International Institutions Practicing Environmental Double-Standards

by Vandana Shiva, a leading environmental scientist in India

Statements and reports from the World Bank indicate that this
Northern-dominated international agency does not view the global
environmental crisis in terms of a "common future," but in terms of
environmental apartheid in which the North grows richer and cleaner
and the South grows poorer and more polluted. The World Bank economist
mentioned at the beginning of the article, Lawrence Summers, has since
moved on to a job as President Clinton's top international economist
at the Treasury Department.

	Lawrence Summers, who was the World Bank's Chief Economist and
was responsible for the 1992 World Development Report devoted to the
economics of the environment, suggested that it makes economic sense
to shift polluting industries to the Third World countries. In a memo
to a senior World Bank staff dated 12 December 1991, the Chief
Economist wrote, "just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be
encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [less
developed countries]?"
	Summers justified his economic logic of increasing pollution
in the Third World on the following grounds. Firstly, since wages are
low in the Third World, economic costs of pollution arising from
increased illness and death are lowest in the poorest
countries. Summers thinks "that the economic logic behind dumping a
load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable, and we
should face up to that."
	Secondly, since in large parts of the Third World, pollution
is still low, it makes economic sense to Summers to introduce
pollution. "I've always thought," he says, that "underpopulated
countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted; their air quality is
probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico
	Finally, since the poor are poor, they cannot possibly worry
about environmental problems. "The concerns over an agent that causes
a one-in-a-million change in the odds of prostate cancer is obviously
going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get
prostate cancer than in a country where under-five mortality is 200
per thousand."
	The World Bank apologized for Summers' memo. But that does not
alter the fact that the World Bank has, in fact, been financing the
relocation of pollution-intensive industry to the Third World. As
steel plants close in the North, the Bank helps the expansion of steel
manufacturing in India. It has financed the displacement of millions
of tribals to build the Challdil and Icha dams of the Suvernarekha
project and to support the expansion of the Tata's Steel Plant at
	It continues to finance superthermal power plants to
facilitate the relocation of energy-intensive industry to the Third
World. When fertilizer surpluses grew in America, the World Bank gave
credit to push chemical fertilizers in India.
	The World Bank's practice shows that Summers' memo is not an
aberration, but is consistent with the vision of an environmental
apartheid, separate development for the North and the South. The North
benefits in four ways from this arrangement of apartheid.
	First of all, Northern businesses are able to sell, through
so-called "transfer of technology" financed by loans and debts,
obsolete production systems and products, which they otherwise have to
dump because of stricter regulations at home.
	Secondly, Northern banks, including the multilateral
development banks like the World Bank, are able to make interest on
loans and credits given for the transfer of environmentally unsound
	Thirdly, the resultant financial debts give the North more
political and economic control over the Third World through
International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionalities and structural
adjustment loans, which push the Third World further into debt.
	Finally, the increased pollution and environmental degradation
of the Third World is also used as a new reason for control through
green conditionalities.
	The Third World is pushed inexorably into deeper debt, deeper
poverty, deeper environmental degradation and deeper erosion of its
sovereignty and democratic structures. The malaise that allows these
processes to grow is not limited to one economist like Summers or one
agency like the World Bank.
	Apartheid seems to have become the way of thinking of all the
dominant powers of the North. Apartheid is, in the final analysis, a
racist world view that moralizes injustice on grounds of the false
assumption of the superior status of the white race and the
inferiority of the rest of us. We can be polluted and poisoned because
we are lesser beings in the eyes and minds of those who want to rule
the world. A brown or black child does not deserve the same protection
from health and environmental hazards because he or she is not white.
	This apartheid philosophy is fast emerging as the ruling
philosophy of the North. It finds its echo in a paper by Dr. Maurice
King in the Lancet, in which he recommends that health care should be
removed for children in the Third World and that they should be
allowed to die because Third World populations are a burden on the
planet. Apartheid is also the underlying philosophy of the report from
the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) on Trade and the
	On the face of it, GATT's report opposes environmental
imperialism. It refers to the recent GATT ruling against a US decision
to ban imports of Mexican Yellowfin tuna because fishing methods led
to the deaths of dolphins that swim about the tuna shoals. The GATT
ruling says, "A country may not restrict imports of a product solely
because it originates in a country whose environmental policies are
different." GATT says that "countries are not clones of each
other. They have a sovereign right to declare different environmental
priorities and policies."
	However, when it comes to intellectual property rights (IPRs)
and patents, GATT insists on a uniform law globally. IPRs are in
effect instruments of control over biological resources and
biodiversity that are concentrated in the Third World. When applied to
living resources and life forms, they are ultimately laws about the
	GATT's report is, in reality, the recipe for an environmental
apartheid. The report on Trade and the Environment appears to be
against protectionism in the North, but environmental laws are treated
uniformly and as being "global" when they relate to controlling the
resources of the Third World. All countries are treated a clones of
each other in the case of patents of life forms. On the other hand,
when environmental laws relate to pollution and hazards, the Third
World is treated differently. "National Sovereignty" is used to
justify the localization of pollution, but "National Sovereignty" is
sacrificed to justify the globalization of access to the biological
wealth of the Third World.
	The environmental "bads" inherited from the North are thus
made the South's exclusive legacy. Environmental "goods" like
biodiversity, which have been the South's heritage in the past, are
transformed into a "global heritage of mankind."
	Some Third World elites and governments will be happy with
this arrangement of apartheid because it allows them to participate in
the robbery of people's resources, and it frees them of social
responsibility to protect their fellow citizens from pollution and
other environmental hazards. They have taken the resources from local
communities. The pollution they invite will not be theirs to suffer. A
part of the South will thus be jubilant as this face-saving device of
"National Sovereignty" is used for "free" export of resources from
South to North and "free" import of pollution from North to South.
	The words "freedom" and "protection" have been robbed of their
humane meaning and are being absorbed into the double-speak of
corporate jargon. With double-speak comes a double standard, one for
citizens and one for corporations, one for corporate responsibility
and one for corporate profits, one for the North and one for the
	The US is most sophisticated in the practice of double
standards and the destruction of people's rights to health and safety
in the Third World. On one hand, it aims at regulating safeguards
within its own geographical boundaries, while on the other hand,
through Super 301 [the US law that allows for penalties against
foreign goods sold in the US below cost of production], it aims at
destroying the Indian Patents Act of 1970 and replacing it with a
strong US-style system of patent protection, which is heavily biased
in favor of the industrially developed countries.
	The World Bank and GATT consider the transnationals' lack of
patent protection as unfair trading practice.  They do not consider
the destruction of regulations for public safety and environmental
protection as unethical and unfair for the citizens of the Third
World. The Northern agencies want to limit and localize laws for the
protection of people and universalize laws for the protection of
profits. The people of India want the reverse - a universalization of
the safety regulations protecting people's livelihoods and right to
live and a localization of laws relating to intellectual property and
private profits.
	All life is precious. It is equally precious to the rich and
the poor, whites and blacks, men and women. Universalization of the
protection of life is an ethical imperative. On the other hand,
private property and private profits are culturally and
socio-economically legitimized constructs holding only for some
groups. They do not hold for all societies and all cultures. Laws for
the protection of private property rights, especially as related to
life forms, cannot and should not be imposed globally. They need to be
	Double standards also exist in the shift from private gain to
social responsibility for environmental costs. When the patenting of
life is at issue, arguments stemming from the concept of "novelty" are
used. Novelty requires that the subject matter of a patent be new,
that it be the results of an inventive step, and not something
existing in nature. On the other hand, when it comes to legislative
safeguards, the focus of the argument shifts to the concept of
"similarity," to establishing that biotechnology products and
genetically engineered organisms differ little from parent organisms.
	To have one law for environmental responsibility and another
for proprietary rights and profits is an expression of double
standards. Double standards are ethically unjustified and
illegitimate, especially when they deal with life itself. However,
double standards are consistent with and necessary for the defense of
private property rights. It is these double standards that allow the
lives and livelihoods of the people and the planet to be sacrificed
for the protection of profits.
	And it is these double standards that support the emergence of
an environmental apartheid in which the last resources of the poor are
taken over by the rich, and the poor are pushed into "pollution
reservations" to live with waste. They themselves are treated as
waste, to be dispensed with either through poisoning and pollution, as
Lawrence Summers has suggested, or through population control and
denial of health care to children, as Maurice King has suggested.
	An environmental order that is full of contempt for the poor
of the Third World and tries to rob them even of their right to life
cannot be the basis of our common future.

This article is reprinted with permission from 50 Years is Enough: the
Case Against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, South
End Press, Boston, 1994.

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