Time to stop pandering to the rich

On 11 December 2019 the EU Commission adopted the “European New Green Deal,” with the aim of continued growth coupled to a climate-neutral, fair and prosperous society by 2050.

On 19 December the same year the Circular Economy Action Plan was passed by the Commission. Its aim is to replace the linear economy with a more local, “circular” economy, based on recycling and technology to allow increased production while reducing emissions.

The circular economy is the brainchild of Ellen McArthur, the record-holding British sailor. When she retired in 2010 she started the Ellen McArthur Foundation to promote a more sustainable economic order, with funds from her professional sponsors Renault and B&Q—Renault, the French car manufacturing company, which owns or partly owns not only the Renault brand but also Dacia, Autovaz (Lada), Nissan, Mitsubishi, Samsung Motors, Brilliance, JMEV, Dungfeng Auto, and Jinbei Auto. Not exactly known for their eco-credentials or their contribution to cleaner air!

B&Q—part of the Kingfisher Group—operates 1,300 retail shops in eight countries in Europe and Turkey. Again, not exactly what we would regard as “stay local, shop local.”

The sponsors listed on Ellen McArthur’s web site include Danone, DS Smith, Google, H&M Group, Ikea, Philips, SC Johnson, Unilever, the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Foundation, Mava Foundation, and the Sun Foundation. Needless to say, this is a motley crew of scurrilous transnational companies whose only motive is to generate massive profits for their shareholders.

Danone, second-largest producer of baby food and owners of Cow and Gate, Milupa, and Nutricia, to name a few, was removed from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition for promoting their products in Asia and particularly India. Sub-optimal breast-feeding is responsible for 12 per cent of deaths in children under five, while almost a quarter (23 per cent) of preventable deaths are due to lack of continued breast-feeding in the age group 6–24 months.

One of its production plants in Ukraine, Danone Kremez, is authorised to export to Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAR, Syria, Russia, and Moldova—not exactly “produce local”! It operates globally, with an income in 2019 of €25.3 billion. The only sustainability they care about is sustaining shareholders’ profits.

The Swedish “fast-fashion” group H&M, among its lesser crimes, was recently exposed as fraudulently promoting its “Conscious Collection” as sustainable, even providing recycling bins for customers to put their old clothes in, on the promise that they would be made into new garments. Fewer than 2 per cent were.

Clothes, not just fast-fashion, cheap or expensive, that are produced in grossly inhuman conditions in China (look up stone-washed jeans and health issues in China), Bangladesh or somewhere else thousands of miles away from the end users, are not, and cannot be, sustainable. The raw materials are shipped there, and shipped again around the world when manufactured, by highly polluting container ships. The discarded clothes (long before they are worn out) mostly end up in landfill, with all the problems of seepage etc. that this entails.

Does anyone believe that H&M, Penney’s, Next or Brown Thomas give a damn about sustainability?

SC Johnson received the worst rating for environmental responsibility from Ethical Consumer, because it failed to set any targets for reducing its environmental impact. It continues to use all three of the toxins contained in cleaning products—parabens, phthalates, and triclosan. According to the BBC they paid $417 million in damages to twenty-two women who suffered ovarian cancer resulting from its baby powder, and there are 9,000 cases outstanding. They knew about the problems with asbestos infiltration since the 1970s but failed to warn consumers about the risks. For good measure they openly test their products on animals. Well, they desperately need to improve their image somehow; so why not sponsor some fraudulent “green” foundation?

The other sponsor companies and foundations are similar. They are multi-billion-dollar companies that are green-washing their images by bankrolling spurious “green” foundations.

All these companies have one thing in common: they obtain their raw materials from and they manufacture in low-cost manufacturing countries with extremely poor environmental standards, and pay wages at subsistence levels, where children, women and men have no protection and joining a trade union is a life-threatening decision.

Add the cost to climate and biodiversity by sustaining that level of consumerism in the First World, paid for in blood, sweat and tears in the Third.

The Ellen McArthur foundation is jointly sponsored by “green” charitable foundations, most notably the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fund for Strategic Innovation. Eric Schmidt was CEO or executive chairman of Google and is now technical adviser at Alphabet. He was chairperson of the US Defense Innovation Board from 2016 to 2020 (very sustainable and pro-human!); he was CEO of Google when he was the subject of the High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation case that resulted in a settlement of $415 million paid out by Adobe, Apple, Google and Intel to its employees. He is worth $14.2 billion (October 2019). I don’t think being charitable has ever registered on his radar.

“Charitable foundations” are anything but charitable: they are tax-avoidance vehicles that allow the super-rich to avoid paying taxes to national governments, thereby depriving them of billions in tax revenue that should go to public services: health, education, etc. Instead the super-rich contribute (or not) to their pet schemes, which rarely include the really needy, while avoiding taxes and giving themselves, their families and friends unfettered access to tax-free millions. (For more information look up “How philanthropy benefits the super-rich” in the Guardian, 8 September 2020.)

In short, the circular economy is a charade promoted by the EU and its big-industry partners to hoodwink people who are really concerned for their future into believing that the EU and big business care, while leaving them free to continue plundering the earth’s resources and the wholesale exploitation of our brothers and sisters in Asia, Africa, and South America.

Can you imagine Germany tying the hands of Bayer by forcing it to stop selling its pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs? It would just get up and go to the nearest destination that allowed it to continue its exploitation and destruction.

Likewise, will Germany, France or Italy put their car manufacturers in jeopardy by constraining their production to sustainable levels? The difference in sustainability between electric and oil-based engines is negligible. And it is simply not feasible for everyone in the world to have car ownership at the level of the First World—unless, of course, we believe that we are the chosen ones.

The First World has to face up to a period of de-growth. It’s time to stop pandering to the rich and to co-operate in a new world without profit but with dignity and pride in our sustainable future.