Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

It’ll kill you

Eric Schlosser is an American journalist and author of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal and Reefer Madness, an examination of marijuana, migrant labour, and pornography in the US.

The revelations in Fast Food Nation was startling, such as detailing conditions at slaughterhouses in the US where meat for fast-food hamburgers is sourced. Schlosser’s damning report explained the abuse, and often death, of migrant workers for the so-called enjoyment of a greasy meal. And this was just the beginning of his trail-blazing journalism.

In today’s New York Times, Schlosser explains how a union made up of migrant workers convinced Taco Bell to increase wages and improve a code of conduct on Florida’s tomato suppliers. It’s an inspiring tale. In an age where government resolutely refuse to protect society’s most vulnerable or regulate the industry, citizens and activists must take the lead. Name, shame or pressure – do whatever it takes.

A Side Order of Human Rights

NYTIMES, APRIL 6, 2005

Monterey, California.

“Last month, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group that represents farm workers in southern Florida, announced that it was ending a four-year boycott of Taco Bell. The most remarkable thing about the announcement was the reason behind it: Taco Bell had acceded to all of the coalition’s demands. At a time of declining union membership, failed organizing drives and public apathy about poverty, a group of immigrant tomato pickers had persuaded an enormous fast food company – Yum Brands, which in addition to Taco Bell owns KFC, Pizza Hut, A&W All American Food Restaurants and Long John Silver’s – to increase the wages of migrant workers and impose a tough code of conduct on Florida tomato suppliers. “Human rights are universal,” said Jonathan Blum, a senior vice president of Yum, adding that under Taco Bell’s new labor rules “indentured servitude by suppliers is strictly forbidden.”

The need for a corporate edict against slavery in the United States reveals just how bad things have become for farm workers. But it also suggests that the fast food companies now sitting atop America’s food system can prevent the sort of abuses that state and federal officials seem unwilling to address.

Migrant farm workers have long been the nation’s poorest group of workers. Although wages and working conditions greatly improved during the 1970’s, thanks to the efforts of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, the rise of illegal immigration and anti-union sentiment later eroded those gains. In California, where more than half of America’s fruits and vegetables are grown (and mainly picked by hand), the hourly wages of some farm workers adjusted for inflation have fallen by more than 50 percent since 1980.

Today the majority of America’s farm workers are illegal immigrants. They often live in run-down trailers, sheds, garages and motels, where a dozen or so may share a room. Their status as black market labor makes them fearful of being deported, wary of union organizers and vulnerable to exploitation. The typical migrant farm worker is a young Mexican male who earns less than $8,000 a year.

The working conditions in the fields of Florida are especially bad. According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, perhaps 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants. They are usually employed by labor contractors, who charge them for food, housing, transportation – and, on occasion, smuggling fees. These charges are often deducted from workers’ paychecks, trapping migrants in debt. Since 1996, six cases of involuntary servitude have resulted in convictions in Florida; many others have probably gone undetected. In one of these cases, hundreds of farm workers were held captive by labor contractors based in La Belle and Immokalee, Fla., forced to work without pay and warned that their tongues would be cut off if they tried to escape. The Florida legislature has done little to help migrants. Agriculture is the state’s second-largest industry, after tourism, and many legislators have close ties with leading growers.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is one of the few organizations willing to fight for migrant workers in Florida. Founded in 1996 and based in the town of Immokalee, amid lush tomato fields and citrus groves, the group helped the United States Justice Department gain convictions in five of the six slavery cases. During the late 1990’s members of the coalition learned that Taco Bell was a major purchaser of tomatoes grown in Immokalee, where the wages of migrants (adjusted for inflation) had fallen by as much as 60 percent during the previous two decades. The coalition asked the fast food chain to pressure its Florida suppliers, seeking a wage increase and guarantees that human rights would be respected. When Taco Bell failed to respond, the coalition started a nationwide boycott in April 2001, focusing its efforts at high schools and college campuses. “Boot the Bell!” was the rallying cry, as students tried to close Taco Bells and block the opening of new ones.

At first Taco Bell tried to ignore the protests and to deny responsibility for the behavior of its suppliers. “We don’t believe it’s our place to get involved in another company’s labor dispute,” Jonathan Blum, the Yum Brands executive, said in an interview with The New Yorker. Asked about the possible link between slavery in Florida and Taco Bell’s food, Mr. Blum replied, “It’s heinous, but I don’t think it has anything to do with us.” The company’s attitude gradually changed as the boycott gained support not only from students, but also from the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the National Council of Churches, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and former President Jimmy Carter, among others. (Disclosure: I supported the boycott, too, and spoke out on behalf of the coalition.)

With coalition members conducting hunger strikes and staging demonstrations in front of Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, Calif., it seemed increasingly unwise for the nation’s leading purveyor of Mexican food to be publicly linked with the exploitation of poor Mexicans. And the coalition’s wage demand was by no means outrageous. It was asking for a pay raise of one penny for every pound of tomatoes picked – the first major wage increase in Immokalee since the late 1970’s.

As part of the agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers last month, Taco Bell vowed to help “improve working and pay conditions for farm workers in the Florida tomato fields.” It promised to give the penny per pound increase to its Florida suppliers, so that migrant wages could be raised by that amount. It invited the coalition to monitor the new labor policies. And it said it would reward those suppliers that treat farm workers well. The penny-per-pound supplement will nearly double the wages of migrants picking tomatoes for Taco Bell. And though there is some debate about the final cost to Yum Brands, the figure will most likely be a few hundred thousand dollars a year – not a huge sum for a fast food company with annual sales of about $9 billion worldwide.

Over the past few years the fast food industry has introduced healthier foods in response to consumer demands. It has adopted tough animal welfare policies in the wake of criticism from animal rights activists. The Taco Bell agreement demonstrates, for the first time, an industry commitment to farm workers’ rights in the United States. Only a small number of tomato pickers will enjoy a wage increase as a result of the Taco Bell deal, but it’s a step on the right path.

And what’s the next step? Although farmers are often demonized in reports about migrant labor, it’s important to point out that they are under tremendous pressure from the leading fast food chains to reduce costs. Food-service companies now purchase the majority of fresh produce in the United States – and farmers often believe that cutting wages is necessary to cut prices for their largest customers. Meaningful change, therefore, will have to come from the top.

McDonald’s seems an obvious target for the next boycott. It is one of the nation’s leading purchasers of lettuce, tomatoes, apples and pickled cucumbers. It is far and away the industry giant. The failure of government to protect the weakest and most impoverished workers in the United States has left the job to corporations and consumers. Taco Bell deserves credit for acknowledging its responsibility on this issue. Now McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Yum’s other brands need to do the same.”

For further info, check out Kentucky Fried Cruelty and MCSpotlight.

3 comments ↪
  • Darp

    Amen,Having just re-skimmed through the last few chapters of Fast Food Nation (the Eboli/Mad Cow bits) – this article was a great follow up to many of the hideous labour practices that Schlosser highlighted in the book.One of the worst being forcing recently injured workers to put a pen in their mouth and "make their mark" on contracts denoting that they will not pursue legal action against their employer for OHS negligence.

  • Antony Loewenstein

    I was shocked, too.Even more so because our mainstream media seem reluctant to examine where our food is being processed. The good old corporate connections between big business. It's a cosy club.Schlosser is brave enough to take on the often militant corporations.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the sentiment expressed here, but I'm surprised that you, as a fellow reporter, would just post the whole story here instead of an excerpt and a link. It's extremely rude.