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    Young girl with infant child at refugee camp in Darfur. Photo by Dan Scandling, Office of U.S. Representative Frank Wolf

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The Passion of the Present (the essay)

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    In Darfur, a region in western Sudan approximately the size of Texas, over a million people are threatened with torture and death at the hands of marauding militia and a complicit government. Genocide evokes not only the moral, but also, the legal responsibility of the world community. Under international agreement, a nation must intervene to stop a genocide when it is officially acknowledged.

    "Officially" is the key word here. So far, no nation in the international community has "officially" acknowledged the truth: Sudan is a bleeding ground of genocide. In this void, the Sudanese government continues to act with brutal impunity.

    Thankfully, there are individuals working in human rights organizations who are watching - and witnessing - and organizing, in support of the victims in Darfur. These individuals represent, for all of us, a personal capacity to bear witness to the passion of the present; one candle lit against the darkness.

    However, before one can light a candle, someone has to strike a match: a donation to any of the human rights organizations active in Sudan, contacting your government representative, local newspaper, radio and t.v. station. Our individual activism is essential for the candlepower of witness to overcome and extinguish the firepower of genocide.

    This world has long endured wars that take lives. Let us be part of one that saves them.

    About: The Passion of the Present site is a totally non-profit labor of love and hope - in peace. Thanks for joining the effort.

  • Detailed administrative map of Sudan
  • Oil concession maps
  • Climate and biogeography of Sudan
  • Satellite Images of destruction in Darfur, from USAID

About this blog

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  • GOOGLE SEARCH THIS SITE: More than 2966 chronological posts from April, 2004. Try "oil" "China" "women" "genocide treaty" "UN" "Kofi Annan" "timelines" "grassroots".

  • Our name comes from an essay entitled "The Passion of the Present" that one of our grassroots founders wrote and circulated by email in March of 2004. The blog started at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School.

    The editors are semi-anonymous in order to keep the focus on Sudan. This site is a resource for a blog-based information community now numbering several hundred interlinked bloggers and sites. Visitors come from around the world. Daily traffic ranges from just under a thousand visitors, to more than eight thousand on days when news attention peaks.

    Our technology cost for a public blog service, with no special discount, is still just $13.46 per month! Start a blog if you don't have one already!

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« British Prime Minister Tony Blair will visit Sudan next Wednesday | Main | "Arab" and "African" are constructs, designed to drive people apart »

October 03, 2004



Considering the outsourcing that the US does to India, isn't that tantamount to boycotting ourselves?

It seems that anything the US protests mysteriously becomes protected activity in the UN, no?


I have had a personal boycott against China for years now. How can anyone help support the eceonomy of a country that has flat-out said that it is preparing for war with us? I love the idea of a large-scale boycott!


With as enmeshed as our economy is with China right now, boycotting Chinese products would backfire horribly. I work for an American company which has been in existence for 137 years. We have outsourced nearly 75% of our manufacturing to China. However, we continue to employ 1,000+ Americans in administrative, managerial, and distribution positions. Boycotting China would cost America these jobs, 82% of which pay more than 30K, 20% of which pay more than 60K.

Money we spend at your employers, no doubt.


The boycott at first sounds worthy, until you look at it from a geopolitical/economics viewpoint. It will only succeed if all nations that currently outsource to China recognize and honor the boycott. That includes most of the EU, the U.S. and Japan. Since outsourcing is an attempt by companies to become or stay competitive, it will be difficult to enforce, especially since it is private industry, and not the government which can be pressured.
I also think that working any pressure throught the U.N. is futile, since the U.N. equates dictatorships and other opressive governments with democratic gov'ts. Due to this equivalency, there are governments who currently don't want to label what is going on in Sudan as genocide! They will not label it as such, and things go no further. So much for trying to act multilaterally.

Stephen Frost

How does a boycott of manufactured goods made in China encourage Chinese resource companies to divest from Sudan? What connection is there between a massive SOE in the resource sector investing in Sudan and - for the sake of argument - a Taiwanese-invested plant in southern China making parts for a computer that Flextronics (US owned, Singapore based) puts together in China and Indonesia with additional parts from Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia for HP? Boycotting HP will at best put a couple of thousand Chinese and other workers out of a job. I'm not sure how that brings pressure to bear on an SOE drilling for oil or building pipelines in Sudan. Given that the Chinese companies in Sudan are often SOEs, and if publicly listed still often majority owned by the Chinese government, I'm uncertain also how the fledgling divestment campaign would work.

Just out of interest, what choices do you have in the US in the computer market for machines not touched in some way by Chinese workers? I live in Hong Kong and am not from the US, so my question is genuine.

On a philosophical point: should Chinese migrant workers scrabbling for a living in factories bear the brunt - if boycotts are successful - of opposition to SOEs making profits in Sudan? Migrant workers are themselves working in dangerous conditions, for long hours and low pay. Is it okay to punish these people, mostly young women from rural townships and villages, for the acts of companies they may have never heard of let alone profit from?

I happen to think you and Reeves have tripped over the single largest unspoken issue about Chinese investment abroad. But boycotting Wal-Mart and HP seems a roundabout way to achieve your ends.


Yes! Please boycott all goods made in China. It is not necessary for all nations to do this, just the USA. Visit my website and read of the horrors of the Communist Chinese and what they are doing to our country, and what their future plans are. Visit and ask me for a free "Boycott China" bumper sticker! All I need is an address to send it to.

It matters not how it would effect our economy. Do the right thing! Why do people want to do business with a country that beats women to death for handing out bibles, forces abortions on them, etc.

Jim Moore

In response to Stephen Frost's post, the reason that a boycott of Chinese consumer products might influence China's oil companies is that the Chinese economy is quite centralized, and China is executing a number of delicate strategic moves on the international stage, and is loath to have them exposed and made controversial. This, for example, is why to date China has threatened but not used its veto in the UN Security Council. It does not want to appear the bad guy and call attention to itself.

The Communist Party and the Foreign Ministry have a good deal of influence over how Chinese companies behave. More to the point, the Chinese Foreign Ministry sets the overall relationship with Sudan, as well as with other nations in Africa and the Middle East. It is within this context that Chinese investment and trade is carried out.

Right now the Chinese strategy--at the Ministry level--is to become the customer and investor of choice in oil producing nations that are fearful of the United States and that maintain authoritarian and human-rights abusing internal policies. The Chinese and the Sudanese, for example, have been quite explicit about their shared view that "business is business" (ah, a capitalist refrain by a communist power!) and that Sudan's internal policies are Sudan's affair.

China is executing many other coordinated elements of a grand strategy. For example:

China is quite active in South Asian regional politics, helping to set up trade blocks within which the US and the west have diminished influence in comparison to ASEAN.

China maintains an artificially low rate of exchange to the dollar, which essentially allows it to "predatory price" against American-made products, which in turn has both rewarded and force massive outsourcing to China from the US, and destroyed manufacturing jobs in the US.

China is also buying up vast quantities of construction materials in the US, driving up the cost of plywood by more than 40%, and increasing the cost of scrap steel to the point that US mini-mill companies are suffering.

There is pressure on China to modify these policies, but so far little public awareness. American companies such as Wal-Mart and HP have learned to profit--and American's enjoy the low prices when they have their consumer hats one. On the other hand, this Chinese sourcing comes at the expense of the manufacturing capacity of the overall American economy, and has been devastating to American manufacturing workers.

A consumer boycott would not directly affect Chinese resource companies, of course, but it would help highlight China's overall grand design to the public in the US. Public pressure of this nature would give strength to those in the US administration and Congress that want to be tougher on China.

The Chinese leaders are quite sophisticated and protective of their world image--recognizing their vulnerability to shifts in public opinion in the major democracies. I don't think it is too much to believe that a US-based consumer boycott of selected, highly visible products might encourage the Chinese government to become more helpful in Sudan.

Finally, if Wal-Mart and HP felt that their brand equity was in danger of being tarnished, they have the ability to lobby the US administration to put increased pressure on China And I think there is more pressure to be exerted. The US is putting pressure on Sudan but, in my view, has not really asked the Chinese-and the Russians and the Egyptians and the Pakistanis, to help.

Wal-Mart, currently buying 1% of China's GNP, might also be able to go directly to its friends in the Chinese government to ask for some help in protecting its brand equity, by way of helping in Sudan.

Consumer boycotts in general are about putting pressure on the most visible companies with the most to lose in brand equity--think Polaroid and South Africa--in order to get leaders of those companies, and friends of those companies to in turn use their influence with the more culpable and less vulnerable (to public opinion) of the offending national economic ecosystem. We put pressure on those companies that we can get at, who in turn use their influence to get to top leaders, who in turn use their influence to get other leaders to put pressure on Sudan.

These tactics work--to the extent they do--because these economic ecosystems and leadership relationships are deeply enmeshed.

Last point: Of course this seems very roundabout. A single cruise missile explodng a section of the South Sudan-Port Sudan oil pipeline might have a much faster impact, as would the imposition of a no-fly zone over Darfur and southern Sudan. Either could be imposed with very little direct cost or risk to American troops, and might help pave the way for Sudanese acceptance of the African Union as a lessor of two evils.

Jim Moore

One additional note on consumer boycotts. If your activism model is that you want to put pressure on a few highly visible companies, who in turn you hope will ask for help from the US government and from friends in China, then you don't need to boycott all or even most of a particular class of products or companies. You just need to make a few influential companies feel the pain and/or find a way to gain from helping the cause. The Nike sweatshop campaign was targeted in this manner. The fair trade coffee movement has been designed to give an advantage to those companies that are willing to help out. Perhaps some American computer companies could take the lead in helping on Sudan.

You don't need to boycott all Chinese-made clothing, for example, but rather boycott all shopping at Wal-Mart. You don't need to boycott all personal computer products--which, Stephen Frost is correct--are almost all made in China now. You need to pick one company that has a visible brand and that you think might be both vulnerable and persuadable..

Alternatively, you don't need to help all clothing or computer companies--you just need to find a company that is large enough to have influence, and is willing to use it for good.

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