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NGOs call on the UN to withdraw endorsement of "A Better World for All" document

28 June 2000

Geneva, 28 June 2000

NGO's, people's organisations and movements, organised in caucuses, are outraged about the document released on Monday 26th of June at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the Social Summit + 5, called A Better World for All.

Process derailed

A Better World for All was released as a joint document produced by the OECD, IMF, World Bank and the United Nations. It is based on the seven pledges made by the OECD member countries in "Shaping the 21st Century", released in 1996. Although these pledges were said to be extracted from the UN Conferences and the Social Summit, they were only a small selection. The goal to reduce the proportion of people living in poverty by half between 1990 and 2015 was introduced as a new goal by the OECD. With the increased emphasis given by industrialised countries on the targets formulated by the OECD, this new target has been elevated to being the principal target. The IMF presented it as the principal target last year.

We have always welcomed specific objectives and time-bound targets. But we have also recognised that these objectives need to be agreed in an inclusive process of negotiations, with transparent procedures. While the OECD represents only the northern countries, the same as those who are the majority shareholders of the World Bank and the IMF, the UN represents the nations of the world on an equal basis. It provides the principal forum for reaching political consensus in a participatory process that includes both the North and the South. It therefore allows for joint decisions on how to address common problems based on shared responsibility, mutual commitment and national ownership of governance. Rather than imposing policies through conditionality, as the IMF and World Bank do, the strength of the UN is its ability to promote national responsibility in a shared international framework.

This document has been presented as a new consensus between the United Nations, the OECD, the IMF and the World Bank. By doing so, it reinforced the perspectives from the North and disempowered the South. It undermined the very concept of political inclusiveness that defines the UN.

Undermining UNGASS

In the timing of its release this document is particularly damaging. At the moment when UNGASS was in the final phase of negotiating very complex issues, this document advocates a partisan vision forward. This biased message was emphasised by the Secretary General in his opening statements, both at the General Assembly and at the Geneva 2000 forum. This pre-empted the negotiations in the UNGASS and devalued its very process.

Secretary general surrenders to Bretton Woods

The UN Charter clearly made a distinction between the UN and its specialised agencies, including the Bretton Woods institutions. By doing so it separated the political process from the executive responsibility with the objective to enhance the political accountability of national governments to their citizens. We, therefore, take issue with the equal status given by the signatories of the report between the United Nations, as represented by the Secretary General, and the World Bank, IMF and OECD.

Patronising the poor - ignoring poverty in the North

We are also appalled by the content of the report. In Copenhagen we made headway in changing the notion of "the poor" as "victims of poverty" into "people living in poverty" who are "citizens universally entitled to development who should fully enjoy economic, social cultural, civil and political rights". A Better World for All carries the image of poor people who need help and will be grateful when assisted. The promotion of this image does not empower people living in poverty to demand their rights. A Better World for All portrays poverty as a problem only in the South. No statistics are provided of poverty in the North. In dealing with global poverty the document totally ignores the persistence of poverty in the North. The images show exactly the real nature of the new consensus: the North identifying the problems of the South and providing the solutions for the South.


The importance of Copenhagen was the recognition that social development can only be achieved in an enabling economic and political environment. Clearly A Better World for All has weakened the political environment. While it pays lip service to the need to "empower poor people" it belittles them. While it speaks of the importance of "inclusive democracy" it undermines it. The introduction of the concept of "pro-poor growth" places the responsibility of coming out of poverty on the backs of the poor, particularly in the South.

Backward steps

A Better World for All is also regressing on the notions developed in Copenhagen on the enabling economic environment. It fails to recognise the role that the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) played in demanding economic policies that generated poverty. The very policies of the Bretton Woods institutions focused on export-led growth and, with disregard of wealth distribution and environmental sustainability, have been an obstacle for national governments to develop social policies. Globalisation has failed to respect workers' rights, including the principles contained in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights of Work; and to provide decent work for the majority of the world's people. This has had devastating consequences for workers and people in general, especially for women and children. Rather than recognising how to contribute to improve the economic environment, A Better World for All proposes that poverty eradication can be achieved by further opening up of the markets of developing countries. It is indeed evident from the recent financial crises in the East-Asian region and elsewhere, stemming largely from rapid financial liberalisation, that these policies are not sustainable.

IFIs deepen poverty

Without changing the substance of their policies, the Bretton Woods Institutions have been attempting to put the macro-economic policies that are advocated into a framework of poverty eradication. Within this global plan, the IMF changed the name of the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) into the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). The World Bank and the IMF expect that the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers will become a key instrument for countries' relations with the donor community. These plans would also provide a basis for Bank and Fund concessional lending to support the country as well as debt relief under the HIPC Initiative.

The PRSP emphasises - correctly - that national governments are responsible for social development. However, the policies of the Bretton Woods institutions developed to reduce poverty have not resolved the fundamental contradiction between Structural Adjustment Policies, prescribed by the Washington policy-makers to national governments, with Social Development. Whilst the PRSP is an attempt to foster social development, macro-economic conditions by the IFIs for loans and debt relief have not changed. These conditions - which include administrative and fiscal reform in the context of austerity programmes as well as measures for further liberalisation of trade and finance - have destroyed local productive capacity, increased unemployment and degraded the quality of public social services. Globalisation and the neo-liberal system are simply not compatible with Social Development.

Within the PRSP there is no offer to respond to the adverse effects of Structural Adjustment nor are there any arrangements for adequate and additional means for investment in social sectors. It is almost inevitable that the PRSP be an opportunity for donors to impose additional conditionality on national governments. This will make national governments responsible for social development without being in control of the means or resources to implement policies that foster Social Development.

Bretton Woods for all?

We believe that the release of this document raises the stakes of the outcome of UNGASS. The outcome is no longer just credible on a set of new initiatives to rectify the lack of implementation that all can observe. It particularly demands that the wealthy nations demonstrate their commitment to the Copenhagen goals and the UN system as a whole by putting in place measures that honours their pledges in 1995.

We therefore call upon all Member States:
1. To demonstrate the commitment to the UNGASS Social development + 5 process in analysing the root-causes of poverty and gender inequality within the current macro-economic framework of globalisation in the South and in the North.
2. To make a commitment to reversing the current decline in ODA and establish a timetable in which the UN target of 0.7% of GNP will be met by 2005. Meeting this long-standing commitment is crucial to re-building confidence between developing and industrialised countries and to provide necessary resources for reaching social development goals.
3. To implement the immediate and full cancellation of the debt of the developing countries to release resources for investment in social development. The burden of debt is an obstacle to the right to development. Full debt cancellation for developing countries would demonstrate political commitment for social development and would be an appropriate response to the many civil society campaigns.
4. To introduce a Currency Transfer Tax (CTT) to counter the instability of global capital transactions and to mobilise further resources for social development. A CTT would be an effective means to counter the excessive volatility of short-term capital transactions. It could potentially provide additional resources for social development.

Unachievable goals

The goals of Copenhagen cannot be achieved if developing countries are marginalised in the decision-making process in the international institutions. They should not and will not accept this. While much responsibility for achieving social development and the eradication of poverty must be taken nationally, this cannot succeed without an international enabling environment, which includes the provision of adequate resources.

NGOs call for 2005 summit

The Copenhagen Summit brought together the largest gathering of world leaders in history. The importance of the Summit must be demonstrated by concrete results that can be monitored. It is therefore imperative that in 2005, the mid-point between the historic Summit and the date set for achieving many of the critical targets should be marked by another gathering of meeting of world leaders. This is the best way to re-assert the centrality of the Copenhagen commitments at the beginning of the new Millennium, and to ensure that they receive the political attention that they deserve.

NGOs call on member states to reject document

NGOs call on Members of the United Nations to disassociate themselves from the document. The content of this document does not reflect the spirit, opinion and positions of the United Nations as a whole, nor that of civil society. Additionally the UN Agencies have published documents which proclaim a different vision and propose policies which contradict the A Better World for All document. NGOs at this conference have pledged to continue to intensify a global campaign against the vision portrayed in this partisan document.