ETC Group: A Brief History

How we began: We began as a conversation about seeds in 1984. Nearly four decades later, we are still talking about seeds, but the world has grown infinitely more complex: new technologies have developed, economies have globalized, multinational companies have expanded their reach, and wealth and capital are concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer giant corporations. Life itself has been manipulated, picked apart, re-assembled – and then patented.

What we’ve done: We have been advocates on global issues such as the conservation of agricultural biodiversity and food security and on the impact of new technologies on the rural poor for nearly forty years. Since the early 1980s, we have conducted groundbreaking research, education and successful social action on issues involving agricultural biodiversity, biotechnology, intellectual property (IP) and community knowledge systems.

In the 1990s, our work expanded to encompass social and environmental concerns related to biotechnology, biopiracy, human genomics and, in the late 1990s, nanotechnology. 

Our reputation rests on our effective research and our ability to transform that research into public policy and institutional change. We were the first civil society organisation (nationally and internationally) to draw attention to the socioeconomic and scientific issues related to the conservation and use of plant genetic resources, intellectual property and biotechnology. In the 1990s we brought public attention to biopiracy (a term we coined), challenged patent claims on cell lines of Indigenous peoples and launched the international campaign against genetic seed sterilization (which we dubbed 'Terminator' technology), which resulted in a UN moratorium on the technology.

In 2001 we changed our name from Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) to ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) to reflect a growing focus on research and advocacy related to converging technologies - including synthetic biology and geoengineering - and their impacts on marginalized communities. Together with allies we have succeeded in promoting a global moratorium on geoengineering, and stopped risky projects involving marine and solar geoengineering techniques and gene drive technologies, including through fora such as the CBD.

ETC Group is also a principal resource and reference on corporate concentration and related issues for civil society and grassroots movements generally. We regularly publish Top 10 lists ranking the most powerful corporations in a range of industrial agricultural sectors.

We are now witnessing the bio-digital convergence of new industrial technologies including digital technologies, automation, molecular manipulation and ecosystem engineering. We are still fighting to ensure that new technologies are developed transparently and their potential benefits shared equitably, and for recognition that corporations cannot use people and ecosystems as testing grounds for technological advancement.

ETC Group has consultative and/or observer status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). ETC Group also has a long history with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). ETC Group is a registered CSO in Canada, the Philippines and Mexico. Friends of ETC Group is a private non-profit organization under section 501(c)3 in the United States.