Work Plan 2018-2020

Revisiting Deglobalisation: a vision for progressive social transformation

With political, economic, social, and environmental trends coming to a head, the failures of corporate driven globalisation are finally entering mainstream discourse, and established political elites are failing to gain support of masses disenchanted and disempowered by the forces of globalisation. There are clear signs that that a new world order modelled on xenophobia, nationalism, religious intolerance and individualism is on the rise. Now is a pivotal moment for progressive movements to re-capture the narrative, and re-channel anti-globalisation sentiment towards hope, justice, equality, and plurality.  New narratives need to be articulated that break decisively from neoliberalism, halt corporate driven globalisation, challenge authoritarianism, and build bridges across peoples, societies and cultures.  New politics need to be built, based on grassroots democracy, peace, justice and equity. Economic and social development need to be reshaped to respond to the needs and aspirations of the majority, respectful of the rights of nature.

In the coming three years, Focus will build on the efforts and successes of its 2015-2017 workplan, Peoples’ Alternatives for Asia: Defending Rights, Nature and Life, by continuing to emphasize peoples’ alternatives to build and sustain better lives, societies, economies, and environments, while converging these activities towards re-articulating a paradigm that Focus believes is both timely and crucial: deglobalisation.

As part of the anti-globalisation movement, Focus has been developing and popularising the paradigm of deglobalisation since 2000. Deglobalisation promotes the transformation of the global economy from one centred around the needs of transnational corporations, to one that focuses on the needs of people, communities and nations, and where social solidarity is strengthened by subordinating the operations of the market to values of equity, justice, community and harmony with nature.  Deglobalisation does not advocate de-linking from the international economy. It emphasizes a healthy balance between national and international economies, diversity in economics and governance, and strengthening local and national economies. In these unpredictable times that throw up both challenges and opportunities for progressive movements, Focus seeks to strengthen and amplify the voices of progressive grassroots communities, activists, civil society and public intellectuals to inspire, inform and pressure the general public, elected officials, governments, investors, and other powerful actors to recognise and move towards progressive systemic alternatives.

Focus will work on three broad thematic areas: 1) Political economy of development, 2) Power and Democracy, 3) Peoples’ Alternatives, each of which are interrelated and interdependent. Within these thematic areas, Focus will work on defined projects which themselves have specific objectives, outcomes, activities and outputs.

Political Economy of Development

Across Asia, ‘development’ has become synonymous with rapid economic growth, to be achieved through predominantly large-scale, private investments, natural resource extraction and expansion of markets in new frontiers. The development model promoted by the region’s governments prioritizes trade and investment liberalization, financialisation, corporate friends regulation and privatization. All governments in the region are increasingly putting into place corporate investment-friendly policies, and offering incentives to attract both domestic and foreign investors. Export processing zones (EPZs), special economic zones (SEZs) and Special Investment Zones (SIZs) are proliferating throughout the region, offering incentives and reduced barriers for investors in order to boost export-driven growth. With the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership faltering, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, being negotiated by the 10-member ASEAN bloc and China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, is making headway. Such agreements pose grave threats to human rights and public welfare, especially in regard to the stringent intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes that impact access to medicines, public health and food, and the investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS), which restrict governmental ability to regulate and protect public interest.

While this liberal trade and investment environment is beneficial to investors, it has numerous adverse impacts for people. Across the region, local populations in rural and urban areas are experiencing both erosion and capture of land, water, forests and other natural resources, spurred by industrial agriculture, extractive industry, large infrastructure, property and real estate booms, and urbanization. Local communities, small-scale food producers and workers face increasing threats of physical displacement and dispossession of their homes, wealth, assets and livelihoods. In a race to the bottom, wage labour in Asia is marked by increasing precarity, informalization, hazardous working conditions, poverty wages and a lack of social protections. The burden is felt most heavily by women, who receive lower wages, and are usually the last to be hired, and first to be fired.

The development paradigm has created a social landscape marked by deep inequalities, including vast inequalities of wealth and income, and inequality of rights and power. Corporations and powerful elites receive institutional and legal backing to continue to extract and exploit, while the poorest are left on the sidelines. Exacerbating these conditions are extreme weather events, seasons that are growing more unpredictable each year, and the reality of deepening climate change.

While there has been a recognition of the ‘fractured’ nature of global politics and environment (World Economic Forum) and how globalisation policies have worsened inequality, the response has been to push for a model of “inclusive development” that pushes for more integration into the global economy and continuing embrace of neoliberal policies with concessions on people’s participation and dialogue rather than a serious pursuit of systemic alternatives.

The Political Economy of Development thematic area seeks to unpack the concept, policies, tools, and practices of the dominant development model; to raise critical understanding of these issues with broad constituencies; support frontline communities challenging negative impacts of development; and create ideas and mobilisation for alternative visions of development.


Trade and investment: Our trade and investment project revolves around local, national and international campaigns on free-trade and investment negotiations and agreements, including RCEP and the WTO. We coordinate the EU-ASEAN FTA Campaign Network, and provide analyses of bilateral investment treaties, free-trade agreements, and ISDS provisions to social movements, CSOs, parliamentarians, unions and the press in the region. We are also working with international campaigns to demand greater accountability from corporations and international financial institutions (IFIs) through the Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, the NGO Forum on ADB, the Asian Peoples’ Safeguards and International Planning Committee.

Investment in the Mekong: The project monitors and examines investment trends in the Mekong (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam), improves understanding of these trends amongst frontline communities impacted by destructive investment, and supports these communities to advocate for their rights.

Corporate Accountability: This project examines issues of corporate control and abuse in Asia, as well as mechanisms to reign in corporate power, such as the UN Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and human rights.


Power and Democracy

The culture of impunity, criminalization of dissent, and violence against those who stand up for peace, human rights and justice, and challenge power abuse, are increasing across Asia, with rising numbers of arbitrary arrests and incarceration, and unsolved cases of enforced disappearances, physical attacks and extra-judicial killings. In many cases, these abuses are linked to the mainstream development paradigm, which adds to the disadvantages faced by those already marginalized while further consolidating wealth and power in the hands of corporations and oligarch families. This in turn increases resistance by affected communities, but such resistance is increasingly met with harsh tactics of criminalization, rights suppression and outright brutality by state and non-state actors.

The closing of civil society space has been accompanied by chilling signs of rising authoritarianism and fascism in the Asia region. Ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and Duterte’s brutal drug war in the Philippines are two extremes in a region where respect for basic human rights and genuine democracy is deteriorating. Maintaining “peace and order” and “national security” are used as a justification by authoritarian governments to continue denying people’s right to citizenship, self-determination, cultures and identities, and as an excuse to perpetuate repression and violence. Religion, class, ethnicity and other social conditions are being used by regimes to sow division and consolidate political power. Fake news, misinformation, and social media echo chambers help to deepen social and political divisions. Meanwhile, there is little credible opposition to the regimes in power; the political left remains fragmented, disorganized and disconnected.

The Power and Democracy thematic area seeks to systematically show the links between development, rights, peace, justice, democracy and the exercise of power in Asia. Focus will partner with local, national, regional and international organisations, peoples’ movements and networks to call attention to these worrying trends, and expand critical analysis on economic and development policies to investigate and show the links between development pathways and human rights protections and abuses.


End Impunity: This is a campaign that aims to: produce and publish information on situations and causes of state, corporate and individual impunity, and criminalization of dissent; draw public attention to those who have been murdered, incarcerated and forcibly disappeared by publishing their stories and profiles; and mobilise calls and actions to bring perpetrators to justice.

Challenging populist authoritarianism: In many countries in Asia new forms of authoritarianism are on the rise, where extreme forms/systems of state authoritarianism enjoy the support of a significant proportion of the population, especially among the middle and upper classes. Focus will develop a discourse on the rise of such authoritarianism in Asia, its links to neoliberalism and the dominant development model, and strategies to counter this trend.


Peoples’ Alternatives

In the context of deepening economic, political, social and environmental crises in Asia, grassroots communities and peoples’ movements are at the centre of the fight for development that respects their rights, lives, livelihoods and nature.

In their own capacities, these local actors are creating social and political change, and are putting forth their own visions for a better world. The Peoples’ Alternatives thematic area seeks to document and promote community resistances and alternatives that can form elements of the deglobalisation paradigm.


The Commons:  Contemporary research and practice, show the immense potential of the commons to resist global capitalism, and co-create just, equitable, sustainable post-extractivist social and economic systems. The commons offer a framework for creating, sharing, nurturing and governing wealth and capacities that resist capitalism as well as reclaim the essential conditions for life and its reproduction.  Focus will document and publicise selected examples of commons systems that integrate nature, society economy and politics.

Food Sovereignty and agroecology: The framework of Food Sovereignty and practice of agroecology present an opportunity for food producers and Asian societies to challenge the corporate capture of food and agriculture, bring autonomy and dignity back to small-scale sustainable food producers, and build food systems that are responsive to climate change. Through this project, Focus aims to promote Food Sovereignty through popular education about the paradigm and components of food sovereignty, policy proposals, and actions to realise food sovereignty.

Systemic Alternatives: Systemic Alternatives is an initiative started in 2014 and coordinated by Focus, Attac-France and Fundación Solón-Bolivia. It seeks to be creative in the development of new strategies and construction of alternatives during these turbulent times. It aims to develop concrete processes, practices and experiences at local, national and international levels to further enhance systemic alternatives such as buen vivir, degrowth, Rights of Mother Earth, the commons, ecofeminism and deglobalisation.