More than 100 billboards and transit ads designed to raise questions about the World Trade Organization (WTO) are going up all over King County today and in the coming weeks in a campaign that has united a strikingly diverse list of labor, human rights and environmental groups. Images can be viewed online at http://www.ban.org
The billboards and bus cards feature a design that, with a few exceptions, poses the same question -- "WTO: But what are we trading away?" -- about a host of different issues, ranging from endangered species to manufacturing jobs to forests and farms. The paid campaign, which numbers 90 transit ads and 14 billboards, was organized by the Asia Pacific Environmental Exchange (APEX).
"This campaign is about public education," said APEX board chair Josh Reyneveld, who spearheaded the effort. "We are thrilled that such a wide variety of organizations got involved. Our goal is to broaden and deepen the level of debate about the WTO."
Nine billboards are going up this week for a one-month run. Five more will go up on November 22. The 90 transit ads, which appear on the sides of METRO buses in the greater Seattle area, began to appear Monday.
Friends of the Earth purchased 45 bus signs that question whether we are trading away our clean water, air and forests. "These bus ads are part of a broad outreach campaign to educate the public and trade representatives, while they are here in Seattle, about the negative impacts trade can have on the environment," explained Friends of the Earth's Northwest Director Shawn Cantrell. The Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and Earthjustice also focused on forest preservation.
Other ads, purchased by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), question the lack of consideration in current trade rules for small family farmers. "The WTO rules are undermining our family farms and the rural communities that depend on them," stated IATP President Mark Ritchie.
The AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers Union both chose billboards to deliver their message. "Every worker from America to Malaysia to Zaire is entitled to the same basic rights: freedom from child labor and forced labor, the right to join together and organize for better living standards for their families and communities and freedom from discrimination," said Ron Judd, Executive-Secretary of the King County Labor Council, AFL-CIO. "That is why on Tuesday, November 30th, thousands of working families and their unions will join environmental, human rights, student, fair trade and religious leaders and activists to peacefully send that message to the WTO ministers."
Another transit ad sponsor is the Free Burma Coalition. "The International Labor Organization concludes that forced labor in Burma is a `contemporary form of slavery.' So why is the Burmese dictatorship a member in good standing of the WTO?" asks Larry Dohrs of the coalition's Seattle office.
Issues ranging from endangered species to pollution safeguards to songbird-friendly coffee are addressed in other billboards. "Seattle Audubon Society participated in this billboard campaign in order to raise awareness of potential WTO threats to the production and marketing of bird-friendly coffee," explained Helen Ross of Seattle Audubon. "Consumers have a right to know how products are produced."
A billboard sponsored by the Basel Action Network (BAN) changes the wording slightly to read, "WTO: Promoting Free Trade in... Toxic Waste?" According to BAN, "under WTO rules over 100 countries that have banned the import of hazardous wastes might be forced to overturn those laws."
The campaign's organizers, APEX, sponsored a billboard that raises the issue of whether we are trading away our democracy via the WTO. "To trade or not to trade is not the question," said Jim Puckett of APEX, "but rather who writes the rules for trade, and whom do they serve. To date, the door to WTO negotiations has been held wide for corporate interests and slammed on the toes of civil society."
Following is a list of the 15 participating organizations:
Asia Pacific Environmental Exchange
Basel Action Network
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
Free Burma Coalition
Friends of the Earth
Industrial Shrimp Action Network
Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy
Northwest Ecosystems Alliance
Progressive Animal Welfare Society
Sea Turtles Restoration Project
Seattle Audubon Society
United Steelworkers of America
Washington Toxics Coalition
Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
For photos of the billboards and transit ads, please call APEX at (206) 720-6426. Images can be viewed online at http://www.ban.org
More information about the WTO's November 29 – December 3 ministerial meeting in Seattle is available at http://www.seattlewto.org
Cara Pike, Earthjustice 415-627-6700