Corporate campaigning during the COVID-19 pandemic, part 2

Patti Lynn, ED of Corporate Accountability, protesting at the Youth Climate Strikes in Boston, holding sign reading "Polluters out, people in"

Welcome to a special blog series by Executive Director Patti Lynn, exploring the meaning and importance of taking on corporate power in this moment. If you missed part 1, check it out here! Also — don’t miss part 3 and part 4.

As I laid out in part 1 of this blog series, the COVID-19 pandemic is making clear the impact of a racist economic system designed for decades to undercut public institutions and put corporate interests above all else.

The shock of this moment provides an opportunity for all of us to rethink and reimagine the kind of world we all deserve to live in. A world that doesn’t treat people and the earth as expendable resources. A world centered on care, love, and justice. A world of equitable decision-making and distributed power. A world where corporations answer to people and not the other way around.

Corporate Accountability and our allies are stepping into this moment to move toward this world by doing what we do best: corporate campaigning. We are organizing for both short-term relief for people and, spurred by the possibilities that this moment has brought, long-term change in the way corporations are allowed to operate. Here are some of the ways we are doing so.

Addressing immediate and long-term impacts equitably

COVID-19 has made clear what happens when people’s access to water is denied. We all know by now that one of the greatest ways to protect ourselves from the disease is to wash our hands. But the painful reality is that millions of people around the world don’t have access to water. And Black and Indigenous people and people of color in the U.S. and the Global South disproportionately lack access. The privatization of water systems, and water systems run for profit rather than for the greater good, greatly exacerbates injustice.

So, in the U.S. we have jumped into action with a range of allies, many led by Black and Indigenous people and people of color, to advance a moratorium on water and electricity shutoffs. In Africa, we are ramping up our strategizing and organizing with grassroots and labor allies to ensure the private water industry does not write the future of people’s access to water on the African continent.

And we’re asking: Why should anyone’s access to something as fundamental as water ever be cut off? How do we organize toward a world where the human right to water for each person is always uplifted and fulfilled, with particular attention to race equity?

Now is the time to invest in public infrastructure and water access for all people, everywhere. Now is the time to stop the privatization of water systems.

At the same time, we are monitoring, exposing, and challenging corporate profiteering in this moment — from exposing the ways the tobacco industry is attempting to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic to organizing to make sure the fossil fuel industry gets locked out of stimulus packages.

Making corporations pay

Holding corporations liable for their abuses is a vital part of holding corporations accountable. This is part of what transformative change looks like: corporations can no longer get away with the range of life-threatening actions they currently engage in with impunity.

To that end, our climate campaign is taking on the most powerful and dangerous industry on the planet — the fossil fuel industry — and demanding corporations like Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and BP be made to pay for fueling the climate crisis. We’re organizing to support government officials at all levels to hold the fossil fuel industry liable. And we are building power in the U.S., Latin America and African regions to advance this work.

We’re also holding the tobacco industry liable. In these next few months, we and our allies will be organizing with governments and public health organizations to advance policy (Article 19 of the global tobacco treaty) that empowers governments to hold the industry liable. Global South governments like Thailand are leading the way in demonstrating how international law can reduce corporate power.

And we’re asking: What would it look like if ALL corporations were forced to pay the full cost of the way they do business? Corporations currently externalize the costs of the ecological destruction they cause, the healthcare costs incurred by harmful products, the true cost of fair wage labor, and more, disproportionately affecting Black and Indigenous people and people of color around the world. Now is the time to create a world where such externalization is no longer permissible.

Exposing and challenging political influence

One of the most underhanded and effective ways that corporations advance their agenda at the expense of people and the planet is by setting up and funding front groups with legitimate- sounding names. These groups push fake science and industry-friendly policy under the guise of the public interest.

International Life Sciences Institute, or ILSI, is one such group, founded by a former Coca-Cola executive. On behalf of corporations, ILSI members pose as health policy experts to infiltrate academic and policy spaces. Operating in 17 countries, with a big focus on China and Brazil, ILSI is instrumental in undermining governments’ ability to protect health.

We’re campaigning to expose the ways Coke and ILSI are influencing public policy to the great detriment of human health around the world, providing an example of yet another way to rein in corporate power and its destructive influence.

“Remake our society for the greater good”

Across our campaigns, we are in conversation and coordination with justice-centered organizations led by  Black and Indigenous people and people of color about the just, transformative solutions we need to advance together as a movement, centering racial and economic equity.

Although many of us are physically isolating ourselves in our homes, we recognize that, more than ever, this is a time to reject isolation, individualism, and competition. We take to heart the words of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor:

“In these moments that create opportunity for the forces of reaction, there are also opportunities for ordinary people to transform these conditions in ways that benefit the mass of humanity. The scale of the coronavirus crisis is so profound that there is now also an opportunity to remake our society for the greater good while rejecting the pernicious individualism that has left us utterly ill-equipped for the moment.”

So, in the weeks and months that follow, the Corporate Accountability community will continue to deepen the vibrant web of relationships and connections that make this work possible. We will support each other to show up as we are.

We commit to embodying hope and change in uncertain times, knowing that we are going to keep facing tumultuous times — and that is one of our greatest signs that transformative change is within reach.

Photo credit: Binita Mandalia


Read part 3 and part 4 of this special series.

Corporate Accountability
Our Movement Needs You
You’ll receive email action alerts from Corporate Accountability.

Corporate Accountability is looking for a new Executive Director