In the age of globalization, neoliberalism, and free trade, who in their right mind would go against the transnational corporations that epitomize this zeitgeist and take on Nestlé, big Tabaco, McDonald’s, General Electric, Exxon Mobil, and others? Philip Morris International alone holds more wealth than 37 countries combined, and many corporations have demonstrated the extreme lengths to which they will go in order to turn a profit for their shareholders. In world increasingly at the mercy of these giants, how do we fight back?
Founded at the beginning of 1977, in response to Nestlé’s lethal practice of marketing powdered infant formula to communities throughout the Global South, Corporate Accountability (CA) has fought for decades to restrain corporate exploitation of individuals and groups around the world. By organizing grassroots campaigns and passing national as well as international regulations this non-profit and its members have sought to reinstall democratic priorities by placing people before profit. As political leader and labor organizer Greg Akili shouted to the assembled staff of organizers, interns, and project managers: “We’re taking down giants.”
Yet, as one can imagine, corporate crime fighting is not exactly a lucrative arena. So as the Development Intern for CA’s Major Gifts Unit, I work with our partners in Boston and around the country to coordinate and acquire those resources that will allow us to go toe to toe with these giants. CA’s development strategy is based on building relationships with its members. The engagement of an individual can range from those who give $5 a month, or those tasked with enacting and managing social movements on the ground, to individuals willing and capable of giving the financial support that makes Whitman tuition look like chump change. Together, these individuals allow us to speak up at McDonald’s shareholder meetings, and fly organizers across the country to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or meetings of the National Education Association.
To strengthen these relationships, my day revolves around prepping staff for upcoming meetings with members, helping people stay abreast of our campaigns, and researching potential major donors to whom we should reach out in the future. I welcome new members to the organization and am charged with laying the first brick in the foundation of their relationship with Corporate Accountability. I’ve engaged with organizers and community members as far flung as Pennsylvania and Montana, commiserating about recent Supreme Court decisions or brainstorming the best way to encourage civic engagement in response to the local abuse of a distant corporation.
I can honestly say that this fundamental aspect of relationship building is my favorite aspect of working with Corporate Accountability. More than any other part of my job, it seems to perfectly represent what we are fighting for. Against a distant and sterile force motivated by the singular drive of profit, CA sets the quintessential component of humanity: our relationship and connection to one another.
In addition to my role in the Development Unit, I work with our Water Campaign team to organize “Nights of Action” across the state of Pennsylvania, partnering with members to pressure state Attorney General Josh Shapiro to prosecute the water privatizing giant Veolia. Because of Veolia’s mismanagement of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, lead levels for over 80,000 residents have risen to numbers comparable to those of Flint, MI (where, oddly enough, Veolia was also involved!). With the help of four other staff members and dozens of members on the ground, we’re demanding Veolia repay the eleven million dollars it was given by the city of Pittsburgh, and repair the damage it caused to city infrastructure. Fingers crossed!
Hard to believe, but altogether this only takes up about 30 hours a week! So, in addition to my work with Corporate Accountability, I’m taking a course at Harvard that focuses on writing and critiquing public policy! It is taught by an awe-inspiring professor who formerly served as the spokesperson for the President of Mexico and specializes in studying the unintended consequences of crime and impunity for economic development, citizen’s redistribution preferences, business organizations, migration patterns, and media coverage. But, of course I still have to explore the streets of Boston! Weekends are often spent exploring the many bookshops sprinkled around Cambridge, or with fellow corporate accountability interns, having spontaneous water balloon fights or going out to comedy nights in local pubs. Boston has been an incredible place to live, and as always the problem, there’s just too many interesting things to do out there in the world.
Experiences like Cameron’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff