Report from Plenary Session 2 Building a Bottom-Up Network of Mutual Support & Collective Action

1.       Moderator:  Suzanne Shende, Comité de Emergencia Garífuna de Honduras, Honduras

The moderator explained the objectives of the session as building a platform of collaboration in sustainable solidarity and support actions between social movements, grassroots and indigenous groups on the one hand and NGOs and other professional organizations on the other.  The plenary had two main objectives. First, it provided the space to build dialogue between participating social movements and NGOs with the aim of enhancing solidarity with and mobilizing support for the social movements and grassroots groups from their professional advocacy and documentation NGO partners in attendance. Second, it provided the basis for determining concrete steps of how ESCR-Net can be an ongoing and sustainable channel of solidarity and support for social movements, indigenous and grassroots groups.

2.       Inspirational Video

The session started with a video which illustrates the work and struggles of some of the participating groups, including Comité de Emergencia Garfífuna de Honduras, Honduras; Western Shoshone Defense Project, Newe Sogobia; Pakistan Fisherfork Forum, Pakistan; and Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens, Brasil.

The presentations were followed by specific examples of mutual support, collective actions, or other attempted collaborations with NGOs and academic institutions of different social movement and grassroots partners. Presenters reflected on the forms and content of collaboration which have been most effective as well as discuss challenges or frustrations that may have hindered or limited constructive collaboration, drawing out lessons for future collaborative efforts both between individual groups, and as a collective within ESCR-Net.

3.       Toi Market- A Social Movement, Ezekiel Rema, Slums Dwellers Federation,  Kenya [full presentation available

Ezekiel explained that Toi market is more than a market, it has become an institution in Kibera with its more than 1800 traders. Kibera is one of the largest slum areas in Africa with up to one million inhabitants on 225 hectares and Toi Market is one of the largest informal markets in Nairobi. The vast majority of the six acres that constitute Toi Market are private owned, a stark contrast to Kibera as a whole which is almost entirely situated on government land.

In 1991 a new market was built in for the traders at Toi Market, however only a very small number of the Toi Market traders received stalls in this new market.  So Toi Market continued functioning as usual, until the district officer decided to get the market evicted. Youth were deployed to demolish stalls and many traders lost their stock due to theft. The traders at Toi Market took the matter to court and the ruling turned out in favour of the traders. The whole matter was highlighted in media and the member of parliament for the area was involved which helped to preserve the market together with the support from a Kenyan organization, Kituo Sheria, which provided the market with a lawyer who presented it in court.

In 2002 Toi Market Management Committee was formed to register the traders, to create a market constitution and to involve the traders in cooperation concerning the security and waste management. The saving scheme is as a member of Muungano wa Wanavijiji which is an organization by and for slum dwellers in Kenya. After the election in December 2007 the market was stormed by young men who looted and set the market on fire. Rescue came in the shape of Jamii Bora Trust, a Kenyan organization, which provided the market with iron sheets, gum poles and a survey plan for the reconstruction of the market. While the rest of Kenya was burning the reconstruction of Toi Market began.

The market has held its first meetings with representatives from the different market sections. The meeting should be seen as rather a success considering that the market was non-existing ten months ago.

Lessons from the Toi Market:

  • When community is organized it can prevail over poor laws
  • Laws do not normally favour the poor
  • Social movements should not rely on Courts and the should be given great importance
  • The media is a powerful tool of advocacy

4.       Tebtebba Foundation, Joji Carino, Philippines

Joji explained that the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people recognizes a full catalog of indigenous people's rights.  It is the only declaration that was actually drafted by the rights holders themselves.  It was adopted with the favorable vote of 144 States.   It is an emphatic restatement of economic, social and cultural rights as they relate to indigenous people. Joji asked how many of us were present in this occasion, added statements of support and JoJi to this achievement or if the network was involved in the process? A small group of NGOs has been supportive of the process of the creation of the declaration and a larger group now is strategizing on how to make it a reality.  Indigenous people are welcoming of all the support needed to achieve the goals of the declaration. However, how will the UN declaration be upheld when governments are rewriting their mining laws, privatizing their forest and expanding their bio fuel plantations?  How can human rights campaigns stop criminalization of pastoralists, forest members or fisher folks? The gathering of social movements that took place prior to this larger meeting highlighted the underlying problem of land, water, natural resources, as dimensions of the current situation. Social movements, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, youth, human and others, will bear the weight of top down solutions which will expropriate the natural resources in the form of plantations, large dams and other financial mechanisms for environmental solution.   This can only be stopped with social mobilization and alternative ways of doing and knowing.  However,  social movements building is not the task of the grassroots alone, it is a responsibility of civil society, academics , NGO, researchers and others which must bring together their resources in service and solidarity and other types of collaboration to uphold these rights. 

5.       Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Lucas Benitez, USA

The CIW focuses on the plight of immigrant workers in the United States.  Immigrant workers generally produce a lot of the food in the country. They therefore have quite a bit of economic power that they unfortunately don't get to enjoy. The major corporate buyers of Florida produce proudly tout their ability to demand ever lower prices by combining the buying power of tens of thousands of stores or restaurants into purchasing coops. It didn't take long before CIW realized that this same process could be reversed -- if sufficiently motivated, those companies could direct that same overwhelming purchasing power to buy only from growers willing to improve farm labor conditions and, at the same time, use a fraction of their vast economic resources to help willing growers raise farm labor wage. CIW has had remarkable success in its short existence, winning agreements with the world's four largest restaurant companies as well as the world's largest organic grocery chain, including MacDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King.

Negotiations with Taco Bell ensured that this company:

  • 1) Increase the buying price of tomato by 1 cent per pound (which highly increases the worker's income)
  • 2) That a new code of conduct be created with the view of eliminating modern day slavery
  • 3) That there is active participation of the workers in the determination of these code of conduct

After this was successful, similar agreements were procured with other corporations such as MacDonald's and Burger King.  CIW managed to do this with the help of allies, but most importantly because the workers were personally involved.  They signed the agreements themselves although with the help of lawyers.  There is a requirement that all members of the Coalition work in the field from 4 to 8 weeks in a year.  Their actions and done in collaboration with churches, legal organizations, solidarity groups and some politicians

6.       Comments from the Floor:

  • Julie Cavanaugh Bill, Western Shoshone Defense Project, Newe Sogobia / USA: It is key that community members are personally involved in the demand of their rights. NGOs claim to speak for the people, yet some don't have community members on their boards. The top down working model is a major challenge. The communities are the ones in the front lines and they should be able to make the final decisions as to avoid disempowerment.
  • Joseph Okrut, EACOR, Uganda: Social action is good for law makers. It should be encouraged and practiced but it should also be well designed to reflect the situation on the ground.
  • Saeed Baloch, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Pakistan: The role of NGOs is to support the social movements and not to come up with their own agendas.
  • Priti Darooka, PWESER India: PWESER is looking at women's poverty in South Asia. The right to livelihood is within the human rights framework, but there are protection gaps in relation to this right.
  • Wilder Sanchez, Confederación Campesina del Perú: The greatest violators of all human rights are the big multinational companies who push people into deeper poverty. Therefore there is a greater need to create strategic alliances to unite social movements and incorporate different instruments so as to work together from below with the experience of social fighters and those who work for NGO's. Social movements have experience and have made the WTO to back down and stop advancing. It is the moment for social movements and NGOS' to work together.
  • Renji Joseph, Alliance for Holistic and Sustainable Development of Communities, India: It is important to see the difference in the way an issue is taken by a social movement and for example a lawyer. As a case goes through litigation a social movement expects the legal system to address all the key issues. It's affordable to social movements if they lose politically but not legally. When it comes to litigation there has to be real level grassroots collaborations. There is a need to understand the different perspectives and the core issues while looking at collaborations between lawyer, social movements, NGOs etc.
  • Karam Saber, Land Center for Human Rights, Egypt: Will social movements change the strategy and response given to the current financial crisis?
  • Abu Brima, Network Movement for Justice and Development, Sierra Leone: Attention was brought to the notion that there is a blue print way of going about social movements. There is an emerging understanding of the diversity of the ways of engaging and the various layers to engage. What are the linkages between these layer? What is the purpose of the social movements? Whose interest are the movements/ngos capturing? This is the fundamental question determining the means of engagement.
  • Unidentified Speaker: There is a need to use the strategies of dominant sectors such as infiltrations.
  • Unidentified Speaker: There is a feeling that ESCR-Net work has been compartmentalized. The main work has become an appendix. There needs to be more involvement and motivation of grassroots groups because one cannot work from an up-down structure as this model has often proved to be ineffective.
  • Unidentified Speaker: Marginalized areas all over the world are facing the same issues. Most affiliated international NGO's or multinational NGOs capitalize on the plight of the people and abuse ESCR.
  • Ken Otieno, Resource Conflict Institute (RECONCILE), Kenya: Two predominant issues are visible in Kenya; inequality and poverty.
  • Humphrey Otieno, Peoples' Settlement Network, Kenya: How social movements get to where they are? NGOs should be service oriented but have become commercialized with a focus on programs which change, leaving social movements confused.
  • Maria Elena Lugo, Tribunal Superior de Justicia del Distrito Federal, Mexico: NGO's are completely detached with what is actually happening in the ground. NGOs have their own conception of what is important. Without people's power, positive change cannot happen.
  • Unidentified Speaker: The issue of ethics has come up as an issue. What is the role of lawyers in social movements, what are their ethical boundaries?

Panelists Responses:

  • Lucas Benitez, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, USA: The role of lawyers is to help. One cannot work without the advice and the input of lawyers. Their job is to identify the needs of the popular movement and do what the popular movements want.
  • Ezekiel Rema, Slums Dwellers Federation, Kenya: The Role of NGO's is to advice the social movement's and create awareness among them. Lawyers also get bribed sometimes as to lose a case, and when this happens on a land related case, the community ends up losing its most important possession.
  • Joji Carino, Tebtebba Foundation, Philippines: Social movements should not be a local case study for international movements. Holistic demands should not be redefines to a single dimension goal. More resources need to flow to grassroots organizations.

7.       Break-out Sessions

Participants were divided into smaller tables, each facilitated by social movement representatives. These discussion tables focus on the following questions.  A summary of some of the discussions that took place are included below the series of questions:

  1. Building on the presentations, are there other examples or models of collaboration between social movements and NGOs that would be worth considering?  What challenges or obstacles have impeded collaborations?  What elements have led to effective collaborations, collective actions, or solidarity efforts? 
  2. What potential obstacles or challenges might ESCR-Net face in attempting to mobilize support or collective action? 
  3. What principles and processes should be followed in initiating and implementing collaboration (ideally to overcome obstacles perceived by social movements and/or NGOs)? 
  4. Are there certain priority mechanisms or capabilities that should be developed (letters of solidarity, media work, a database of legal and advocacy resources, etc.)? 
  5. ESCR-Net ideally opens the possibility for both broader and more sustained collaborations between social movements and NGOs; what types of collaboration, collective action, or solidarity might ESCR-Net most usefully attempt to facilitate?
  • Partnership is not about the social movement participation only but about them feeling that they are heard. It therefore should employ transparent processes. -Ground rules should be set out clearly. It is important to lay down the limits which should not be exceeded so that after the projects commence, there are no conflicts arising. Importance of communication and accountability. Of importance, is to identify the decision makers? Who are steering? Should the social movement take the lead or are there other organizations which should be involved? Importance of funding to enhance sustainability in the event that the funders or donors relinquish to leave. Partnership should therefore be long lasting. How do you know or identify that the community representative is the right one, and how do you identify their legitimacy, should you trust the people-use of representatives. Vulnerable groups are never addressed-ground rules are essential in addressing these needs. The Kenyan culture has however some conflicting views about this. You cannot get everyone on board. The elites will always want to interfere; they give you the list of the people they want you to train or to involve regardless of whether these people are qualified or not. It is not always guaranteed that you will get a community that works effectively. Social watch is crucial. This is done by bringing different groups together-women groups, the youth-registered, well known by the community very crucial in driving this. Coming together is done organically in most Latin countries. In Kenya, farmers are underpaid, overcharged and given less returns-groups have been going to talk to them (farmers). In Busia and Butere, they have come up with declarations-no representatives from areas where the management relies on. The press is called; farmers can now come on board to raise their issues. In Latin America farmer groups pay for themselves. NGOs play a vital role in social organization. A part from legal advice, they advice social movement and give guidelines to understanding of the implications of laws. It is however not easy to find the right people fighting for the rights of the people. Social movement should therefore realize collaboration through local case studies. Holistic demands must not be divided into single entities but rather encompass principles of research and training.
  • The substantive part of a group's discussions focused on the role of lawyers and NGO's in assisting the social movement in realizing their goals. Majority of the group members who were lawyers working with NGO's were opposed to the social movements fight against lawyers per se and specifically those working with human rights associations. It was emphasized that the social movement needs lawyers to handle their legal matters and their services are therefore inevitable. It was agreed that for the social movement to have their interests represented, they had to take a leading role in it. Currently, it is unknown to the NGO world of what the social movement expected of them. It was suggested that the movement should identify the specific areas in which they require assistance and NGO's dealing with such matters would come in to assist. The common view of the participants was that the social movement needed to clearly define the role of lawyers in the movement. It was stressed that the social movement should not assume that lawyers know what they expect of them. Lawyers just as other professionals have their agendas which must not be in line with the social movement agenda. It was made clear that the social movement has the right to choose their legal representative and in doing so they should consider whether the person in a capacity to represent them and their interests.

•    What makes partnerships work: (i) Mutual respect within partnerships. This is because each partner brings something to the table. There is a 50-50 consensus building relationship. (ii) An understanding of what we stand for and standing with what we have agreed upon (iii) Making each partner participate fully from the planning stage and all the way to the end. That is, planning together and working it out together. (iv) Information sharing- if one organisation has information and does not share it there are bound to be problems. (v) Capacity building and recognising each partner's strengths and weaknesses (vi) Giving visibility to the co-partners in the partnership. For instance, a partner talking positively about the other even when they are absent (vii) Giving opportunities to co-partners. For example, opportunities for capacity building, funding etc

•   What impedes collaboration?  Having hidden agendas especially in a partnership. For example, giving opportunities to members or staff of the organisation to outside organisations in a dishonest formula.

  • To ensure effective collaborations we need to (i) know what the differ org offer, their strengths (ii) be flexible (iii) be clear of types of partnerships, and partnerships can not only based on money (iv) build capacity of S.M so that they are not dependant

Processes ESCR-Net should undertake

  • Training on Human Rights research documentation and recommendations. Trainings should include video advocacy and online media
  • Global Unified campaigns (by theme), involving building alliances and strengthen networking. This may be done regionally or at different levels.
  • Composite video and inspiration examples.
  • Exchanges.
  • Production of newsletters highlighting successes.
  • Support for the local campaigns.
  • Support and facilitate Mediation, resolution and peace building efforts i.e. organize communities so that there is link between community and the justice system.
  • Facilitate exchanges among social movements
  • Support local campaigns
  • Fact finding missions by ESCR i.e. the network talking to the local groups and other Social Movement and the government, so that when the government doesn't perform, it's (Government) failure is made public.
Working Group Description: