumers international have been successful in raising doubts about the safety of genetically modified (GM) food. Europeans’ fears about Franken food as it is sometimes called, have spread throughout much of the world and persuaded some famine ridden countries in Africa to reject GM grains. In some areas in Uganda an airborne fungus is decimating 80 percent of the banana plants. Bananas are a food staple there. Ugandans eat bananas pancakes, bananas mash and banana bread. They season their beans with banana salt and they guzzle banana beer and sip banana gin. Although a genetically modified Plant has been developed that is immune to the leaf fungus, because of the fear of GM food, Uganda’s legislature has not enacted laws that will permit bioengineered banana plants into the country.

The rather broad issue of globalization is the also the focus of many PSA groups. The demonstrations in Seattle during a WTO meeting and in Washington DC, against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) along with similar demonstrations in other countries reflect a growing concern about a global economy. Whether misguided, uninformed or just wackos as they have been described. PSAs can be a potent force in rallying public opinion and are an important political force that should not be dismissed as companies such as Nike, McDonald’s and Nestle know.

The Internet has become an effective tool of PSAs to spread the word on whatever cause they sponsor. During protest rallies against the US – Iraq organizers were able to coordinate protest demonstrations in 600 cities worldwide and to disseminate information easily. A Google search for peace protest during that times resulted in 788,000 entries including news briefs, Web sites for peace organizations online petitions for peace, where to show up with your placard, where to send dollars and how to write your member of Congress.

Often associated with political activism, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are increasingly affecting policy decisions made by governments. Many are involved in peaceful protests, lobbying and even collaborations with governmental organizations. Many also are involved to mitigating much of the human misery plaguing parts of the planet. Some NGOs have received global recognition – the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Amnesty International, Oxfam, UNICEF, care, and Habitat for Humanity are examples for their good works political influence, and even their brand power.