Co-founded by Medea Benjamin, Kevin Danaher, and Kirsten Moller, Global Exchange (GE) was incorporated on December 28, 1987 in San Francisco, California. A self-described “membership-based international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world,” GE views the United States and Israel as the two nations most responsible for denying people worldwide an opportunity to enjoy these various forms of justice.
Global Exchange decries the “corporate power and political greed” that, under a “system of elite globalization,” reward a select few with massive “profits” while “working people and the planet are left to pay the price.” To restructure this odious arrangement, GE seeks to “advance social, environmental and economic justice” by: (a) promoting an “alternative,” socialist-style system that “transform[s] the global economy from profit-centered to people-centered, from currency to community”; (b) “valu[ing] the rights of workers and the health of the planet” more than financial prosperity; and (c) “creat[ing] a local, green economy designed to embrace the diversity of our communities.”
Global Exchange is perhaps best known for its Reality Tours program, which annually sponsors over 100 delegations to more than 40 separate foreign destinations where participants can see, firsthand, how they “individually and collectively contribute to global problems” in ways they may have never before considered. These experiences invariably “prompt participants to examine [the flaws of] their own societies,” says GE.
Among the most significant of GE's Reality Tours have been those destined for Communist Cuba, a country which Medea Benjamin once likened to “heaven.” Strongly opposed to the U.S. trade embargo against Fidel Castro's island nation, Global Exchange began its trips to Cuba in 1989 and continued to hold them, in violation of U.S. travel restrictions, every year thereafter. In a related venture, GE endorsed Project USA/Cuba-InfoMed, which sought to “increase awareness about [positive] health achievements in Cuba [under its system of socialized medicine] and the [negative] impact of U.S. policies on the health of the Cuban people.” In September 1999 the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a “cease and desist” order demanding that GE put an end to its Cuba trips, but the organization refused to comply.
In 2008, Global Exchange sponsored 13 Reality Tours to Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, a nation that, by GE's telling, was “at the center of a new, progressive model of socioeconomic development that is shaping Latin America’s future.” At that time, the Global Exchange website featured one Reality Tour participant's observation that “the faith that they [Venezuelans] have in their government and the faith that the government has in them is something that is really beautiful and is something that I’ve never seen before and I didn’t really know it existed.”
In 1990, on the eve of the First Gulf War, Global Exchange initiated its “No Blood for Oil” campaign condemning “the link between U.S. oil addiction and war.”
A longtime, outspoken critic of American corporations whose products are manufactured by low-wage employees in foreign factories, GE in 1992 co-founded the National Fair Trade Federation, which demanded better pay and working conditions for such people. As the Heritage Foundation explains, “fair trade” proponents typically seek to “drive up the price of imports by requiring foreign governments to raise their cost of production through their own regulatory process.” They do this,” says Heritage, “by threatening tariffs or quotas unless foreign governments adopt more restrictive—and costly—labor, environmental, and other standards.”
In 1994, Global Exchange joined activists across the globe in denouncing “the unjust and oppressive policies” of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
In a 1996 effort to call international attention to workers’ conditions, GE dubbed Nike as “the sweatshop shoe company.”
In late 1999, Global Exchange activists participated in the anti-capitalism, anti-globalization protests that devolved into violent riots during the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Seattle. GE co-founder Medea Benjamin was widely regarded as having been a chief organizing force behind the mayhem.
In 2000, GE endorsed the Earth Charter, a document blaming capitalism for many of the world's environmental, social, and economic problems. “The dominant patterns of production and consumption,” said the Charter, “are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening.”
That same year, Global Exchange launched a Fair Trade coffee campaign that successfully pressured both Starbucks and Proctor & Gamble to adopt “fair trade” practices.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attacks, Global Exchange advised Americans to examine “the root causes of resentment against the United States in the Arab world—from our dependence on Middle Eastern oil to our biased policy towards Israel.” Further, the organization execrated the Bush administration for having “responded to the violent attack of 9/11 with the notion of perpetual war … [that] led to the killing and maiming of thousands of [Afghani] civilians.” “We must insist that governments stop taking innocent lives in the name of seeking justice for the loss of other innocent lives,” GE averred.
A proponent of open borders as well as amnesty for illegal aliens residing in the United States, Global Exchange endorsed the December 18, 2001 “Statement of Solidarity with Migrants,” which called upon the U.S. government to “[r]ecognize the contribution of immigrant workers, students, and families, and [to] end discriminatory policies passed on the basis of legal status in the wake of September 11.”
In January 2002, Global Exchange took a group of Americans—each of whom had lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks—to Afghanistan to meet people whose relatives had perished in the U.S. retaliatory bombing campaign there. Further, GE pressed the U.S. government to fulfill its “moral responsibility” to create a fund which would pay some $10,000 apiece to Afghani families that, as a result of America's miltary actions, were in need of medical care, help in rebuilding their homes, and/or compensation for the loss of a caretaker or breadwinner.
Global Exchange was a signatory to a February 20, 2002 document—composed by C. Clark Kissinger's radical group Refuse & Resist—condemning military tribunals and the detention of immigrants who had been apprehended in connection with post-9/11 terrorism investigations. Claiming that “Arab, Muslim and South Asian immigrants” had been unjustly “rounded up” based only “on their racial profile,” the document denounced “this new repression.”
Consistent with its belief that the United States is a nation awash in racism and inequity—particularly as regards its criminal-justice system—Global Exchange endorsed an October 22, 2002 National Day of Protest exhorting Americans to rise up and “Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.” The document announcing this event condemned the Patriot Act and accused U.S. authorities of having “rapidly imposed a resoundingly repressive atmosphere” that threatened to erode “hard-won civil liberties and protections”—all in the name of “the government's 'war on terrorism.'” Moreover, that same document explicitly defended a number of America-hating revolutionaries like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jose Padilla, Leonard Peltier, and Lynne Stewart—depicting them as persecuted political prisoners of a repressive U.S. government.
In 2004, GE's “Fair Elections International” project brought, for the first time in history, election monitors from democracies elsewhere in the world to observe and report on U.S. political elections.
During the final week of December 2004, Global Exchange collaborated with its sister organization Code Pink—and also with Families for Peace, the Middle East Children's Alliance, Operation USA, and United for Peace and Justice—in announcing that they were jointly donating $100,000 in cash and $500,000 in medical supplies to “displaced refugees” from Fallujah—i.e., the families of the terrorist insurgents who were fighting (and killing many) American troops in that Iraqi city. Said Medea Benjamin proudly, “I don't know of any other case in history in which the parents of fallen soldiers collected medicine … for the families of the 'other side.' It is a reflection of a growing movement in the United States … opposed to the unjust nature of this war.” Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman signed a letter authorizing Benjamin and the rest of her delegation to carry out this mission; he gave the letter to GE anti-war speaker Fernando Suarez del Solar, an amnestied illegal immigrant from Mexico.
Along with Medea Benjamin and Mr. del Solar, other notables who were part of the delegation to Fallujah included:
Hany Khalil,the organizing coordinator of United for Peace and Justice. (Also a leader of Racial Justice 9/11 and a writer for the leftist tabloid War Times, Khalil was a socialist who staunchly supported the Palestinian Intifada, worked closely with the anti-Semitic organization Al-Awda, and likened America's restructuring of the Iraqi economy to the Nazi occupation of Poland.)
In 2005, Global Exchange, in an effort to “pu[t] a human face on the 'environmental issue' of climate change,” sponsored a speaking tour of the United States by Indigenous activist Elaine Alexie.
The following year, GE launched its “Raise The Bar, Hershey!” campaign, filing human-rights-abuse charges against the chocolate manufacturers Nestle, ADM, and Cargill.
In January 2007, Global Exchange and Code Pink jointly led a 12-person delegation to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they publicly called for “the closure of the illegal prison” where the U.S. had been detaining several hundred Islamic terrorists. Among the more notable members of the delegation were Medea Benjamin and Cindy Sheehan.
Also in 2007, GE brought together Walmart critics from the U.S. and Mexico for a bi-national meeting aimed at reforming the company’s “anti-labor practices.”
In 2009 GE participated in a campaign demanding that Chevron—and “the entire dirty oil industry”—put an end to “its egregious exploitation of people and the planet for profit.”
In 2011 Global Exchange organized the United Nations's first-ever discussion of the “Rights of Nature.” The organization also released a book titled The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
In 2012 Global Exchange sponsored a “Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity,” which traveled through 29 U.S. cities and featured “Mexican victims of the drug war” sharing stories of their first-hand encounters with “gun violence on both sides of the border.”
With regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Global Exchange has sided firmly and consistently with the Palestinian cause. For example, the organization portrays Israel's anti-terrorism security fence in the West Bank as an illegal “apartheid wall” that violates the civil and human rights of Palestinians. Similarly, GE deplores the “military checkpoints, permits and barriers” that “restric[t] the Palestinians’ freedom of movement within the occupied area, greatly impacting their access to employment, school, medical care, and other vital social services.” “This form of collective punishment,” says GE, “is detrimental to the [Palestinian] economy as a whole, severely limiting the flow of goods, including humanitarian aid.”
Over the years, Global Exchange has repeatedly issued statements such as these: (a) “Israel systematically violates the human rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories”; (b) “Israel is an exclusionary state” that “allows Jews from all over the world to immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship there, [while] Palestinian refugees who were forced to flee their homes in 1948 and 1967 are excluded from returning to their homes and towns of origin”; (c) “Israel Is illegally occupying Palestine”; (d) “Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are forced to live in apartheid conditions”; and (e) while “one-third of the U.S.'s entire foreign aid budget goes to support Israel,” there are “dozens of poor countries” that are much more deserving—and in greater need—of those funds. “U.S. aid to Israel,” says GE, “funds a brutal military responsible for regular human rights abuses, the occupation of Palestine, and the expansion of illegal settlements. If there is to be a chance for a just peace in the Middle East, unconditional U.S. support to Israel must end.”
An outgrowth of Global Exchange's animus towards Israel is its Economic Activism for Palestine program, which “focuses on corporate accountability for human-rights and international-law violations of the companies profiting from the occupation in Palestine.” Specifically, this initiative promotes boycotts against “corporations that are directly involved in Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, corporations contributing to and perpetuating the restriction of Palestinian basic rights, and those participating in the exploitation of Palestinian resources and labor.”
GE's other major programs today include the following:
The People Power, Not Corporate Power program demands that corporations allow their employees to work “free from exploitation,” and to earn “a living wage that is adequate for food, shelter, health and happiness.”
The Community Rights program fights “corporate exploitation” of communities around the world.
The Corporate Human Rights Violators program accuses corporations of working “harder than ever to cover abuses instead of preventing them,” and uses boycotts to punish those companies that are “complicit in violating human rights and the environment.”
The Elect Democracy program seeks to “reclaim and protect our democracy from unbridled corporate greed” by “exposing the impact of big bank campaign contributions and providing factual examples of how a Congressional dependency upon corporate campaign contributions leads to the neglect of representation by and for us, the people.”
The End Dirty Energy program warns that “as long as the world continues to use oil, there will be steep costs born [sic] by those communities that live and work at the points of oil exploration, production, transport, refining, selling, and disposal.” “The world must move rapidly away from oil as an energy resource to save our climate, protect democracy, and stop current and future wars for oil,” says GE.
The Building Positive Alternatives program aims to create “a world based on cooperation, fairness and a deep respect for our planet” by promoting “a new, local green economy to replace destructive corporate globalization.”
The Fair Trade program has worked to “end child and forced labor and trafficking in the cocoa industry, as well as educate and empower children and adults to advocate for and purchase Fair Trade products.”
The Green Festivals program provides venues where organizations and businesses can showcase products and services that “restore the planet” by helping to advance “the future green economy.” These festivals are held in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.
The Local Green Economy program supports initiatives designed to accelerate “community-based solar power, wind power, and other clean renewable energy technologies and the green jobs they generate.”
The Peace, Democracy, & Human Rights program asserts that human rights, as “defined by the UN Charter on Human Rights,” include a range of “economic, social and political” rights that are “fundamental and inalienable.”
The Freedom to Travel–Cuba program has long aimed to “end the unconstitutional restrictions on travel between the U.S. and Cuba.” One of the program's key components, the aforementioned Global Exchange Reality Tours, has brought tens of thousands of people from all over the U.S. to the Castro-governed island nation.
The Mexico and Human Rights program seeks to “help educate and mobilize broad sectors of U.S. and Mexican public and promote ... cross border campaigns to end gun trafficking, challenge our governments to get serious about drug policy reform, and end the Merida Initiative model that embodies U.S. support for the current drug war paradigm.”
The What About Peace? program sponsors an annual contest where young people between the ages of 14 and 20 use poetry, stories, paintings, photographs, collages, essays, and cartoons to creatively answer the question: “What About Peace?” A related program, administered jointly by GE and Code Pink, seeks also to “expose the real cost of war at home and abroad”; “challenge war profiteering and military recruitment”; and redirect “the billions [of dollars] spent on war [to instead] support real needs here at home and around the world.”
In an effort to enhance its public image as much as possible, Global Exchange uses the services of the public-relations firm Fenton Communications.