Mumbai: ACORN, a US-based liberal activist group, leads India FDI Watch Campaign, a national coalition of labour unions, trade associations, environmentalists, non-government organizations and academics that opposes foreign direct investment in the country’s retail sector. The campaign seeks to bar the entry of giant multinational retailers unless they make satisfactory assurances that they will protect communities, ensure the stability of existing small businesses, and guarantee fair wages and working conditions for their own employees.
In an exclusive interview with Mint, Wade Rathke, founder and chief organizer of ACORN, lays bare his plans to ensure that the voices of Indian traders and farmers get heard in global media. Edited extracts:
Wal-Mart has made it to India despite stiff opposition. Has your campaign failed?
If Wal-Mart had to come to India on a ‘cash & carry’ model, they could have done it years ago — as other companies have done. Cash and carry is not what they were looking at. We will continue to fight Wal-Mart and anybody who follows its model. We have been educating Indian people about the perils of monopoly retail. Many members of the Indian Parliament understand the problems that can arise if Wal-Mart and other foreign companies enter Indian retail. We will make sure that the voices of Indian traders and farmers get heard in global media.
You’ve been fighting Wal-Mart in other countries as well. What has your experience been?
We have monitored and fought Wal-Mart in Argentina, Mexico and Canada. We have also taken them on in Korea and Indonesia. The company had its way in Canada and in Mexico it became a dominant force. In Argentina, we were able to convince the government to bring in appropriate regulation.
The government has commissioned a study to evaluate the impact of organized retail, and is taking a relook at its retail FDI policy. Do you think it will make significant changes?
We are reaching out to everybody who will play a role in formulating the policy. Our attempt is to make sure they provide enough immunity to unorganized retailers in the country. The government should conduct a survey of the existing capacity to decide whether or not there is need for additional retail. It should look at the experience of countries that have gone through this exercise before. India could learn a thing or two from Korea, China, Taiwan and other Asian nations that have suitably modified their foreign investment policies to protect small, local players.
How do you finance your campaigns?
We have over 250,000 members in the US and 30,000 members in other countries. The funds come from our members. We are not directly affiliated with any political party but we do have an ideology. We fight for social justice.