Lori Wallach was 27 and lobbying for food-safety improvements as a staff attorney for the consumer-advocacy group Public Citizen when she noticed that industry lawyers were routinely citing trade agreements as a reason to lower food-safety standards. That launched her on a mission to find out more. She wound up poring over a draft of the agreement that would establish the World Trade Organization—and coming to the conclusion that trade negotiations were affecting a whole lot more than just trade.
Lori Wallach at Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. (Chet Susslin)This "awakening," as she calls it, kicked off two decades of work educating legislators and the public as the director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. She and her 11-person team spend their days translating the arcane language of trade policy to help people understand it, tracking the outcomes of existing trade deals and measuring them against free-trade advocates' claims, and lobbying Congress for what Wallach calls "a trade policy that respects the fundamental tenets of American democracy."
"What I do is a combination of the 'Dracula strategy' and translation," she says. "I translate what the terms mean and then basically drag into the sunshine what the real implications are. The thing is," she adds, "just like Dracula, once exposed to the sunshine, the details of these agreements do not fare well." Her efforts have made the 51-year-old perhaps the biggest thorn in the side of the free-trade movement—but if they want someone to blame, she says, they should talk to Big Food: "If the agro-business companies hadn't gotten greedy about food-safety laws through the WTO and NAFTA, I'd still be working on fish inspection."