On one side, Total, a giant oil corporation with 8.6 billion in profits last year, with dozens of refineries and fuel depots. On the other side, a few thousands rapeseed producers. Total intends to change its agrofuels composition by replacing rapeseed oil with palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. Tom Thumbs against Goliath? Not that clear…
The Avril corporation is behind the FNSEA, the farmers’ union that has organised road blockades since last night. The former head of FNSEA, Xavier Beulin, was also Avril CEO. Under his lead, Avril became a true multinational corporation: billions in revenue, tens of millions in profits, 7,200 employees in 22 countries. According to FNSEA, if Total switches to palm oil the rapeseed market will take a 25 % hit. A big deal for Avril.
The French rapeseed industry
Originally, Avril was named Sofiproteol. The company setup a production chain of rapeseed-based vegetal proteins for cattle feed, against American soy. In the 80’s, Sofiproteol produced agrofuel (which, unlike biofuel, pollutes like other fuels). The company processed rapeseed, produced edible and cosmetic oils, such as glycerine, and started to gain the upper hand on the farmers that supplied it with rapeseed. Its sales representatives sold them seeds, and also suggested which machine to use, which fertiliser, and what investments to make to “modernise” production. Once in debt, farmers had little options. They had to produce as much as possible and sell their crops to Sofiproteol. In other words, the structure that was meant to protect them from the power of American soy producers reduced them into overexploited farmworkers.
The FNSEA policy
It’s understandable that rapeseed producers would defend themselves against Total, the multinational corporation. Their blockade of refineries, which could provoke a fuel shortage, should not trigger our opposition, but spark our desire to fight Macron and our bosses. Besides, for once, farmers and environmentalists are in agreement, since the palm oil industry has caused major ecological disasters in Southeast Asia.
But is rapeseed any better? Don’t farmers have to use pesticides to increase yield, so they can be profitable? And even if farmers win against total, who’s to guarantee Avril will pay them a decent price? FNSEA’s answer: decrease the cost of seasonal work! In other words, worsen exploitation of the most precarious field workers. FNSEA cites Italy, where labour is 37 % cheaper… because of work conditions sometimes close to slavery, where a union militant can be assassinated, like Soumaila Sacko who was shot dead on June 2nd in Calabria.
But as long as Avril maintains its profits…
Protectionism only protects the bosses
FNSEA and Avril are also demanding a tariff barrier against palm oil. Just as Macron is posing as the defender of free trade at the G7 summit.
Malaysia and Indonesia, the largest palm oil producers, are not taking any chances. They have enrolled the best French barristers to plead their cause: arm manufacturers, who would stand to lose sales as payback. Which, if that were the case, would immediately pass the costs on to their employees.
Free trade or protectionism, both are capitalist dead ends for us workers. The future lies in a different kind of society, which would produce only what people need and share the work between all, on a global scale. By relying on international cooperation, not competition on global or national markets.