FIFTY-SECOND DPI/NGO CONFERENCE CONCLUDES THREE-DAY SESSION

NGO/317
17 September 1999

FIFTY-SECOND DPI/NGO CONFERENCE CONCLUDES THREE-DAY SESSION

17 September 1999


Press Release
NGO/317
PI/1181


FIFTY-SECOND DPI/NGO CONFERENCE CONCLUDES THREE-DAY SESSION

19990917

African countries must take the initiative in planning their course of social, economic and political emancipation, the Vice-President of Uganda, Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, said as the fifty-second annual DPI/NGO Conference concluded its three-day session this afternoon, by hearing panels on new partnerships and structures for the twenty-first century and globalization in the twenty-first century.

Globalization was not new to Africa, yet, despite some progress, most of the former colonies were still stuck in commodity production, where Africans found themselves competing with each other for the same markets, she said. For 500 years, Africans had held the “short end of the stick” in the international marketplace. The challenge of globalization was to reverse that situation. A new vision of prosperity must humanize the competitive marketplace where only the fittest survived. The heartless pursuit of profits at the expense of everything else would achieve the opposite of what globalization had intended. To the economists, the distribution of wealth and poverty was an economic and not a moral issue, but globalization had a future only if it addressed the moral questions, as well.

The President of the General Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia), also expressed concern that globalization had led to the marginalization and further impoverishment of many developing countries, and had actually threatened the stability of their national institutions. Globalization was not about economics alone. Rather, it fundamentally affected real people in a real way. It integrated cultures and technology, connecting people everywhere. That did not mean retreating from the globalization process, or returning to a world of closed economies. Linkages and cooperation between countries must be strengthened, and the particular concerns of developing countries must be taken into consideration.

Brian Atwood, Executive Vice-President, Citizens Energy Corporation, through a statement read out by Taj I. Hamad, Secretary of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee, said that today's increasing poverty gap presented not only a moral challenge, but also a practical obstacle to achieving the great potential of globalization. The gap produced cynicism about market economics, disillusionment about democracy and alienation from the newly created international standards and structures. That clearly was a dangerous trend. Globalization had placed a special burden on economies to be globally competitive, and developing countries should no longer rely on the comparative advantages of low wages, agricultural exports or extractive industries. Being competitive today meant developing democratic values and structures that could encourage entrepreneurism, political participation, local empowerment and open processes.

The Regional President/Director, British Petroleum Amoco Australia and New Zealand, Greg Bourne, said business had a vested interest in contributing to economic and social development -- and certainly in contributing to sustainable development. Towards that goal, business had to be involved in societal and environmental issues, as well as economic development. Yet, often to achieve sustainable development -- balancing the overlapping aims of economic development, social progress and environmental protection -- business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and even multilateral organizations tended to focus only on one of those aims at a time. However, attaining all three aims concurrently required partnerships.

The Senior Economic Affairs Officer of the Secretary-General, Georg Kell, said that the Secretary-General’s recent proposal of a global compact between the United Nations and the business community sought to reconcile markets with social needs, in the light of the growing uneasiness about globalization, which had so far failed to provide useful policy tools. The global compact attempted to balance the economic rights of global actors with their responsibilities, especially in the areas of human rights, the environment, labour and development.

Also addressing the Conference this afternoon were: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Director of the Human Development Report Office, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Puanani Burgess, President, Pu’a Foundation; Gert Rosenthal, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the United Nations; and Kensaku Hogen, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, United Nations, served as chair of the panel on globalization in the twenty-first century.

Conference Work Programme

The fifty-second annual DPI/NGO Conference met this afternoon to hold two panel discussions and conclude its deliberations. The first panel discussion, on new partnerships and structures for the twenty-first century, was moderated by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Director of the Human Development Report Office, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The panellists were Greg Bourne, Regional President/Director, British Petroleum Amoco Australia and New Zealand; Puanani Burgess, President, Pu’a Foundation; Georg Kell, Senior Economic Affairs Officer, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations; and Gert Rosenthal, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the United Nations.

The second panel discussion, moderated by Kensaku Hogen, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, was on the subject of globalization in the twenty-first century. The panellists were Brian Atwood, Executive Vice-President, Citizens Energy Corporation; Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for International Development, Harvard University; and Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, Vice-President of Uganda.

Statements – Panel Discussion I

SAKIKO FUKUDA-PARR, Director of the Human Development Report Office, UNDP, and Moderator of the panel, said that in the era of globalization, a world of new markets, rules and actors could be seen. Multinational corporations and the global non-governmental organization (NGO) movement were among the important new actors in the globalized community. The power of NGOs had been amply demonstrated through campaigns such as the Third World Debt Relief Campaign. It was impossible to think of improving global progress in areas such as human rights, the environment or labour conditions without the participation and engagement of multinational corporations and NGOs.

GERT ROSENTHAL, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the United Nations, said that the current century had witnessed two world wars and numerous local conflicts, massive spending on weapons, violations of human rights, genocide, and the partial or total breakdown in the rule of law. In many areas of the world, people were harnessing technology to improve their living standards. Perhaps it was too early to tell if the world had learned from its mistakes; however, it was never too early to set goals ”We need to think of resolving in the next century the problems carried forward from this one”, he said. For that to happen, concerted efforts on behalf of governments and civil society were needed. At the national level, it was important that the majority of the population understand the objectives and how to achieve them. Democratic governance should be an intrinsic objective. In today’s environment, different types of organizations and associations, representing different parts of civil society, were allowed to flourish. That contributed to new ways of forging partnerships.

Guatemala had witnessed a blossoming of grassroots organizations, he continued. That was attributable largely to the signing of the 1996 peace agreement, which had ended years of civil war. The growth of such organizations was remarkable considering Guatemala’s history of intolerance of different groups in society. Virtually all of those organizations abided by the rules of a democratic society and refrained from the use of violence to achieve their objectives. Although it was still true that some interest groups were far more powerful than others, many more citizens today had a greater voice in society than a few years ago. Even when governments perceived those groups as unfriendly, they influenced policy by their mere presence. If the lofty goals of the United Nations Charter were to be pursued, the different actors in civil society as well as government would have to do their share, each in their own sphere of competence. In the pursuit of further progress, there was room for greater partnerships at all levels between government and civil society.

GREG BOURNE, Regional President/Director, British Petroleum Amoco Australia and New Zealand, said the commerce of globalization had increased the prosperity and extended the lifespan of millions of people. Along with these positive outcomes of globalization, however, an abundance of complications and problems had come up. Companies had responded to that by investing in communities -- creating wealth locally, transferring skills and technology, offering jobs. Having spent money in a particular community was not enough.

Operations in one part of the world could be affected by the perceptions and actions of a community in another part of the world, he said. Business had, therefore, a vested interest in contributing to economic and social development, and certainly in contributing to sustainable development. To contribute towards this goal, however, business had to be involved in community, societal and environmental issues, as well as economic development. Those were not the normal domains for business, he said.

To achieve sustainable development -- balancing the overlapping aims of economic development, social progress and environmental protection -- business, NGOs and even multilateral organizations tended to focus only on one of those aims at a time, he said. To achieve all three aims concurrently required partnerships. Business had to work together with community groups, NGOs, organisations like the United Nations and governments to achieve sustainable development. Each group had to understand the values of the others –- indeed, the different groups must have common values.

He said that even while working locally, business should work at other levels as well. His company, for example, was exploring with the United Nations and the World Bank how best to offer institutional aid to help build law based societies.

He said that just as the United Nations had been formed to unite nations and governments in a common cause, businesses around the world could hopefully be united in a similar way. By working with community groups, NGOs and other organizations, business could help achieve the goal of furthering sustainable development and human development around the globe.

GEORG KELL, Senior Economic Affairs Officer, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, said he would try to explain why the Secretary-General had proposed a global compact between the United Nations and the business community a few months ago. Reconciling markets with social needs had become a central challenge for at least two reasons: first, markets themselves did not bring about income convergence; and second, a growing uneasiness about globalization had made it increasingly difficult to sustain a commitment to open markets.

He said that debates on globalization had so far failed to provide useful policy tools. Rather, the debates had been preoccupied with the impact of globalization on national markets and on State-to-State cooperation, largely failing to take into account the role of transnational actors -- the inventors of global markets. As everyone had subscribed to market forces as the superior tool to organize economic life, new ways to make use of them must be found. That was especially important for the United Nations where, if marginalization and a failure to address problems was to be avoided, a widening rift between problems at hand and means available made it necessary to search for new ways of engaging the relevant actors.

The Secretary-General’s Global Compact rested on the assumption that public attention on and resistance to global markets was largely a reaction to the shift of power away from localized domains towards global actors and rules, he said. Indeed, solutions meant venturing into new territory. At the global rule-making level, a commitment to openness and inclusion should be renewed, while a significant commitment to the central issues of environment, human rights, labour and development should be made –- thereby balancing the economic rights of global actors with their responsibilities. The real question centred on which viable policy responses could meet the twin challenge of sustaining a commitment to openness and inclusion, while at the same time finding new ways to embed global markets in shared values that met the concerns of society at large and the needs of developing countries in particular.

He said the Global Compact sought to fuse the concept of corporate social responsibility with the dynamics surrounding the debate on trade and commercial global rules. At the global rule-making level, the proposition was that a significantly strengthened United Nations, both in terms of authority and resources, would fill an important governance gap that had been the source of tensions and which had the potential to undermine multilateralism. A United Nations capable of effectively addressing environmental, labour and human rights and development concerns would help ensure that trade liberalization could be sustained. A second component of the Compact challenged business to demonstrate good global corporate citizenship by embracing the relevant existing principles.

Whether or not the Global Compact could evolve into a viable concept remained uncertain, he said. There were indications that the international business community was responding to the challenges of forging a global market, but it was also unclear whether that response was fast enough and strong enough. An imbalance between confrontation and consensual approaches could easily derail the process. Another question was whether the transnational corporations would continue to respond to multiple pressure on an ad hoc basis or whether their response would converge around universal values. The response of governments was also uncertain. While balancing national economic interests with broader concerns increasingly implied that global non-market problems required global solutions, it remained to be seen whether there would be sufficient leadership and vision to do so.

PUANANI BURGESS, President of the Pu’a Foundation, highlighted the importance of fostering and maintaining partnerships between all actors in society. It was essential, she stressed, to develop dialogue between all actors and to recognize the differences among them. It was key to find a way to include all human beings when making choices that affect their lives. It was also important for the family to have a sense of ownership in order to find their honour and dignity. When doing business, nothing could replace direct “face to face” contact. She asked for greater partnership between all members of society in the pursuit of the realization of common objectives.

To a question about the role of regulators, Mr. KELL said that working groups had been formed within the United Nations. Business could not be separate from civil society.

Ms. BURGESS said that often there was no one to translate between cultures and values. Partnerships between all groups were therefore very important.

Mr. BOURNE answered a question about how his company could reconcile with sustainable development the fact that it dealt in fossil fuels and therefore contributed to global warming. He said that progress was not like throwing a switch. His company did recognize the existence of global warming and was involved in the public debate. The company was moving away from oil to gas and solar energy. That was, however, a slow process.

In answer to another question, he said that business had responsibility for both its stockprice and human rights, but that there was a learning curve. Fifty years ago, only financial reports had been produced. Ten years ago, environmental reports had been published -- five years ago social reports. Working for human rights turned out to be good for profits.

Answering a question about the conflict between capitalism and the spirit of sacred relationships, Ms. BURGESS said that paradox was a cornerstone to her people's way of thinking. A paradoxical nature allowed one to hold things that were in conflict in one’s body at the same time. That had helped her to not make everybody her enemy.

To another question, Ms. BURGESS said that activists were critical, and that cultural translators had to work together with activists. If it was true that everyone had spirituality, then one should find that spirituality in everybody and connect in that way.

Asked about the Seattle Meeting, Mr. KELL said that, in his view, that meeting would be critical. In preparations for that meeting would like a focused discussion. For this purpose he would be at everybody's disposal.

In answer to the question on how the United Nations could work with corporations that were richer and more powerful than most nations, Mr. KELL said that the United Nations had some authority and could leverage it, especially by mobilizing the resources available at the Conference.

Mr. ROSENTHAL said that what the United Nations did best was facilitating and working on public awareness. It could rely on all kinds of organizations to get input, and to disseminate ideas. The United Nations would welcome cooperation with big corporations to create an alliance with different actors and to look for common goals.

Mr. BOURNE said that there were rules. In the past his company had religiously adhered to the rule -- if the standards of the rules were low, than it would work to a low standard. Because NGOs had put pressure on his company, it had changed to a standard of commitment. He agreed that companies should be punished when they digressed, but steps in the right direction should also be recognized.

In response to a question on how to bring together spiritual issues with business principles and practices, Mr. BOURNE said that business was often described as no more than a set of processes. Nowadays, people wanted more to express what was inside them. That was an uncomfortable notion for business people who were used to dealing with figures. To be productive in the long run, businesses would have to address the spiritual aspects of being. That would be the challenge for his corporation and others.

Regarding what was being done to create business opportunities with Africa, Mr. ROSENTHAL said that one of the United Nations primary concerns was how to make globalization work in favour of the least developed countries (LDCs). The question was how to try and assist the LDCs in closing the developmental gap. The easy answer was to promote development in the LDCs, which meant creating an international setting where certain considerations could be given for trade with regard to LDCs. The United Nations spent a great deal of resources to deal with those issues. The distance separating poorer and richer countries seemed to expand more each year.

Statements – Panel II

THEO-BEN GURIRAB (Namibia), President of the General Assembly, said that, regrettably, the benefits of globalization were not as universal as claimed. Indeed, they had been largely concentrated in a relatively small number of industrialized countries that were best equipped to take full advantage of its immense opportunities. By contrast, globalization had led to the marginalization and further impoverishment of many developing countries. It actually threatened the stability of their national institutions. Globalization was not about economics alone, it fundamentally affected real people in a real way. It integrated cultures and technology, connecting people everywhere.

On the labour front, although some might argue that globalization had removed boundaries for the free movement of labour, that benefit was only for the highly skilled in the North, while the vast numbers of unskilled labour, that of the developing countries had limited mobility, he said. Competition for the attraction of investment from the global capital market made it necessary for many countries to adopt extremely liberal labour laws, which, in turn, created insecurity and uncertainty. Those were problems that needed serious examination, and practical solutions must be found to harness the benefits of globalization for developing countries.

Agriculture was a sector in which developing and least developed countries possessed competitive and comparative advantages, he said. If further developed, that sector could play a very important role in addressing the rampant food insecurity in those countries, as well as in enabling them to share in the fruits of globalization. That kind of development was, however, seriously restricted by industrialized countries that continued protecting their agricultural sector through tariff escalation and other disguised protectionist measures. Thus, although some countries had taken significant steps to liberalize their economies, there were no appreciable rewards. Some of the economic sectors that could be vehicles for such outcomes were hampered by protectionist tendencies in the importing countries.

The point to be stressed was not to retreat from the globalization process, or to go back to a world of closed economies, he continued. To widen the linkages and areas of cooperation between countries, the playing field must be levelled and the needs and the peculiar concerns of developing countries taken into consideration. A transparent, democratic and cooperative environment must be created to discuss the problems of globalization. The United Nations, especially the General Assembly, could play and had played a very important role in providing a forum for serious debate on the subject. He believed that at the end of the Conference it should be possible to recommend practical steps that could be taken to alleviate the fears and uncertainties of those who were at the disadvantaged end of globalization

TAJ I.HAMAD, Secretry of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee, read a statement on behalf of J. Brian Atwood, Executive Vice-President, Citizens Energy Corporation, who was absent. Mr. Atwood said today's increasing poverty gap presented not only a moral challenge, but also a practical obstacle to achieving the great potential of globalization. The gap produced cynicism about market economics, disillusionment about democracy and alienation from new international standards and structures. That, clearly, was a dangerous trend.

The new global economy did not reward hard work per se, he continued, but rewarded new ideas, constant change and innovative technology. The premium was on education, access to technology and the freedom to experiment. Globalization made those who already had those attributes richer, while those who did not were sliding further and further behind. Several steps had to be taken to avoid undermining the development progress of the last 50 years.

Deepening the development process, so that it got beyond the elite community and into the grass roots, was the first priority, he said. Also, an equity agenda that developed human capacity through education and training had to be pursued. Governance structures had to be decentralized and local governments and individuals empowered.

Globalization had placed a special burden on economies to be globally competitive, he said, and developing countries should no longer rely on the comparative advantages of low wages, agricultural exports or extractive industries. Being competitive in today’s global economy meant developing democratic values and structures that could encourage entrepreneurism, political participation, local empowerment and open processes. Those structures would create predictability and discipline.

One way for developing nations to leapfrog the traditional path of long-term development programmes was to introduce modern technology, he said. Only that way could the concepts and knowledge that were required in a globalized world be introduced.

Also, the United States had to recognize that it had much to gain if the global economy continued to grow. It also had much to loose if the poor were left behind -- for those people could be entrepreneurs and consumers, or they could be wards of an international welfare State. Or, Mr. Atwood said, “if their alienation becomes extreme, they might become terrorists bent on destroying globalization itself. That is the stark choice we face”.

SPECIOSA WANDIRA KAZIBWE, Vice-President of Uganda, said that many were predicting that Africa would be the continent of the twenty-first century, just as Europe had been the continent of the nineteenth century and America of the twentieth century. In order to achieve its golden age, Africa must take the initiative in planning its course of social, economic and political emancipation. Following what others had designed for Africa might not be the best way to the promised land. African nations must become subjects of history, instead of retaining current status, and it must initiate new proposals. Globalization was not new to Africa. Indeed, it had started there more than 500 years ago when Africa had joined the international marketplace.

She said the journey to globalization had taken Africa through slave trade and through colonialism. Despite the advancement of many in Africa, most in the former colonies were still stuck in commodity production. Africans found themselves competing with each other to produce for the same markets. So, the buyers set prices for Africans who were neither setting the prices of what they sold nor bargaining over prices of what they bought. For 500 years, Africans had always held the “short end of the stick” in the international marketplace. The challenge of globalization was to reverse that situation. In the globalization debate, it should be ensured that the new globalization should be symbiotic and not parasitic.

The current century had witnessed the triumph of democracy over fascism and of capitalism over communism, she said. The golden age of market capitalism had truly arrived. Agriculture provided countries like Uganda with a comparative advantage; that was how it would make its entry into the free global market. Unfortunately, however, that market was protected by the arch-priests of free trade. The poverty in Africa challenged its leaders to devise a market that provided for public welfare and tackled the issues of inequality in the home, community, village and country. A woman in Uganda who had not seen equality in her home could not even think about globalization. Hopefully, the NGOs would not forget the fundamental aspects of globalization after the Conference and jump on the bandwagon to promote those who were already full participants in the process.

To the economists, the distribution of wealth, income and poverty were economic and not moral issues, she went on. In Africa, however, globalization would have a future only if it addressed the moral questions as well. Economies would have to embrace the positive and the normative, and be concerned with both the means and the end. In a world where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, how could Africa share the same vision of prosperity? The competitive marketplace where only the fittest survived must be humanized. The heartless pursuit of profits at the expense of everything else would achieve the opposite of what globalization had intended. In a world of comparative advantage, the developing world was at a disadvantage because it did not make the rules governing the global marketplace. A powerful country could block the entry of another country in the market, even when the rest of the world objected, and Africa’s attempts to add value to what it produced were often thwarted by an escalation of tariffs. Africans, therefore, remained perpetual hewers of wood.

She said that developing countries were keenly aware of the need to put their own houses in order, especially where violations of human rights and bad governance continued, but those countries should not be the only ones being asked to be ethical. African countries and developing countries elsewhere would benefit in the globalized world economic system not only through membership in the World Trade Organization, but also through bilateral relations with other countries undertaken in an atmosphere of partnerships. African countries were neither isolationists nor isolated. Indeed they were keen to take their place as potent partners in the international economy. The globalization agenda imposed the responsibility to create one world from the two worlds of rich and poor. That could only be achieved if the profit motive of capitalism was moderated by concern for the welfare of all humanity.

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For information media. Not an official record.