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The Whole World Turns Upside-down

research-paper by Doug Specht, published by ENCA

A future under The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The dark morning air hung low with a sharp cold that pinched at the ears. The once white snow had long turned to a black sludge, churned by the boots of the workers as they plodded across the factory car park. It is a fortnight before Christmas, the year is 2025.
Shift had just ended, and a hundred pairs of boots trudged heavy, lifeless steps in union. The night shifts felt particularly long on these chilly winter nights, but it was the broken spirits of a workforce who had so recently lost so many friends that made their boots feel heavier than usual.
Some of those friends were lost as the company’s newly deregulated US owners used new laws brought in to protect the corporations to dismiss those who had sought to unionise. The ones that weighed heaviest though were those lost to the cold lead of the security forces brought in to break the picket lines. The workers shuffled forward with the weary endurance required in order to feed their families.  Some continued to protest and fight for rights, but this was becoming more and more dangerous as they found themselves increasingly ostracised through state surveillance and spying. ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) had of course slipped through by this time.

Food too had become an issue –  sure there was plenty of it around, the removal of legislation over the use of GM, hormones and pesticides had seen yields like never before. But the true costs were starting to show. Cancer rates were increasing, along with kidney failure and other painful and deadly illnesses. Now it might be unfair to blame the food here, perhaps it is one of the 1200 previously banned chemicals that are now being used in everything from cosmetics to construction…. To be honest it’s hard to know, the corporations run the tests, do the experiments and always reach the same conclusions… they are safe… the food is safe.


These increases in illness are helping to fuel a massive surge in the medical business… and that is all it is now, a business. Some remember their last free treatment, but they no longer have access. The National Health Service was privatised a long time ago. Sold bit by bit to large medical conglomerations, eroding little by little the services provided free. Now the companies no longer have to offer medical cover, even those in the most dangerous jobs are left to fend for themselves when a lack of safety checks leaves them maimed.

The poor have become poorer, now forced by their poverty to pick through the chemically enhanced foods, work in the deregulated, de-unionised factories handling chemicals previously thought too dangerous. When they fall ill, they fall victim to the corporations a second time. They cannot afford the health care, they cannot afford to be sick. Protest is met with dismissal or worse.

The masses have fallen into stoic silence.

A gust of wind sweeps across the factory car park, a short stocky man pulls his heavy wool jacket tighter and pushes his hands deeper into its pockets. As he passes under the orange glow of a street lamp he catches a fleeting glimpse of his deeply scarred face in an oily puddle.

He’s reminded of a time when there was more hope. A time when a group of self-proclaimed activists fought against a major extraction project. Great swathes of land had been sold off to a multinational which quickly took advantage of conditions at the time to invest up to $80 million into a new mining project. They of course produced environmental impact assessments, and these were submitted to the government, but as with the food and chemical standards tests, the internally organised impact assessments found there to be little in the way of issues.

This was highly contested by environmentalists, opposition to the project began to grow, and a national campaign was launched. The company continued its exploration, both here and at other ventures around the world. Soon though farmers began to notice that springs and wells were beginning to dry up and opposition grew and grew.

He smiled as he remembered the waves of protest that swept right across the country, and then swept in a new government. Victory! After a hard fought campaign, the conservative government was ousted and the incoming government promised tighter environmental laws that would see the end to this project and many others. This victory was short-lived, realisation dawned among the activists and politicians alike, it was already too late. Trade agreements had already been signed. The government tried to stop the mine, backed by popular support, but later that year the company carried out their threat to sue the nation for $100million through the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

As the company held the country to ransom, the campaign against the project took a dark turn. Four activists were murdered. Journalists from a local radio station who reported the murder themselves received death threats, and a local priest was kidnapped after denouncing the murders.

Inside the courts the government filed against the suit, but the rights of the company to sue the nation for loss of profits and investment was upheld. Blood continued to be shed on the streets with three more activists losing their lives before the end of the year.

Tensions had continued to grow both inside and outside of court, and in the years that followed the company, in the face of growing resistance, upped and upped its claim for reparations.

Nobody remembers how it started, but those who had once stood in the streets seeking a right to water and life now lay in the street. We had hoped we wouldn’t see blood on our streets again, not the blood of those seeking democracy. But we killed democracy a long time ago. We handed the power to the corporations, whose idea of corporate responsibility is seeing how far you can push capitalism; we killed democracy; we killed the NHS; will killed the unions and now we kill the people in the name of growth.

The cold wind chilled a tear as it rolled down the stocky man’s face. As he lifted his head to wipe it away, the first rays of the morning sun greeted him. The signing of TTIP was quite quick and nobody really remembered the moment that things

started to fall apart. Rights and liberties were taken slowly over the years after the signing, but looking back it was easy to see that the whole world had been turned upside down, and we had been turned upside down right along with it.

As the sun began to warm his face, so too did it warm his resolve. The chemicals killed some, the lack of health care killed more, those who were left and fought against the government were killed by bullets. This though was not the end. This is London 2015 and the fight will continue another day.

This is a hypothetical story, a work of dystopian fiction, but every single one of these things has already taken place. At different times, in different countries across Latin America, but all under the guise of Free Trade agreements such as CAFTA-DR and NAFTA. Both of which look a lot like TTIP and its partner trade agreements. There is still time to stop TTIP, to avert this bleak vision of the future. And as we move towards that, we also have a duty to stand in solidarity with those already affected by such trade deals in Latin America, and to work to undo the hundreds of years of injustice inflicted in the name of neoliberalism and progress.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Doug Specht


Dr Doug Specht is a cultural geographer and educationalist. His research explores themes related to environmental justice, human rights, and access to education, with a focus on the production and codification of knowledge though cartographic artefacts and in educational settings. In recognition of his work, he has been appointed as a Chartered Geographer and Chartered Teacher. In addition, he has been awarded Advanced Teacher Status, alongside being a Senior Fellow of AdvanceHE. Dr. Specht has authored numerous articles and books, including Mapping Crisis, the Routledge Handbook of Geospatial Technology and Society, the Media and Communications Student Study Guide and Imagining Apocalyptic Politics in the Anthropocene. He writes regularly on ethics, environmental and human rights, education, and mapping practices in such publications as WonkHE, The Conversation, Geographical, and for Times Higher Education. Dr Specht is a member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Geography, Westminster papers in Communication and Culture, and Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman. He is Chair of the Environmental Network for Central America.


23 March 2016
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