Democracy and the TPP?

The until-recently secret document of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was created, and is being advanced, through profoundly undemocratic processes. Instead of being a document of cooperation and collaboration between peoples, it reads more like a hostile corporate take-over of democratic institutions.

The respected medical journal, The Lancet, makes a good case for excluding tobacco products from the TPP:

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)[,] [ ] is now being negotiated [ ] with little input on public health concerns for liberalized tobacco trade. Following the lead of Malaysia, several negotiating parties now support the exclusion of tobacco trade from the agreement in order to assure the acceptability of public health interventions against tobacco use by participating nations. Opening unrestricted trade throughout the Pacific region to tobacco products would defeat decades of progress made by Asian countries and greatly benefit the multinational tobacco industry. However, tobacco is not like any other commercial product. When used as directed, it kills half its users, and moreover, it creates extraordinary health and social costs that will not be made up by profits generated by open trade in tobacco products under the TPP. Tobacco should be excluded from free trade agreements so that participating countries can enact health policies that protect their citizens from tobacco-related diseases.” (1)

But what about all the other products that, “when used as directed, [ ] kill [many of] its users?” What about glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp©, the chemical that Monsanto shops to farmers everywhere as insecticide? Glyphosate disrupts the shikimate pathway in life-supporting symbiotic bacterial cells in the human body and has been linked to cancer in humans and definitively named as a cause of cancer in animals.(2–4) According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at the time of their announcement of their meta-study, glyphosate was the most used pesticide in the world.

Of course, Monsanto was quick to call these findings published by the respected International Agency on Cancer Research “junk science,”(5) a familiar, googleable term by industry front groups used to discredit real scientific research that has been painstakingly conducted over decades and has revealed that some very profitable companies have been very irresponsible in pushing products as safe that they knew all along were leading to the deaths of millions of people, and our environment.(6) Tobacco. BigAg. Climate Deniers. The cronies of the BigEnergy industry — the list goes on.

What other goodies might await us in the TPP? Oil industry interests? Gas? Coal? Sweatshop manufacturing? The TPP seems to be a thinly veiled cover for many interests of the very industries most responsible for many of the most dire ecological and human sicknesses we currently face. It is a massive act of global deregulation, preventing country sovereignty vis-à-vis making democratic decisions as to what best serves that polity. If most of the products peddled by the biggest corporations bring long shadows of death — human and other species’ — with the production and use of their products, shouldn’t it be time that business as usual becomes what needs to be taken into exception rather than the sanctity of human life or the preservation of our biosphere?

In our zeitgeist of failing ecosystems, obesity in the north, starvation in the south, and austerity for all but the rich, we must flip the script of what sustainability actually means. Political scientist Ingolfür Blühdorn has convincingly made the case that the problem with triple-bottom-line (people-planet-profits) versions of sustainability, popularized by Hajer and others,(7) really defaults quite readily back to prioritizing sustaining profit, rather than people or planet. Blühdorn writes that the sustainability discourse has really turned into “sustaining the unsustainable,” through trying to keep the spinning-plates act of over-production and –consumption going as long as possible, all the while tightening the belt on the rest of the population that can’t afford to buy into the luxuries of late capitalism.(8) This “post-ecological politics” as he names it, is a politics that has left behind notions of political ecology, democratic decision-making, and concern about ecological limits; and instead bores full-steam ahead into the cutthroat economic game of king of the hill where greed wins and regulations decelerating that sigil of prosperity “growth” get shredded to ribbons, by hook or by crook.

The dangers of globalized corporatism, which the TPP threatens to instantiate as the first nail in the coffin for hopes of global democracy, spell the closing down of experiments in living, as the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once called them. True fair play would consist of letting democratic governments experiment with different regulatory portfolios, to see what works best for them. If a country wants to go GMO-free, and then later they find out that their population is undernourished and they must adjust course, that should be their democratic prerogative. Attempting to force the rest of the world to deal with the tailspin of corporate influence and the wreckage such pollutants (and tobacco products, nonrenewable energy, and other hazardous commodities) leave in their wake, serves no purpose save the very short-sided bank statements of a few rich men steering these anachronistic multinationals.

Instead of democracy, should the TPP bypass public vote, corporations will be able to sue entire countries for projected future economic losses, should a state decide that the possible risks of increased tobacco advertising, coal mining, or GMO foods are not in their best interest.

This is not theoretical. Tobacco magnate Philip Morris sued the tiny country of Uruguay in 2010 for billions of dollars because they dared to enact warning labels on cigarette packs that would likely lead to less smokers, a healthier population, and lower profits for Philip Morris.(9)

With the TPP, regulating for a country’s health, or perceived health, exposes that country to corporate predation, whether that means phasing out cigarettes or fossil fuels. The commonweal loses, corporate interests win. If this sort of “trade” trumps democracy, then we’ve subordinated the wrong principle, and lost sight of what really matters.


  1. Novotny TE. The Tobacco Endgame: Is It Possible? PLoS Med [Internet]. 2015 May 29 [cited 2016 Jan 20];12(5). Available from:
  2. Thongprakaisang S, Thiantanawat A, Rangkadilok N, Suriyo T, Satayavivad J. Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors. Food Chem Toxicol Int J Publ Br Ind Biol Res Assoc. 2013 Sep;59:129–36.
  3. Guyton KZ, Loomis D, Grosse Y, El Ghissassi F, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Guha N, et al. Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. Lancet Oncol. 2015 May;16(5):490–1.
  4. Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy. 2013 Apr 18;15(4):1416–63.
  5. Charles D. A Top Weedkiller Could Cause Cancer. Should We Be Scared? [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2016 Jan 20]. Available from: causes-cancer-should-we-be-scared
  6. Mayer, J., 2016. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Doubleday, New York.
  7. Hajer MA. The Politics of Environmental Discourse: Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process. Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; 1997.
  8. Blühdorn I. Post-ecologist politics: Social theory and the abdication of the ecologist paradigm. London and New York: Routledge; 2000.
  9. Philip Morris Sues Uruguay Over Graphic Cigarette Packaging [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2016 Jan 20]. Available from: uruguay-over-graphic-cigarette-packaging