ACORN India came into existence when in March 2005 the stage was set by the work Community Organizations International was doing in partnership with the FDI Watch campaign in India. ACORN India FDI Watch seeks to scrutinize and challenge Foreign Direct Investment in the retail sector in India. ACORN India seeks to prevent large multi-national companies like Wal-Mart from entering Indian markets unless they guarantee protection of communities they affect; ensure stability of the existing small businesses and ensure livelihoods of small traders; guarantee fair wages, just working conditions and a right to unionize to all their employees; and ensure that a significant portion of the supplies comes from the Indian markets.

Since the economic liberalization in 1991, India has been on a trajectory of accelerated capitalist development with fast growing middle class consumers, which presents multi-national retailers and corporations with tempting opportunities for establishing presence in the Indian markets. India has not allowed, so far, vehemently anti-union, anti-worker corporations to establish their control over the market. But one of the last remnants of the Nehruvian socialist legacy is now in danger from the onslaught of the march of global corporatism. Countries like India are the next frontiers of significant market expansion for multi-national corporations; and these corporations are now starting to apply extreme pressure on the government of India for unfettered access. Indian market is facing an onslaught of both foreign and domestic corporate retailers, the most notable of which is Wal-mart.

Since 2006 we have built key relationships with leadership of political parties, trade unions, hawkers and farmers’ groups, peoples’ movements and the media. Over last two years ACORN India has built a coalition with community organizations, trade unions, peoples’ movements and NGOs, thus engaging progressively in poverty alleviation and urban development.

Through grassroots mobilization, documentation and research, and media advocacy, the India FDI Watch campaign has succeeded in bringing the negative effects of corporate retail expansion to the attention of state, national, and international media—and authorities.

This past year, ACORN India has broadened its focus to include concerns outside of corporate retail. One such concern has been the problems that face waste-pickers living in Delhi and Mumbai, whose lack of recognition from the government leaves them without social protections such as healthcare and education. One of the major constituencies with which ACORN India is establishing work are the waste pickers. It also puts them at the risk of harassment from security forces, civilians, middle men who sell their goods, and private recycling companies.

Waste pickers are workers who scavenge through the city’s garbage to sell it to the recycling industry. ACORN India is in the process of building a membership base amongst these workers so that they can secure protections of their livelihoods and persons. Community Organizations International has 1400 members among waste pickers.

ACORN India is also demanding that the Government of India agree to a Universal Health Plan to include the unorganized workers. We are proposing that our members can be covered by this policy using part of their membership dues as the premium.

With our initial successes in mind, ACORN India is eager to continue to grow its membership and to conduct larger-scale campaigns around all of the important issues that our members face—poverty; discrimination based on caste, gender, and religion; poor provision of services, and lack of government accountability.