World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Seeking clarity of vision and a change of heart

05 April 2000

The report of the ecumenical team on the second preparatory committee meeting for Geneva 2000, 3-14 April 2000

I. World Summit for Social Development: From Copenhagen to Geneva

Five years ago, 186 nations gathered in Copenhagen for the World Summit on Social Development, marking the first time when leaders of the world came together explicitly to address social concerns. 

Adopting by consensus the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and the Programme of Action, world leaders pledged to eradicate poverty, work towards full employment, and foster stable, safe and just societies through the adoption of ten commitments. Since 1995, the UN Commission on Social Development has been monitoring the process of implementation of the commitments made at Copenhagen. In June of this year, the United Nations General Assembly will convene a Special Session in Geneva to review the progress made in implementing the ten commitments, reaffirm the spirit and goals of the Social Summit through a new Political Declaration, and adopt further initiatives to implement the ten commitments. Since the spring of 1999, the Preparatory Committee for the Special Session (hereafter referred to as Geneva 2000) has conducted two substantive sessions. The second substantive session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for Geneva 2000 was held from the 3rd to the 14th of April 2000. Since 1995, an Ecumenical team co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has been following the preparations for Geneva 2000 and attended the PrepCom in April. This report describes the work of the Ecumenical Team and evaluates the outcome of the Preparatory Committee meeting.

II. Introducing the ecumenical team: out of many, one

The Geneva 2000 Ecumenical Team could hardly be a more diverse group of people. Team members came from 13 different countries and six different continents. We also represented different denominations and partner organizations. Each of us had a different story to share about the effects of globalization on our communities and nations. Each of us had a unique perspective on the challenges facing the world as it enters the new millennium. All of us, however, shared a common conviction: the current path of economic globalization, far from solving the problems of poverty, unemployment and social disintegration, is actually escalating them. Convinced that fundamental changes in the world economy are required for true social development to occur, team members joined in calling for a change of heart among the powerful of the world. Only a change of heart among world leaders and international financial institutions could result in a changed economic system which places people at the center, rather than the margins, of development. The call for a change of heart became the signature of the Ecumenical Team as we worked with other NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and lobbied member states.

III. Teamwork: a day in the life of an ecumenical team 

The work of an Ecumenical Team at a United Nations conference is demanding, to say the least. Team members were up early to attend 8:00 am team meetings, and often worked into the evening attending negotiating sessions or working on team positions and documents. Our 8:00 am meetings included morning prayer and a chance to debrief the activities of the previous day. The chair for the meeting rotated each day, and the team decided together who would cover the meetings and events of the day and report back. After our morning meeting, team members walked over to the UN for the daily NGO briefing at 9:00 am. PrepCom sessions were scheduled from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, and again from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Side events, sponsored by NGOs, UN agencies and other organizations, were offered each day from 1:15 to 2:45 pm. Somehow, team members managed to squeeze in lunch and gather in groups to work on the Political Declaration and the ten commitments. Our goal was to produce language and talking points on the Declaration and the ten commitments (also known as L.5/Rev. 2) that we could offer to delegates for use in the negotiations. Some team members also were able to meet with delegates from their country's mission to speak directly with them about the Ecumenical Team's positions and hopes for the Special Session. 

IV. Having our say: written and oral statements by the ecumenical team 

The Ecumenical Team had great success in making our voice heard at the PrepCom. Team members drafted a strong statement on the flaws in the current version of the Political Declaration, which was circulated and signed by 51 other NGOs. Copies of the statement, entitled "For Clarity of Vision, A Sense of Urgency, and A Change of Heart", were placed in conference rooms where delegates were meeting (see appendix 1). At the end of the first week, we were given the opportunity, along with a few other NGOs, to make an oral intervention during a plenary session. Building upon our "Clarity of Vision" statement and adding a key paragraph on debt cancellation, Hellen Wangusa, from Uganda, spoke on behalf of the Ecumenical Team (see appendix 2). Asserting that "the aim of economic life should be to nurture sustainable, just and participatory communities", Wangusa declared that "building such communities will require nothing less than profound moral courage and the willingness to be open to new ways of living and working together". In short, what is required is a "change of heart which recognizes that real value cannot be expressed in monetary terms and that life - and that which is essential to sustain it—cannot be commodified."

Another opportunity for the Ecumenical Team presented itself in the form of a press conference. Representatives of several key NGOs, including the Ecumenical Team, the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), Social Watch, and the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW), were invited to speak to the press and take questions. Joy Kennedy, from the Anglican Church of Canada, spoke for the Ecumenical Team (see appendix 3). Kennedy's statement focused upon the need for immediate debt cancellation for African and least developed countries and for the comprehensive write-down of middle-income country debts. Such debt relief should come without conditionalities and should involve civil society in the process of debt relief and the prevention of future debt crises.  

V. Teaming up: collaboration with other NGOs and caucuses 

The key to success for an NGO at a UN meeting is teamwork! Not only must NGO delegations function effectively as a team, but they also must reach out and form alliances with other NGOs in order to make their influence felt at the meeting. The Ecumenical Team worked collaboratively with other NGOs and caucuses on many different levels. We took the lead in getting the daily calendar for the NGO community printed and distributed every morning. Several of our members had the opportunity to chair meetings of the NGO, women's, and African caucuses. Our strong African representation inspired the team to initiate the African caucus, and one of our members, Albert Gyan, drafted the oral intervention which the African caucus made during the plenary. Hellen Wangusa chaired the African caucus, as well as a side event on Currency Transfer Taxes which the Ecumenical Team organized in collaboration with CIDSE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity), Jubilee South, and the UN Division for Social Policy and Development.

Many team members also attended the NGO women's caucus meetings each morning at 10:00 am. Martha Pushparani worked actively with WEDO and the women's caucus in drafting gender-sensitive language for the Political Declaration and ten commitments. Martha is also taking the lead in integrating women's caucus language into the Ecumenical Team's draft of L.5/Rev. 2. Sharing language is a vital aspect of NGO collaboration at a UN meeting, since it greatly increases the likelihood that NGO language will make it into the documents being negotiated. The Ecumenical Team shared our earlier version of L.5/Rev. 2 and our comments on the Political Declaration with WEDO and other NGOs, and we accepted most of WEDO's gender language into our draft. Further, the Ecumenical Team took a lead in facilitating the participation of NGOs who were new to the Social Development PrepCom, helping to orient them and bring them into the NGO caucus on an equal footing with more established NGOs. We also collaborated with other NGOs by co-sponsoring several side events which were open to the all the participants at the PrepCom.

VI. Reaching out: ecumenical team side events 

Side events are a vital aspect of any UN meeting. They allow for a diversity of voices to be heard, and for a level of dialogue to take place, that rarely occurs during official negotiations. NGOs, as well as UN agencies and other international institutions, use these events to educate and exert an influence on the deliberations. The Ecumenical Team co-sponsored four side events during the PrepCom:

1. With WEDO, ICSW and Social Watch, the Ecumenical Team organized a reception for the delegates on the second evening of the PrepCom. This event drew a record number of delegates and allowed for informal exchanges between team members and delegates. As building relationships is a key part of lobbying at such meetings, the reception was an invaluable opportunity for team members to meet delegates and establish personal contacts.

2. Joining together to build support for "currency transfer taxes", the Ecumenical Team, the Canadian Council of Churches, and the UN Division for Social Policy and Development sponsored a side event called "Currency Transfer Taxes: Resources for Social and Sustainable Development". Currency transfer taxes would place a tax on international currency transfers that would work both to restrain financial volatility and to raise revenues for social development. The Canadian parliament recently passed a bill supporting such a tax and the Canadian delegation at the PrepCom is calling for a study of the feasibility of currency transfer taxes. Wayne P. Easter, a member of the Canadian House of Commons, spoke at the side event and shared the Canadian experience. The Ecumenical Team took the lead in organizing this event, which drew a large audience and lively participation. Despite the organized resistance of the European Union, the United States and Japan, the idea of a currency transfer tax is gaining acceptance in the NGO community and sparking serious debate among member states.

3. With the Quaker UN office taking the lead, the Ecumenical Team co-sponsored another side event on finance and development with the Quaker UN Office, Franciscans International, the Sisters of Mercy, and the UN Division for Social Policy and Development. Panelists from the European Union, the Division for Social Policy and Development, the UN Secretariat for Financing for Development, and the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade discussed the linkages between Geneva 2000 and the upcoming Financing for Development consultation.

4. Two members of our team, Jurgen Reichel and Christoph Benn, organized a side event entitled: "Community Based Health Insurance Schemes in Africa - An example of cooperation between Government and Civil Society for social development." Co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Uganda and the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, panelists included members of German and Ugandan NGOs and government agencies who described their experience with Government-Civil Society cooperation in providing community based health insurance.

VII. Making the news: press coverage of the ecumenical team 

The World Council of Churches issued three press releases covering the work of the Ecumenical Team at the PrepCom. Tracy Early, a long-time correspondent for the WCC, interviewed team members and wrote the press releases, which were issued at the beginning and end of the PrepCom, with one coming out during the meeting which covered the side event on currency transfer taxes. The first WCC press release, entitled "Call for a Just and Moral Economy - Ecumenical Team Prepares for Geneva 2000", introduced the basic positions of the ecumenical team, including our critique of the neoliberal market economy. Rogate Mshana, WCC Executive Secretary for Economic Justice, and Gail Lerner, WCC UN Representative in New York, are quoted as saying that the neo-liberal approach to development must be replaced with a commitment to build a "people-centered economy". The second press release, entitled "Currency Transfer Tax: An idea whose time has come", summarized the presentations given by the panelists at the side event on currency transfer taxes.

The last WCC press release was entitled, "Geneva 2000: No breakthrough on cancellation of debt and adoption of a currency transfer tax". Noting that the PrepCom failed to make progress on two of the issues most important to the Ecumenical Team, cancellation of debt and the currency transfer tax, the article also expresses the team's sense that our efforts had an impact on the debate. By focusing attention on ideas which had not previously received serious attention, the team felt that we laid the groundwork for achieving incremental changes. One significant success was noted by Martha Pushparani, who reported that at the conclusion of the PrepCom, the women's caucus had managed to get 40% of the language they wanted into the L.5/Rev. 2 document.

The Ecumenical Team participated in a press conference along with three other NGOs. In the UN press release describing the press conference, two paragraphs were devoted to the statement made by Joy Kennedy on behalf of the Ecumenical Team. As mentioned above, Kennedy's statement focused upon the World Council of Churches' call for "deeper, faster, and broader debt relief". We chose to focus upon the debt issue in our statement since we felt that it is the most distinctive contribution that the ecumenical movement is making to the debates around social development.

VIII. A job half done: outcome of the Second PrepCom for Geneva 2000 

The PrepCom for Geneva 2000 opened with high hopes, despite the disappointing level of progress made at the 38th Commission for Sustainable Development and the intersessional which followed. In the opening plenary, John Langmore, director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, expressed his hope that Geneva 2000 would be remembered as the Special Session on Social Justice. Zola Skweyiya, chair of the 38th session of the Commission for Social Development, called for the negotiations to be informed by the ethics of care and the need to build a people-centered, sustainable development process that would benefit the most disempowered. Reminding the delegates that beyond the walls of the UN are "real people with real and urgent needs", he called upon the PrepCom to "act now to reverse the horror story of poverty and deprivation that shape the lived experiences of the world's poorest people".

The PrepCom held no formal debate and only a few open plenaries. Most of the work was conducted in three working groups. The first working group finished an initial reading of the further actions and initiatives for commitments 1, 7, 8, and 9. Working group 2 completed first and second readings of commitments 2-6 and 10. Working group 3, which dealt with the political declaration, had been charged with producing a virtually clean text by the end of the first week. However, negotiations fell apart over key paragraphs on poverty, debt and the international financial system. While the declaration contains a paragraph balancing the positive and negative aspects of globalization, no agreement was reached on eradicating poverty. As one participant remarked, the lack of consensus on the political declaration is due to the "seemingly insurmountable impasse between the North, which won't give money without accountability, and the South, which won't be accountable without money". The lack of political will to address serious problems of globalization and poverty was criticized by the Ecumenical Team in our statement on the Political Declaration. In support of developing nations' request for more financial resources for development, the Ecumenical team called for "the transformation of international financial institutions and other actors so that they are more accountable, transparent and participatory".

In the oral statement which the team made on the floor of the PrepCom, we added a paragraph on cancellation of debt, a key demand of the Ecumenical Team. Unfortunately, the PrepCom ended with no breakthrough on the thorny issue of debt relief. Another major concern of the Ecumenical Team, the proposal for a currency transfer tax, met serious resistance from the United States, the EU and Japan. With the intervention of the Chair, however, Canada's language calling for a study on the feasibility of the tax was at least kept in brackets. Many, however, felt that the debate which was generated over the currency transfer tax was a significant achievement in and of itself. Some positive steps were taken on structural adjustment, when developed countries allowed language that called upon IMF programmes to avoid sharp cuts in social spending. Unprecedented language was also agreed upon advocating specific tax initiatives designed to generate domestic resources for social services.

In spite of these few positive achievements, "the PrepCom was a tussle between the industrial countries and the developing world over who controls the global economic system and what is required for participation. The US and the EU stood behind the opportunities of globalization, labor rights, civil society, governance and transparency, while blocking references dear to the G-77/China, such as market access, controls on currency flows, links between international and financial institutions, and equitable trade conditions". As a result of this continuing struggle, 50-60% of the text remains in brackets. Delegates have their work cut out for them between now and June 26. Unless this political impasse is breached, it is doubtful whether John Langmore's hopes for a summit on social justice will be fulfilled. It is up to civil society to increase the pressure on governments to put aside narrow interests and move forward with concrete actions which are in the best interests of all the peoples of the earth.

IX. Taking it home: team preparations for Geneva 

The PrepCom is over, and team members have gone home, but the work is far from over. Around the world, team members continue to work towards Geneva 2000, to ensure that the distinctive ethical vision of the ecumenical community has an impact on the final outcomes of the Special Session. Between now and June 26, the team must complete the following tasks:

1. Finalize the Ecumenical Team version of the L.5/Rev. 2 document, so that we can advocate for specific language during the next intersessional meeting (May 17-23) and at the Session itself. Providing actual language for the negotiated document makes an extremely important contribution to the final outcome, since delegates are often open to accepting language from the NGO community and on occasion even seek out language suggestions.

2. Develop talking points based on our L.5/Rev. 2 document, which will complement and elaborate upon our specific language suggestions.

3. Complete the composition of an informational document produced by the combined efforts of Ecumenical Team members and WCC/LWF staff in Geneva and New York. Stories of team members will be included which give a human face to the document's claims regarding the negative impact of globalization and the need for people-centered social development. Building upon the team's February and April statements and interventions, the document will contain an honest assessment of the progress made in implementing the Copenhagen commitments. It will reiterate the team's call for a change of heart, and discuss the relationship between human rights and social development. Our updated talking points will be attached as an appendix, along with our other written and oral statements. This document will be circulated among our member churches and used as a background document in our preparations for Geneva 2000.

4. Prepare, in collaboration with other NGO partners, the events on Sunday the 25th of June.

5. In collaboration with Geneva colleagues, prepare Ecumenical Team participation in events at the NGO forum. The Ecumenical Team is actively involved in planning the NGO events so that the voice of civil society is not only heart, but listened to, by the delegates to the Special Session.

6. Strategize as to how best lobby the Member States during the five-day session.

In spite of the formidable challenges which lie ahead, the Ecumenical Team is committed to making the Geneva 2000 Summit a concrete, action-oriented, high-level event which delivers on the promises made in Copenhagen. The stakes are too high for the NGO community or the ecumenical community to lose heart. We are called to sustain the change of heart which has propelled each of us into this crucial work. The well-being of the world's peoples and the health of the planet require nothing less.

Prepared by Janet Parker
On behalf of the Ecumenical Team


APPENDIX 1 Oral statement

Preparatory Committee for the Special Session of the General Assembly entitled "World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: Achieving Social Development for All in a Globalized World"

For Clarity of Vision, a Sense of Urgency and a Change of Heart

I am Hellen Wangusa speaking on behalf of the Ecumenical Team, coordinated by the World Council of Churches. The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of 336 Member Churches in more than 120 countries in all continents, from virtually all Protestant and Orthodox Christian traditions, and counting almost 500 million persons. Today a majority of our member churches come from the global South.

We are deeply concerned that the current version of the Political Declaration lacks both clarity of vision and a sense of urgency. It does not reflect the Copenhagen spirit of hope and cooperation nor does it acknowledge the root causes of the profound moral and ethical crisis which we face in the light of the rising levels of poverty, the growing disparity between rich and poor and the escalating number of armed conflicts.

The follow-up to Copenhagen has not resulted in greater social justice for the poor, the unemployed and excluded of the world. Ironically, social policy initiatives have constantly been held hostage to the prevailing market forces. Such dependence on the market for social development was called into question at the Social Summit. "... Social progress will not be realized simply through the free interaction of market forces. Public policies are necessary to correct market failures..." (Programme of Action, chapter 1, paragraph 6).

Globalization, also recognized at Copenhagen as impacting social development, has proceeded with unforeseen speed and created unprecedented crises, the causes and consequences of which are not sufficiently acknowledged in the Political Declaration. As the Secretary-General stated earlier this week in setting a direction for the United Nations in the new millennium: "A backlash has begun because [the] benefits [of globalization] are so unequally distributed and because the global market is not yet underpinned by shared social objectives". Globalization, without an underlying moral commitment to resource sharing, inclusiveness and building sustainable communities, cannot be considered positive progress for humankind.

Moral commitment to globalization with a human face requires the collective political will to tackle the crushing burden of external debt which has undermined the capacity of governments in many countries to provide even a minimum of resources for social development. We therefore reiterate our call for deeper, faster, and broader debt relief and cancellation processes. These must encompass:

  • an effective, equitable, development-oriented, and durable debt relief and management strategy.
  • breaking the link between debt cancellation and conditionalities.
  • developing an international lending-borrowing mechanism which involves civil society in the process of debt relief and the prevention of future debt crises.


Furthermore, we are concerned about the tendency to weaken the Political Declaration by deleting language which requires the transformation of words into serious and practical action. This exercise subsequently weakens the implementation of the Programme of Action. We appeal for renewed resolution in the Declaration for governments to take action. We affirm our conviction that for social development goals to be successfully achieved at the international level, they must be accompanied by the transformation of international financial institutions and other actors so that they are more accountable, transparent and participatory.

We call for an alternative vision of a global community whose interdependence is not reduced to trade and markets. We affirm our common destiny as co-inhabitants of the one earth for which we all share responsibility and from which we should all equitably benefit. We call for a change of heart which recognizes that real value cannot be expressed in monetary terms and that life - and that which is essential to sustain it - cannot be commodified. The role of the economy is to serve people, communities, and preserve the health of the earth. A moral vision calls for the full participation of diverse communities of poor and powerless people in the economic, social and political decisions which affect them. The aim of economic life should be to nurture sustainable, just and participatory communities. Building such communities will require nothing less than profound moral courage and the willingness to be open to new ways of living and working together.

The spirit of the above statement has been endorsed in the last two days by over 40 NGO's here at this meeting.

7 April 2000


FOR CLARITY OF VISION, A SENSE OF URGENCY AND A CHANGE OF HEART
(Team statement on the political declaration, endorsed by other NGOs)

We are deeply concerned that the current version of the Political Declaration lacks both clarity of vision and a sense of urgency. It does not reflect the Copenhagen spirit of hope and cooperation nor does it acknowledge the root causes of the profound moral and ethical crisis which we face in the light of the rising levels of poverty, the growing disparity between rich and poor and the escalating number of armed conflicts.

The follow-up to Copenhagen has not resulted in greater social justice for the poor, the unemployed and the excluded of the world. Ironically, social policy initiatives have constantly been held hostage to the prevailing market forces. Such dependence on the market for social development was called into question at the Social Summit. "... Social progress will not be realized simply through the free interaction of market forces. Public policies are necessary to correct market failures..." (Programme of Action, chapter 1, paragraph 6).

Globalization, also recognized at Copenhagen as impacting social development, has proceeded with unforeseen speed and created unprecedented crises, the causes and consequences of which are not sufficiently acknowledged in the Political Declaration. As the Secretary-General stated earlier this week in setting a direction for the United Nations in the new millennium: "A backlash has begun because [the] benefits [of globalization] are so unequally distributed and because the global market is not yet underpinned by shared social objectives." Globalization, without an underlying moral commitment to resource sharing, inclusiveness and building sustainable communities, cannot be considered positive progress for humankind.

We are concerned about the tendency to weaken the Political Declaration by deleting language which requires the transformation of words into serious and practical action. This exercise subsequently weakens the implementation of the Programme of Action. We appeal for renewed resolution in the Declaration for governments to take action. We affirm our conviction that for social development goals to be successfully achieved at the international level, they must be accompanied by the transformation of international financial institutions and other actors so that they are more accountable, transparent and participatory.

We call for an alternative vision of a global community whose interdependence is not reduced to trade and markets. We affirm our common destiny as co-inhabitants of the one earth for which we all share responsibility and from which we should all equitably benefit. We call for a change of heart which recognizes that real value cannot be expressed in monetary terms and that life - and that which is essential to sustain it - cannot be commodified. The role of the economy is to serve people, communities, and preserve the health of the earth. A moral vision calls for the full participation of diverse communities of poor and powerless people in the economic, social and political decisions which affect them. The aim of economic life should be to nurture sustainable, just and participatory communities. Building such communities will require nothing less than profound moral courage and the willingness to be open to new ways of living and working together.

The ecumenical team
5 April 2000