Walmart-Flipkart Deal: Continuing attack on retailers, producers, farmers & labour, and on India’s digital sovereignty

Public Statement, 4 June 2018

WALMART-FLIPKART DEAL:

CONTINUING ATTACK ON RETAILERS, PRODUCERS, FARMERS & LABOUR,

AND ON INDIA’S DIGITAL SOVEREIGNTY

 

The US based Multinational Corporation (MNC) Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart undermines India’s economic and digital sovereignty and the livelihood of millions in India. If the $ 16 billion deal goes through, two US companies (the other being Amazon) will dominate India’s e-retail sector. They will also own India’s key consumer and other economic data, making them our digital overlords, joining the ranks of Google and Facebook.

The acquisition of the largest e-commerce firm promoted by Indian entrepreneurs is the latest step in a series of developments aimed at circumventing the existing cap on FDI in multi-brand retail by permitting foreign-owned online retail in India, and developing a digital stranglehold by foreign companies over India’s consumer goods value chains.

This process saw the gradual take-over of majority stake in the formerly Indian-owned Flipkart, the entry of the world’s largest e-retailer Amazon, and now the take-over of Flipkart by Walmart. Jack Ma, head of China’s Alibaba, says all e-commerce companies now have integrated online and offline strategies, consolidating operations towards one ‘new retail’. This is also evidenced by recent moves in the US by Walmart to enter e-retail and by Amazon to move into brick-and-mortar retail. It should therefore be clear to everyone that allowing FDI in e-retail in India is but a back-door entry of foreign players into multi-brand retail. Ironically, the same political party, which a decade ago strongly opposed the entry of Walmart into India, is now happy to welcome its far more powerful, digitally-enabled avatar.

India’s domestic digital retail industry will of course suffer by the domination of these two US MNCs. But worst affected will be small brick-and-mortar retail stores accounting for over 90% of the Indian retail sector,  SME manufacturers, small delivery companies and suppliers of goods including farmers whose margins will be ruthlessly squeezed, with their behaviour digitally-controlled. Walmart is well-known for its global supply chain, especially of cheap goods from China, which means local manufacturers and suppliers will suffer deep hits.

This is similar to what would happen with FDI in brick-and-mortar multi-brand retail. It will, in fact, be worse, as digitally-enabled ‘new retail’ becomes omnipresent and omnipotent. The concentration of economic power with the two US MNCs, now constituting a potential duopoly in India, will render them too powerful to be meaningfully regulated. In the US, the trail of destruction of small stores, local businesses, small manufacturers and countless workers left behind by Walmart and other giant retailers is well documented, and the EU has also witnessed the same. ‘New retail’ seeks to own and control key data of all trading activity across sectors resulting in unassailable power. National policy or regulatory remits over them would then be as ineffective as they currently are over Google or Facebook.  Manufacturers, suppliers and traders, producers and service providers, all become enslaved to digitally controlled platforms, working as per their parameters, but denied any rights or benefits. In this context, it is critical that the Competition Commission of India (CCI) examine the issue of monopolistic trade practices vis-a-vis this deal.

It is argued that Walmart and other retail giants will generate employment, but of what kind? Walmart has a long history of busting trade unions, violating the right to collective bargaining, paying poverty wages and disregarding social security laws. In e-commerce, work will also be outsourced to couriers and other service providers, making it a long stretch to prove that they are workers. Further, even if Walmart and Amazon employ a few thousand more, they are unlikely to neutralise the massive employment loss associated with the collapse of both the formal and informal retail sector. In this business model, whether in retail or in so-called ‘aggregators’ such as Uber, the giant corporations provide temporary benefits to consumers, and hence appearing to be on their side, by squeezing everybody in between including small producers and the vast majority of workers in the supply chain.

Digitalisation will soon be central to a wide range of economic activities, many of these being controlled by MNCs. A sovereign nation must be able to regulate e-commerce companies, making them comply with policies that uphold public interest, and ensuring that all economic actors get their fair share. This will be next to impossible with giant corporations operating from abroad and storing all their data overseas. There is an urgent need to reverse the entry of foreign e-commerce companies and their take-over of Indian entities, and to evolve effective regulations to govern the operations of domestic entities and protect the interests of the different players involved.  

Digital companies such as Google and Facebook frequently refuse government or court orders for content take-down  asserting that their data, algorithms and platforms operate from the US, and are subject to the latter’s laws. It will not be very different for data and Artificial Intelligence powering e-commerce platforms. This is what makes it extremely difficult to nationally regulate global digital companies, including e-commerce ones, and the reason that digital platforms in key sectors, including on-line retail, should be domestically owned.

After trailing behind India in software technologies till a decade back, China is now a global leader in digital technologies. China has been able to leverage its growing software capability because it has incubated domestically-owned digital e-commerce systems such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, which also store their data locally.

The Government is seemingly blind to, or does not care about, the extra-ordinary dangers that the country would face if India’s e-commerce ecosystems are foreign-owned and controlled. Not just China, but the US and EU have also begun to disallow foreign takeovers of digital companies considered of strategic or economic importance. If the growing tendency of foreign control of digital platforms in key sectors is not resisted and reversed, India runs the danger of what has been called digital colonization.

Citizens of India should be deeply concerned about the ongoing developments in the e-commerce and especially the online retail space, the latest of which is the Walmart-Flipkart deal. We the undersigned, call for an urgent national debate on this important issue of economic independence and digital sovereignty, affecting the interests of many millions of Indians in different walks of life from workers to farmers, small shopkeepers and suppliers, manufacturers and traders, and a host of service providers, apart from potentially compromising consumption data of hundreds of millions of Indians.

Pending a national debate involving all the affected constituencies, and an informed collective decision based on it, we further demand that the Government of India halts Walmart’s takeover of Flipkart, upholds the policy of restricting FDI in multi-brand retail, and draws up a policy in consonance with this for online retail. We also seek a comprehensive policy on leveraging the strategic value of India’s data for the interest of India and her people, and on domestic ownership and regulation of digital platforms in key sectors.

Endorsed by:       

Organisations/ Networks

  1. Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union ( APVVU)
  2. Adivasi Navjeewan Gathan Nayoti Aagua (ANGNA)
  3. Ahilya Chamber Commerce & Industry, Indore, Madhya Pradesh
  4. All Goa FMCG & Telecom Distributors Association (AGFTDA)
  5. All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC)
  6. All India Central Council Of Trade Unions (AICCTU)
  7. All India Consumer Products Distributors Federation (AICPDF)
  8. All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS)
  9. All India Online Vendors Association
  10. All India People's Forum (AIPF)
  11. All India People's Science Network (AIPSN)
  12. All India Public Sector and Central Government Officers Confederation
  13. All India Retailers Federation, Jammu & Kashmir
  14. All India Women Hawkers Federation
  15. All Tripura Merchants Association
  16. Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)
  17. Alternative Law Forum (ALF), Karnataka
  18. Anti Free Trade Agreement Committee
  19. Badayl India
  20. Banabasi Vikash Parishad, Odisha
  21. Bengaluru Jilla Beedhi Vyapari Sanghatanegala Okkuta, Bengaluru
  22. Bhai Sudam Deshmukh Shikshan Santha, Nagpur
  23. Bhartiya Udyog Vyapar Mandal
  24. Bihar Rajya Khadyann Vyasai Sangh, Patna, Bihar
  25. Campaign Against Fabricated Cases (CAFC), Odisha
  26. Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA)
  27. Centre for Workers Education, New Delhi
  28. Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)
  29. Chamber of Associations of Maharashtra Industry and Trade (CAMIT)
  30. Chandigarh Beopar Mandal, Chandigarh
  31. Chemical Merchants Association, Delhi
  32. Chhattisgarh Chamber of Commerce & Industries
  33. Civil Society Forum On Human Rights, Bhubaneswar
  34. Communist Party of India (Marxist - Leninist) CPI(ML)
  35. Coorg Organisation For Rural Development, Karnataka (CORD)
  36. Darbar Sahitya Sansad
  37. Delhi Grain Merchants  Association
  38. Delhi Hawkers Welfare Association
  39. Delhi Science Forum (DSF)
  40. Distributors Stockists Association, Hyderabad, Telangana
  41. Empower India
  42. Environment Support Group (ESG), Karnataka
  43. Federation of Madras Merchants and Manufacturers Association, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
  44. Federation of Traders Organisations of West Bengal
  45. Feminist Learning Partnerships
  46. Focus on the Global South
  47. Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), West Bengal
  48. Forum against Free Trade Agreements
  49. Forum Against oppression of Women, Bombay
  50. Forum for IT Employees (FITE), Tamil Nadu and Karnataka
  51. Free Software Movement, Karnataka
  52. Free Software Movement of India (FSMI)
  53. Gram Bharati Samiti (GBS), Jaipur
  54. Haryana Vyapar Mandal, Panipat, Haryana
  55. Hawkers Joint Action Committee
  56. Hazards Centre, New Delhi
  57. Himachal State Vyapar Mandal, Una, Himachal Pradesh
  58. Holistic Approach for Peoples Empowerment (HOPE), Puducherry
  59. IT For Change
  60. India FDI Watch
  61. Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)
  62. Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers movement (ICCFM)
  63. Jamnagar Veopari Mahamandal, Jamnagar, Gujarat
  64. Jan Abhiyan Sanstha, Himachal Pradesh
  65. Jharkhand Small & Tiny Industries Association, Baidyanath, Jharkhand
  66. Karaavali Karnataka Janaabhivriddhi Vedike, Mangalore
  67. Karshaka Munnettam
  68. Kerala Swatantra Matysa Thozhilali Federation (KSMTF)
  69. Kerala Vyapari Vyavasai Ekopana Samithi, Calicut, Kerala
  70. Kisan Morcha, Bikaner
  71. Knowledge Commons
  72. Krityanand UNESCO Club, Jharkhand
  73. LABIA - A Queer Feminist LBT Collective, Mumbai
  74. Malanad Karshaka Raksha Samithi, Kerala
  75. Malda Merchants Chamber of Commerce, Malda, West Bengal
  76. Malwa Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Indore, Madhya Pradesh
  77. Mewat Shiksha Vikas Samiti, Alwar
  78. NAW- National Alliance of Women
  79. Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chhattisgarh
  80. National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM)
  81. National Coalition for Education
  82. National Fish Workers Forum (NFF)
  83. National Hawker Federation
  84. National Working Group on Patent Laws and WTO- (NWGPL)
  85. Nav Jagriti Collective, New Delhi
  86. New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)
  87. Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, Odisha
  88. Prachi Surakshya Samiti, Odisha
  89. Prantiya Udyog Vyapar Pratinidhi Mandal, Haldwani, Uttarakhand
  90. Promotion Sustainable Development, India
  91. Public Services International, India
  92. Punjab Distributors Association
  93. Punjab Pradesh Beopar Mandal
  94. Rajasthan Khadya Pradarth Yyapar Mahasangh
  95. Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh
  96. Shaheed Bhagat Singh Vichar Manch, Bihar
  97. Small Business Congress
  98. Swadeshi Andolan
  99. Tamilnadu Vanigarsangalin Peravai
  100. The Grains Rice & Oils Merchants Association, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra
  101. The Indian Chamber of Commerce, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh
  102. The Poona Merchants chamber, Pune, Maharashtra
  103. Toxics Watch Alliance
  104. Universal Versatile Society
  105. Upekshit Shikshan Vikas Pratishtan, Maharashtra
  106. Uttar Bihar Vanijya & Udyog Parishad, Muzaffarpur, Bihar
  107. Uttar Pradesh Udyog Vyapar Mandal, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh
  108. Vidarbha Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Akola, Maharashtra

Individuals

  1. Abha Bhaiya, Jagori Rural Charitable Trust 
  2. Abhishek Joshi
  3. Achin Vanaik,  Retired Professor, Delhi University
  4. Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Madhya Pradesh
  5. Amarjit Kahlon
  6. Amit Kumar, National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), Delhi
  7. Amitava Mitra, NAPM,West Bengal
  8. Anamitra Roychowdhury, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
  9. Anand Mazgaonkar, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat
  10. Anil Chaudhary, Popular Education & Action Centre (PEACE)
  11. Anjali Bharadwaj, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI)
  12. Arul Doss, NAPM, Tamil Nadu
  13. Aruna Rodrigues, Sunray Harvesters
  14. Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS)
  15. Arundhati Dhuru, NAPM, Uttar Pradesh
  16. Ashish Ranjan, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan
  17. Ashok Verma, NAPM, Jharkhand
  18. Basant Kumar Hetamsari, NAPM, Jharkhand
  19. Benny Kuruvilla, Transnational Institute
  20. Bhupender Singh Rawat, Jan SangharshVahini
  21. Bilal Khan, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai
  22. Biswajit Dhar, Professor,Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi
  23. C.P. Chandrasekhar, Professor,Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi
  24. C.R. Neelakandan NAPM, Kerala
  25. Chakravarthi Raghavan, Emeritus, South-North Development Monitor
  26. Chandan Kumar, Rashtriya Hamal Panchayat
  27. Cynthia Stephen, Independent Journalist and Development Policy Analyst
  28. Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-MoolnivasiAstivtva Raksha Samiti
  29. Debal Deb, Odisha
  30. Dinesh Abrol, Professor, Institute for Studies in Industrial Development (ISID), Delhi
  31. Dr Binayak Sen, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
  32. Dr. Smitha Francis, Institute For Studies In Industrial Development
  33. Dr. Sunilam, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Madhya Pradesh
  34. Dr.T.Swaminathan, Professor (Retd), Indian Institute of Technology, Madras
  35. Eita Jyoti Bandyopadhyay, Indian Institute Of Science Education And Research (IISER ), Mohali
  36. Eric Pinto, Green Brigade Goa
  37. Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmatgar
  38. Gabriele Dietrich, Penn UrimayIyakkam, Madurai
  39. Gautam Bandopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chhattisgarh
  40. Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation
  41. Geetha Nambisan
  42. Guruwant Singh, NAPM, Punjab
  43. Gurveen Kaur, Centre for Learning, Secunderabad
  44. Himshi Singh, NAPM, Delhi
  45. J S Walia, NAPM, Haryana
  46. Jabar Singh, NAPM, Uttarakhand
  47. Jayati Ghosh, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi
  48. John Peruvanthanam, NAPM, Kerala
  49. K.P.Sasi, Film maker
  50. Kailash Meena, NAPM, Rajasthan
  51. Kaladas Dahariya, RELAA and NAPM, Chhattisgarh
  52. Kamal Nayan Kabra, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi
  53. Kamayani Bali Mahabal
  54. Kamayani Swami, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan
  55. Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
  56. Kavitha Kuruganti, Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)
  57. Krishnakant, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat
  58. Lingraj Azad, Samajwadi Jan Parishad & Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, Odisha
  59. Madhuresh Kumar, NAPM, Delhi
  60. Mahendra Yadav, Kosi Navnirman Manch
  61. Mahendra, NAPM, Uttar Pradesh  
  62. Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere, (NAPM) & People's Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL)
  63. Manesh Gupta, NAPM, Uttar Pradesh
  64. Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)
  65. Meera Sanghamitra, NAPM, Telangana - Andhra Pradesh
  66. Melton Paka Tauetia, Fusialofa
  67. Mritiunjoy Mohanty, IIM Calcutta
  68. Mini Mathew
  69. Nanhu Prasad, NAPM, Delhi
  70. Nikhil Dey, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS)
  71. Niranjan Bharathi
  72. P.Chennaiah, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU)
  73. Pamela Philipose, Ombudsperson, The Wire.in
  74. Panchali Ray,  Jadavpur University
  75. Ponniah Rajamanickam
  76. Prabir Purkayastha, Chief Editor, Newsclick
  77. Pradeep Esteves, Context India
  78. Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan
  79. Prasad Bagwe, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai
  80. Pravin Nadkar
  81. Prof. Kusumam Joseph, NAPM, Kerala
  82. Purushan Eloor, NAPM, Kerala
  83. R. Padmini
  84. Rahul De, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore
  85. Rajendra Ravi, NAPM), Delhi
  86. Rajesh Serupally, NAPM, Telangana - Andhra Pradesh
  87. Rajinder Chaudhary, Former professor, M.D.University
  88. Ramakrishnam Raju, United Forum for RTI NAPM
  89. Rekha Pappu, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad
  90. Richa Singh, Sangatin
  91. Rita Manchanda
  92. Ritu Dewan
  93. Rohit Prajapati, Gujarat
  94. S. Krishnaswamy, All India People's Science Network(AIPSN)
  95. Samar Bagchi, NAPM,West Bengal
  96. Samson Nakkala, Gram Abhyudaya Mandali (GRAM)
  97. Sandeep Pandey, Socialist Party
  98. Sarang Haritha, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore
  99. Satyaki Roy, Institute For Studies In Industrial Development
  100. Sejal Dave
  101. Shahida Murtaza
  102. Shakun Doundiyakhed, SIEDS Bangalore
  103. Shankar Singh Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS),
  104. Sharath Chelloor, NAPM, Kerala
  105. Shinu Varkey, Assistant Professor, St Berchmans College
  106. Sister Celia, Domestic Workers Union
  107. Sister Dorothy, NAPM, Bihar
  108. Sudeshna Sengupta, Working Peoples Charter
  109. Suhas Kolhekar, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai, Maharashtra
  110. Sujata Patel, Indian Institute of Advanced Study
  111. Sukla Sen, Mumbai
  112. Suma Josson, Filmmaker, Mumbai
  113. Sunita Rani, Domestic Workers Union
  114. Suniti SR, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Maharashtra
  115. Suresh George, NAPM, Kerala
  116. Suresh Rathor, NAPM, Uttar Pradesh        
  117. Swarupa Rani, Bhubaneswar
  118. Swati Desai, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat
  119. Ujjawal Chaubey, NAPM, Bihar
  120. Uma, NAPM, Delhi
  121. Uma V Chandru
  122. V D Majeendran, NAPM, Kerala
  123. Vijay Prashad,  LeftWord Books
  124. Vilayodi Venugopal, NAPM, Kerala
  125. Vimal Bhai, Matu Jan Sangathan
  126. Vivek Monteiro, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Maharastra
  127. Xavier Dias, Khaan Kaneej Aur Adhikar

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