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.
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.”
In1994, 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 Exchangeendorsed 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 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.
Also during this post-9/11 period, Global Exchange became a member organization of the After Downing Street, United for Peace and Justice, and Win Without Warcoalitions. In addition, GE endorsed a May 1, 2003 document titled “10 Reasons Environmentalists Oppose an Attack on Iraq,” which was published by Environmentalists Against War.
In late 2003, Medea Benjamin and Global Exchange—along with Norman Solomon‘s Institute for Public Accuracy—played a key role in helping actorSean Penn make a propaganda trip (disparaging the U.S. war effort) to post-invasion Iraq.
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:
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:
GE has received funding from numerous charitable foundations, among which are the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the Heinz Family Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Threshold Foundation, and Wallace Global Fund.
GE co-founders Media Benjamin and Kevin Danaher continue to sit on the organization’s board of directors.