monitoring power

Monitoring power

Concentration in corporate power is the defining feature of today's global economy, with profound implications for livelihoods, well-being, the environment and human rights. ETC Group has long monitored the "Gene Giants" (who aggregate control over seeds, agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, genomics and food processing and retailing). Today many of the same large corporations are touting the use of new technologies - including genomics, nanotechnology and synthetic biology - to transform biomass into high-value products or to manufacture materials "from the bottom up." They are moving from being - 'gene giants' to 'biomass-ters' or even 'matter moguls.'

As global crises of food, finance and the environment converge and powerful new technologies accelerate far-reaching social and ecological change, the need has never been stronger for coordinated and equitable global decison-making. Unfortunately, at the same moment, multilateral institutions, such as agencies of the United Nations, are experiencing a crisis of legitimacy as power moves to the international financial institutions and the corporations that structure the global economy. ETC Group has been active in various UN and other international and regional fora for the past thirty years, pushing for greater involvement of farmers, civil society and social movements in decisions that affect them, proposing new treaties and governance frameworks and warning against the corporate takeover of our international institutions.

Powerful new technologies such as biotechnologies, nano-scale technologies or geoengineering techniques are 'dual use,' in that they can also be applied for purposes of warfare, surveillance and social control. In practice, much of the initial funding and impetus for developing such technologies often come from the military or from governments looking to control dissent. This topic includes ETC Group's research into biological warfare -- defined as the deliberate use of microorganisms or toxins derived from living organisms to induce death or disease in humans, animals or plants.

Biopiracy, a term originally coined by ETC Group, refers to the appropriation of the knowledge and genetic resources of farming and indigenous communities by individuals or institutions that seek exclusive monopoly control (patents or intellectual property) over these resources and knowledge. ETC Group believes that intellectual property is predatory on the rights and knowledge of farming communities and indigenous peoples. Through nanotechnology- and synthetic biology-related patents, intellectual property claims are now being extended to elements of the periodic table and to key metabolic pathways involved in cellular functioning (and resulting in natural products with high commercial value).

The genetic modification of plants to produce sterile seeds (dubbed "Terminator" technology by ETC Group) has been widely condemned as an immoral application of biotechnology. If commercialized, Terminator would prevent farmers from re-using seed from their harvest, forcing them to return to the commercial seed market for every planting. But Terminator is just one of a range of technological and legal strategies that corporations are developing to exercise monopoly control over the stuff of life -- strategies that ETC Group refers to as "New Enclosures." Non-patent approaches, such as genetic trait control, satellite surveillance, and digital rights management software could be used to impose new monopolies beyond intellectual property as the predominant means of corporate control in the 21st century.

The 'New Bioeconomy' describes the idea of a new industrial order that relies on biologically-based materials, technologies and 'services.' It is a term invented by the biotechnology industry but increasingly adopted by policymakers, technologists and global energy, forestry, agribusiness and chemical companies. They are now collaborating to construct this vision of a hi-tech, 'green' future using techniques such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology to transform living 'biomass' into fuels, chemicals and power. However, what is sold as a 'green' switch from fossil fuels to plant-based production is, in fact, a red-hot resource grab on the lands, livelihoods, knowledge and resources of the global South, where 86% of all biomass is located. The Bioeconomy is now threatening biodiversity, fueling land grabs and enabling new corporate claims on nature.