Article published: Thursday, April 30th 2015
A group of demonstrators staged a flash mob in the Arndale Centre to raise awareness of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the free trade deal currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States.
The deal, which seeks to remove regulations and free up the potential for corporate profit, has inspired a growing movement of resistance across Europe and the US, with activists and campaigners arguing that it will strengthen corporate power while putting public services, the rights of citizens and democratic processes at risk.
Blindfolded with bandages reading ‘TTIP’, participants of the flash mobs assumed the role of zombies, stumbling into the shopping centre to be fed ‘chlorinated chicken’, provided by TTIP-sponsored ‘businesspeople’, before collapsing and dying en masse on the floor of Exchange Court.
The demonstration, organised by Stop TTIP MCR on Saturday 18th April, was called to coincide with the global day of action against the trade deal and sought to highlight the threat that deregulation could pose to social and environmental standards, including workers’ rights, food safety standards, privacy laws, protections against the use of toxic chemicals and banking regulations. “Everything in America is at a much lower form of regulation than it is in Europe”, said Roger, one of the organisers of the event. “Our fear is that most of these negotiations will drive things down to the lowest common denominator.”
While the group aimed to call attention to the far-reaching threat of deregulation, the flash mob focused specifically on food production standards. Campaigners are concerned that the US’s comparatively low standards could be adopted in Europe if the deal goes through, allowing chemicals to be used when washing chicken meat.
As well as highlighting the risks of deregulation, campaigners have also been critical of the antidemocratic nature of the deal. “The issue that really concerned most of us and became why we started the group was the fact that it was so secretive and people weren’t being made aware of it”, said Roger. Negotiations have been veiled in secrecy, with documents being withheld from the public and protected by a clause that will restrict access to them for up to 30 years. Campaigners are also questioning the lack of scrutiny surrounding the negotiations, particularly with the general election coming up. “It’s not being covered by mainstream media”, Roger pointed out, “and no party has discussed the issue at any debate.”
Aside from the lack of transparency surrounding the negotiations, campaigners are also pointing to a particular clause within the treaty – the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) – that they argue could have grave consequences for democratic decision-making. The clause would give multinational corporations the power to sue nations for profits that have been lost as a result of government policy decisions. These claims would be overseen by a small group of corporate lawyers in secret arbitration tribunals. Many campaigners are concerned that ISDS will give corporations unprecedented power, with John Hilary of War on Want arguing that it “effectively elevates transnational capital to a status equivalent to the nation-state itself.”
Rowan, another activist leading the flash mob, argued that ISDS presents a “threat to democracy”, referring to a number of past instances in which corporations have successfully sued governments under similar trade agreements. Highlighting an ongoing case in which tobacco company, Philip Morris, is suing the Australian government for introducing a law requiring cigarettes to be sold in blank packaging, she described the dangerous effects of ISDS: “New Zealand is currently waiting to pass health legislation also related to smoking, depending on whether or not the Australian government gets sued. All of these governments are afraid to pass a law in case they get sued by a business.”
Faced with the prospect of unleashed corporate power, many of those taking action against TTIP are particularly concerned about the effect the deal could have on public services, such as the NHS. As well as deregulating existing markets, negotiators are planning to open up new markets to private investors, including education and health services. Lowis, a university lecturer who took part in the flash mob, felt uneasy at the thought of privatisation: “I think it’s worrying for all public services that we’re going to have private companies telling us what to do. Private companies aren’t interested in our wellbeing, they’re interested in profit.”
However, while those in power seem determined to push through the deal with as little public consultation as possible, anti-TTIP campaigners are refusing to be excluded from the debate. By staging a flash mob in central Manchester’s busiest shopping centre, the group hoped to reach as wide an audience as possible, with an activity that was designed to be inclusive. “We wanted to do something that would bring people from all different backgrounds”, said Rowan. “We had children, families, pensioners and students all coming along and joining together.”
Stop TTIP MCR are encouraging people to get involved in the campaign in any way they can, urging them to write to their MEPs, sign petitions and take part in future actions organised by the group. Most importantly though, they’re hoping that people will challenge the culture of silence surrounding the deal by simply spreading the word. “Some people don’t have time to go to meetings,” said Rowan. “Even if you just read an article and get clued up yourself and then tell somebody next to you, that’s a good way of getting involved.”
Stop TTIP MCR meet every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month at 7pm at the University of Manchester Students’ Union on Oxford Road.
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