For the past two months I have been interning with Conectas Direitos Humanos, a human rights NGO based in São Paulo. They do a lot of exciting activism, lobbying, and other things you would expect of a top-notch human rights NGO in the U.S. However, they are one of the only NGOs in the human rights field in Brazil that does lobbying, position paper writing, and political advising, so it makes them kind of special, gives them an edge. Pretty cool right? You can check out their website here.
Sadly, this post is more about a lingering frustration I have with Conectas than about my admiration for their innovative work.
Over the last two months amongst other things I have been working on a research project exploring the human rights implications of Brazilian multinational corporations’ presence in Mozambique and Angola*. I have discovered some really interesting, appalling, and worrisome facts about these companies’ operations; things like extrajudicial killings, chronic oil spills over the course of ten or fifteen years, and repeated disregard for workers’ and indigenous peoples’ rights. On one hand it has been really rewarding work because the facts give a lot of support to my initial hypothesis, which was that multinationals from countries in the Global South can be just as cruel and exploitative as multinationals from the Global North. On the other hand it has also been a little bit frustrating because my project has, in part, felt like an exercise in futility.
The cumulative presentation of my work is going to be tomorrow afternoon. I cannot shake the feeling, though, that very little, if anything, will come from the project I devoted myself to. I will probably arrive, give my twenty-minute presentation, provide suggestions for action, answer questions for around ten minutes, people will say “Wow, that is some heavy stuff”, and the second I am out the door the subject will be mostly likely be quietly placed away until some other intern arrives and decides that they are interested in the topic.
To actually take action in this area, which, in my opinion, is perfectly suited to Conectas’s mission, would be a huge undertaking. It is so big that they would probably need to hire somebody to do the specific jobs of monitoring the involvement of these multinationals and attempting to create connections with civil society actors in Mozambique and Angola. It is something that I doubt that they will seriously consider doing. I would not blame Conectas entirely if things went this way, because, in part I feel that the problem is systemic. Workers cost money, and NGOs usually balance on a pretty thin budget margin.
At the same time, it is a little bit frustrating feeling like your work is not going to yield action, especially in a case as clear-cut as the one I have been studying. But, who knows? Maybe the big people will see something in this worth devoting their resources to. At the very least more people will come to know about how Brazilian multinationals do business abroad. However, while action is not taken the power players of Brazilian-African economic relations will continue to operate with little to no transparency in regard to human rights relations. Here’s to hoping that my impressions about NGOs, and Conectas, are proven wrong at the end of tomorrow.
*For those unaware, Mozambique and Angola were both Portuguese colonies, speak Portuguese as their national language, and have complex cultural and economic ties to Brazil.
[Note: I will post the link to my presentation after I complete it and give it tomorrow]