Multinationals and social movements: resist the "hidden lobby"

For several

The system urgently needs, in addition to its plan A (to continue with business as it usually does: business as usual), a plan B (the conquest of the soul of the people and of social resistance). Well, it is not as powerful as it appears at first glance, because if it were, there would be no need to invest so many millions of dollars in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), green washing, lobbying, advertising and clientelism through NGOs loyal to their interests.

In this growing boom of the simulacrum over the real, fundamental for the new ways of exercising and legitimizing power, the communication industry plays a key role, 'Public Relations' ... An activity that specializes in the "engineering of consensus" as a way to expand markets and create a political-social climate conducive to the expansion of large companies, while also helping to deactivate and overcome resistance. A very broad activity to promote ‘Business as Usual’ that ranges from the promotion of sponsorship, corporate philanthropy, the promotion of large events and the projection of brands to the so-called corporate social and environmental responsibility.

Ramon Fernandez Duran

Capital tries to appropriate reasonable environmental movements, to reconvert them into domesticated green capitalisms or forms of business with the depletion of the planet.

Pedro A. Prieto

The preceding quotes provide some clues to place the context in which the power of large companies operates today. A power that is displayed for the purpose of doing more business and, simultaneously, eliminating resistance. They are trying to square the circle: to be, at the same time, looters and benefactors of their victims.

If the multinationals (J.P. Morgan, Nestle, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, etc.) try to rule the world, it is because of their intrinsic need to obtain profits at compound interest, or in geometric progression. For a few decades they have exhausted the self-regenerating capacity of the planet, they find a “full world”, so now more than ever they have to go in search of everything that is exploitable. In these circumstances, they act by dispossession of the last vestiges of autonomy of the peoples: the common goods and uses, the immaterial, the life and dignity of the people.

A good example of all this that we say, is not only the deep crisis mentioned, but the new forms in which this senile capitalism dresses itself to be able to fall, surreptitiously, like a swarm of locusts on the last frontier of profit.

The case of crop seeds is a good example of the necessary rapacity of the system. Silvia Pérez-Vitoria sums it up very well when she says that: “between 60% and 80% of the world's agricultural population lives in small production units (…). It is from these peasants that the multinationals want to steal the plants that can be patented ”. [I]

The system urgently needs, in addition to its plan A (to continue with business as it usually does: business as usual), a plan B (the conquest of the soul of the people and of social resistance [ii]). Well, it is not as powerful as it appears at first glance, because if it were, there would be no need to invest so many millions of dollars in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), green washing, lobbying, advertising and patronage through NGOs loyal to their interests [iii].

Big capital's plan B

It can be summarized by saying that it is “the sum of maneuvers destined to gain consensus, legalize these forms of enrichment, achieve obedience and / or complicity, advertise their objectives as if they were identical to those of society and discredit the alternatives as if they were ´attacks ´ ”[iv]. In one word, seek legitimacy.

Two ways of carrying out this second plan stand out for their special relevance: one, the so-called “Corporate Social Responsibility”, and the other, which aims at the co-optation of social movements of resistance and alternative NGOs. “Without a doubt that these business B plans, paid for by technicians, intellectuals and certain NGOs are the greatest challenge to be overcome by the civil resistance.” [V] In general, we can say that capital tries to appropriate the movements reasonable environmentalists, to reconvert them into domesticated agents of green capitalism.

A few notes on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The best definition of what this CSR intends was given by Ban Ki-Moon, in 2008 [vi]. He said: "We have to move from the responsibility of business to the business of responsibility." For companies, in the capitalist order, it is about that and only that. If someone wants to call themselves to socializing or sustainability illusions, the statements of the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility of Mapfre [vii] are more than persuasive: “deep down, a good part of what is heard in CSR is rooted in that cosmetic purpose that he always accompanies us in the company ”, and it is that no matter how many turns it is given, in a capitalist system the only social responsibility of companies is to increase their profits, as the representative of the neoliberal economy Milton Friedman argued.

They can't help it: “If a large, publicly traded company fails to meet the formula for rapid growth and short-term profits, its directors will be exposed to outright dismissal, or even possible legal action (…) or neither bankers nor investors judge corporate performance by the degree of contribution to the public good. These are fundamentally amoral. ”[Viii]

To conclude with CSR and “do not fall into morals, let us admit that the logical and common objective of every business is profit… companies are companies and not NGOs; and this is about making money ”[ix]. The one who was sincere was the director of Reputation and Corporate Identity of Telefónica, a company that has taken little time to put this logic into operation with the recent announcement of massive layoffs of several thousand workers, while substantially increasing the salaries of its employees. executives in several hundred million euros, days after having declared the highest profits in its history.

For the social movements of resistance

Two very active foundations in this chapter serve to illustrate how big capital operates in this section of its plan B. These are the so-called AVINA and Ashoka, which have their preferred operating space in Spain and Latin America. They are not the only ones.

These two entities, which appeared in 1994 and 1981 respectively, are closely related to each other. In 1993, Stephan Schmidheiny, founder of AVINA, and Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, perceived that they had very similar visions on how to contribute to a profound change in the world and, over the years, AVINA and Ashoka have identified and promoted multiple forms of local and global collaboration. Ashoka is also financed by AVINA: for example, as of 2007 it has paid more than 400 social entrepreneurs. According to Drayton, “ Ashoka does not have a closer or lasting co-entrepreneur or ally than AVINA to support the flight of the most powerful and new ideas and their promoters.”.

Both foundations are unequivocally linked to big capital. In the case of AVINA, the only founder mentioned above is the asbestos magnate, one of the world's greatest fortunes, amassed with the murderous mineral business at the cost of the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. planet. On February 13, Schmidheiny was sentenced to 16 years in prison by a Turin court for the crimes of "permanent intentional environmental disaster" and "for omission of safety measures" at work, caused by an asbestos factory in his property installed in the town of Casale Monferrato, as a result of which more than two thousand people have already died and nearly a thousand have fallen ill. In addition, Schmidheiny has been a director of Nestlé, the Union of Swiss Banks, and ABS Brown, among other multinationals. In the same way, the current president of AVINA comes from the multinational chemical DuPont.

In the case of Ashoka, the foundation in Spain is chaired by a former bank executive JP Morgan [x], the most powerful company in the world according to the list Forbes, and other founders have been linked to the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., or General Electric.

These foundations of big capital enter the social movements and NGOs with a defined philosophy that does not fool anyone. It's about considering "To markets as legitimate channels for social change"[xi]. That is why AVINA defines itself as "a foundation that partners with leaders of civil society and business in Latin America in their initiatives for sustainable development" [xii]. In the case of Ashoka, the objective is clearer if possible. According to María Zapata, its director in Spain: “ For companies, the potential market offered by the population that is living on less than two dollars a day, the base of the pyramid, is 4 trillion dollars (…). Social entrepreneurs work with these populations and their job is to bring the multinationals up to them, while safeguarding the interests of these". [Xiii]

For that, they finance and join forces with leaders of social movements, including anti-capitalists, so that they legitimize the really existing business system from within, and to shape the limits of that dissent.

Indeed, AVINA has among its prominent partners the Argentine Gustavo Grobocopatel [xiv], considered the number one businessman and an undisputed reference worldwide in the field of transgenic soy. It cultivates more than 280,000 hectares.

We already know that soybean cultivation "is the monoculture of the decade, the crop that deforests the most land, cuts down more forests, produces more murders and slavery, causes more fumigations, and finally generates more poverty," according to the 2011 Worldwatch Institute Report [xv].

Of course, in Latin America, the privileged place for their actions, they have already realized the nature of these foundations. At the last meeting in Cancun on climate change (December 2010), the Argentine Rural Reflection Group (GRR) detected the infiltration of AVINA in the different alternative movements that have attended the counter-summit and denounced that: “ Large corporations, and their accompanying foundations, have been working stealthily to sneak into alternative spaces. The AVINA foundation, owned by the Swiss millionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, with a long and sinister career in our Mestizo America, for buying wills behind projects supposedly beneficial to our peoples and communities, offered a financial gift for the organization of Klimaforum 10. (…) Foundations such as AVINA and Ashoka are the enemy of the Mother Earth and the oppressed populations "[xvi].

The case of AGRA and transgenics

With this example it is as possible to best see the way in which the capitalist lobby operates in social movements.

According to Gustavo Duch and Fernando Fernández, well-known agroecological activists, “at the moment there are a series of programs to develop a second round of the Green Revolution, now in Africa. Headed by a group of large corporations and foundations such as Gates or Rockefeller, a series of projects are propagated that will favor the installation of these companies in Africa, where they will be able to expand their businesses and their market, displacing national public systems (…). The participation of charitable foundations like Gates is still worrying and distorting. Only in the month of September 2010, Gates has donated 8 million dollars to favor the entry of Cargill and its soybeans in Africa; and it has invested 23.1 million dollars in Monsanto ”[xvii]. This project has been baptized with the name of AGRA.

In case there were doubts about the intentions of this foundation, La Via Campesina, the most prestigious alternative movement in the world, warned that: “ since 2006 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has collaborated with the Rockefeller Foundation, an enthusiastic promoter of GM crops for the world's poor, to implement the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which is opening the continent to GM seed and to chemicals sold by Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta. The foundation has given AGRA $ 456 million, and in 2006 hired Robert Horsch, who was a Monsanto executive for 25 years, to work on the project. In Kenya about 70% of AGRA recipients work directly with Monsanto, nearly 80% of Gates' funding in the country involves biotechnology, and over $ 100 million in donations have been given to Kenyan organizations connected to Monsanto. . In 2008, 30% of the Foundation's funds for agricultural development went to promote transgenic seed varieties. (…) In August 2010, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation trust announced that it had bought 500 thousand shares of Monsanto, valued at a little more than $ 23 million ”[xviii].

One of Ashoka's last “signings” in 2009 comes from Kenya. It is the Kenyan scientist Florence Wanbugu, linked to biotechnology and Monsanto, and with very good relations in Spain, as can be seen in the photograph of below.

From left to right: F. Wanbugu (Ashoka), Garmendia (former Minister of Science and Innovation), F. González (former President of the Government and director of Gas Natural), not recognized, and Federico Mayor Zaragoza (President of the Triptolemos Foundation). (Conference ‘Science against poverty’ at the San Ildefonso Farm, Segovia, 08. 04. 2010)

The circle continues with the announcement that Ashoka receives a 2009 donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [i] of $ 11.3 million: "These funds will enable Ashoka to select more than 90 social entrepreneurs who will spread promising innovations to help lift small farmers and rural communities out of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and India."

But there is more. Almost the same actors, Gates, Rockefeller and Monsanto, together with Syngenta, the Norwegian Government and other governments have also created in 2008 what has been called “The end of the world seed vault”, which is a large bank of seeds and plant genetic resources installed in the Arctic, on an island in the Svalbard archipelago. The “vault” has the capacity to store 4.5 million samples of different seeds, each sample has an average of 500 seeds. They keep more than seven thousand species of plants that have historically been used in the human diet.

The circle closes with the hidden lobby: the selected and associated "dissidents"

AVINA and Ashoka, in the ten years that they have been operating in Spain, have managed to enter in some way in more than ten organizations that can be considered alternatives. In some cases selecting leaders or entrepreneurs, in others providing financing and advice. They are prestigious entities that cover the areas of water, the environment, peace, the rural world, parallel universities, ethical financial systems, seeds, the sea, etc., and counting on well-known leaders.

These large capital foundations carry out the selection of their collaborators with all rigor, so that the final decision usually comes from their headquarters in America. They know well with whom they ally. Not in vain, Ashoka boasts that it has as strategic allies the aforementioned McKinsey, the world's leading management consulting company, Hill & Knowlton, one of the leading companies in public relations, and Latham & Watkins [ii], with 2,000 lawyers throughout the world. The selection is assured. Just in case, they sign contracts that commit those chosen to leave their image to promote philanthropic companies and, as its director in Spain María Calvo says, "once the social entrepreneur is selected, he belongs to the Ashoka Network for life" .

Some of these organizations or their leaders, who share the status of partners or allies of the mentioned foundations, have an explicit leadership position against transgenic crops. Therefore, sometimes they fulfill their function as spokespersons for associations that fight against this type of crop (especially in Spain, which is where these crops have flourished most throughout Europe), and at other times they are forced to maintain a prudent silence, in the face of aggressive programs such as AGRA, in which 90 of their Ashoka coreligionists try to implement GMOs in Africa, with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates-Monsanto Foundation, as we have seen above. The added legitimacy that the controlled "dissidents" offer to the foundations of big capital is priceless.

In our closest environment, a similar phenomenon has also been taking place that needs to be highlighted for general knowledge and has been denounced for a long time. Fortunately, after a significant effort, things seem to be turning in the right direction, and those who have maintained stable relationships with foundations such as AVINA and Ashoka are beginning to reconsider their actions. In that good direction, for example, some resignations from their positions in the social movements of leaders who, at the same time, were partners of AVINA or Ashoka, as well as the statements of denunciation against said foundations manifested by the environmental organizations to which they said leaders belonged. In this sense, the statement of February 8 of the Rural Platform (an entity that integrates a few dozen organizations) against transgenics points out. In said document it is denounced that “ in Africa, Monsanto has recently partnered with the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and other entities such as the Ashoka Foundation, to promote GMOs within the framework of the 'Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa'. Although disguised as green, it is a murderous attempt to introduce commercial (and later transgenic) seeds and the entire package of agrochemical inputs into this continent, stripping small farmers of their traditional seeds and condemning them to hunger and misery ”.

One final consideration

In the cases of resignation mentioned, as well as in others, we would like to insist on the following: we are not questioning the subjective good faith with which these people may have acted, but the objective political problem posed by these strategies of big capital to penetrate the alternative social movements. It is true that any of us can be victims of deception: sometimes we take risky steps without actually seeing what the consequences may be, or we unintentionally take shortcuts that end up leading to problematic places. And it can be subjectively very difficult to retrace what has been done, especially when what we consider to be our own identity is at stake, the consideration we deserve from people close to us, or prestige in other more distant circles. But we must avoid confusing the personal difficulties involved in recognizing mistakes, with the interests of collective projects. It would be difficult to understand if, once warned of the situation, we would endeavor to deny reality and continue without correcting our course or clarifying the circumstances and responsibilities. In such a case, we would be doing a disservice to social movements by weakening their forces to resist the "hidden lobby" mentioned above.


Paco puche

Federico Aguilera Klink

Oscar Carpenter

Jose Manuel Naredo

Jorge Riechmann

Notes and references

[i] (27.01.2009), ”Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donates 11.3 million euros to Ashoka for rural development projects in Africa and India”, available at: / news / 996231…. Accessed October 7, 2011.

[ii] Web page available at: Accessed October 7, 2011.

[i] Pérez-Vitoria, S. (2010): The return of the peasants. An opportunity for our survival, Barcelona, ​​Icaria, p.103 .

[ii] “All life is being affected by the logic of capital… the conquest of the soul has been taking place almost without resistance and without realizing it. Power structures have managed to reduce our heads ”, in: Fernández Durán, R. (2010): The third Skin, society of the image and conquest of the soul. Available at:, p. 26. Accessed on October 7, 2011.

[iii] Dimitriu, A. (2008): "Energy bulimia, agrofuels and territory: the privatization of politics and the politics of silence", Theomai Magazine, nº 18, 2nd semester, p. 93.

[iv] Galafassi, G. and A. Dimitriu, (2007): “Plan“ B ”of the mining capitals”, Theomai Magazine, nº15, first semester, p. one.

[v] Ibid, p. 8.

[vi] Speech by the UN Secretary General at the Private Sector Forum for the Millennium Development Goals from UN, N. York, 28.09.2008

[vii] Juan José Almagro, in the presentation of the conference “CSR management and the creation of sustainable value”, El Nuevo Monday - Mapfre, Madrid, June 16, 2008.

[viii] Mander, J. (ed.), (2008): Manifesto on global economic transitions. Turning off the tap for the future, Málaga, Ediciones del Genal, p.27.

[ix] Hernández, J. and Ramiro P. (eds.) (2009): The business of responsibility. Criticism of the Corporate Social responsibility of transnational companies, Barcelona , Icaria, p.63.

[x] President: Don Carl F. Munana, .BOE no. 25. Saturday 25 October 2003.

[xi] Sustainnability Global Compact and UNEP (2005): “The NGOs of the XXI century. In the market for change ”. Available at: Accessed October 7, 2011, p.3.

[xii] AVINA, “Annual Report 2000. Message from the President” p. 14. Available at: www. / esp / Multimedios / pdfs / 164.pdf Accessed on January 26, 2012

[xiii] Interview with María Zapata in the digital magazine, 9.06.2011.

[xiv]… visited on March 5, 2012

[xv] Fernández, F. and Duch, G. (2011), in: Worldwatch Institute, (2011): The situation of the world. Innovations to feed the planet, Barcelona, ​​Icaria, p.350.

[xvi]: GRR (2010): “The different spaces of resistance at COP 16 in Cancun. GRR document at the climate change summit in Mexico ”, 12/15/10, available at:…. Accessed October 7, 2011.

[xvii] Duch, G. and Fernández, F. (2010): “The agroindustry under suspicion”, consulted at, p.15. Access 7.10.2001.

[xviii] Via Campesina (2010): “The really existing" philanthropy ". Complaint of the purchase of Monsanto shares by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ”, press release, Rebellion, 16.09.10.

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