Fwd: A SOPHISTICATED ASSAULT ON GLOBAL CAPITALISM
Tue, 9 Nov 1999 11:26:38 -0500
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two perspectives on the WTO events happening later this month.
Business Week - November 8, 1999
A SOPHISTICATED ASSAULT ON GLOBAL CAPITALISM
DANGER: Activists have given free trade a rotten rep--and if governments and
business don't get busy, it's going to get even worse.
By Jeffrey E. Garten
In late November, Seattle is likely to be the scene of a big test for
global capitalism. That's when more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) are planning to disrupt the kickoff of a new round of global trade
negotiations. The NGOs' collective claim is that unfettered commerce hurts
workers, consumers, and the environment, and that it is being propelled by an
arrogant World Trade Organization unaccountable to ordinary citizens. With
the very real possibility that the trade talks will be derailed, the question
is whether the strategy of Washington and the business community is as lame
as it looks.
Of course, not all NGOs have a political agenda and many, such as the
Red Cross or the International Rescue Committee, provide unique critical
services. But the gathering in Seattle will be dominated by NGOs that take
strong public-policy stands, such as Human Rights Watch, United Students
Against Sweatshops, and the Sierra Club. While these organizations are
supporting important causes, their public-spirited missions shouldn't obscure
their intention to retard the momentum for a more open world economy --the
best hope, even with its flaws, for a better life for billions of people.
JOINING FORCES. Today's NGOs are not the ragtag protesters of the 1960s. They
are well-organized and amply funded and have become a powerful new force on
the global scene. They have skillfully exploited the void between shrinking
governments unable to cushion the impact of change on ordinary citizens and
multinational companies that are the agents of that change. They have gained
influence by joining forces across borders, aggregating power under broad
umbrella groups such as Consumers International, and building alliances with
unions such as the AFL-CIO. They have harnessed the Internet to build
huge global coalitions and to coordinate lobbying in multiple capitals. While
governments and chief executives bore the public and the media with sterile
abstractions about free markets, NGOs are sending more nuanced messages
sensitive to the anxieties of local communities around the world. At the same
time, they are preparing sophisticated strategies to influence television
networks, newspapers, and magazines.
There is plenty of evidence of NGOs' growing clout. In recent years, they
have changed the policies of global corporations such as Nike (over treatment
of workers abroad), Monsanto (over genetically engineered products), and
Royal Dutch Shell (over environmental issues). In 1997 more than 600 NGOs,
representing 70 countries, caused the collapse of international governmental
negotiations to create global rules for foreign investment.
If Washington and Corporate America don't move decisively, NGOs could
dominate public opinion on global trade and finance. In the first instance,
government officials and business leaders should mount a much better campaign
to explain the benefits of globalization. They should also promote more
effective policies to help people adjust to changing trade patterns--such as
education, professional training, and portable health and pension benefits.
Third, the Administration should also apply intense pressure to the WTO to
make its goals and its work more visible and understandable to people around
the world, and to open up effective channels of communications to public
interest groups everywhere.
Beyond that, Washington and business should challenge the NGO community to
practice what they preach. Every organization that calls itself an NGO
shouldn't be granted a free ride to influence. Governments and business
associations should demand that NGOs part the curtain on their own activities-
-including disclosing exactly who their members are and how they are
financed. The media should be continually prompted to scrutinize the accuracy
of the facts that underlie NGOs' arguments against globalization. They should
treat the situation as if it were a hotly contested long-term political
campaign for public opinion--which it is.
NGOs can play an indispensable role in bridging the responsibilities of the
public and private sectors. But if they are allowed to hijack the WTO talks,
it will be a dangerous precedent that every government and every global
company will regret long after the protests in Seattle. It's important to
broadcast the message that a global market economy can promote not only
growth but individual freedom as well a cleaner environment. Warning for
President Bill Clinton, the Business Round Table, and their counterparts in
Europe and Japan: There is less than a month to get your act together. You
are already in deep trouble.
Garten, dean of the Yale School of Management, was Under Secretary of
Commerce for International Trade in the first Clinton administration.
I read with interest your recent Business Week article on the NGOs planning
for the coming WTO ministerial meetings in Seattle. It's very flattering.
One point you make in you article is very misleading and I thought I would
give you my perspective. Another point you make, I simply don't understand.
Firstly, I work with alternative media institutions and am helping build
such institutions to help lend some balance to our global corporate-controlled
media. The global corporate-controlled media often report unfavorably or
incompletely on the work of environmentalists, the labor movement and they
also villify the poor. One could predict that during the upcoming ministerial
meetings, we'll get more of the same from the corporate media.
Thus, many have felt it necessary to build our own media institutions to
counter them. And, indeed, the Internet is a great tool to help balance
what people read, see and hear (but it is not the only tool and it won't save
However, to say that these institutions are well-funded is far from the
truth. I think it may seem this way to people who don't look outside the
narrow scope of the corporate press but there is a lot of activity that flies
under the radar of the global media.
Most of the projects I have been involved with can't get funded b/c they
advocate a basic shift in power. I am calling for an end to global
neoliberal policies that are embraced by the WTO. These policies are the
ones that help take down important environmental laws, gains made by the
labor movement and other important human rights protections that have taken
decades to put in place. And most of the people that give out money don't
usually want to see power shifted as much as I see that it should.
Secondly, you claim that free trade is "the best hope, even with its flaws,
for a better life for billions of people." So far, the only people I see
benefitting from free trade are globalized corporations. They represent a
small minority of people on the planet. How can people be hopeful when they
have no benefits and are making minimum wage? How can people be hopeful when
there is poison in their backyards from the mess that multinationals make when
extracting resources from their land? I don't follow your logic.
More than just an attempt to stop the World Trade Organization, NGOs and
people all over the world are attempting to instill hope into the downtrodden
of the world. It's a hope that we can control our own destiny and that is
not in the hands of greedy, non-accountable coporate bodies. I am calling for
abolition of the World Trade Organization or in the least, policies that
support "FAIR trade", not "FREE trade".
Hope to see you in Seattle!
w/ the Independent Media Center
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