World Council of Churches

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

There are alternatives to globalization

01 June 2000

Dossier prepared by the WCC Justice, Peace & Creation Team to help ecumenical partners prepare for the UN General Assembly's Special Session on Social Development, Geneva, June 2000

INTRODUCTION

This dossier is offered as a resource document in the quest for alternatives to the current socio-economic injustices inherent in the processes of globalisation. The aims of this dossier are to

  • share updates of the current struggles,
  • call for new insights and contribution by churches and ecumenical partners,
  • nurture hope and support initiatives for alternatives to globalisation.

The dossier includes

  • a call for statements concerning the forthcoming United Nations' Social Summit that will take place in June 2000 in Geneva,
  • information on the initiatives for the cancellation of debts,
  • an update on the situation after the Third Ministerial Round of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle,
  • messages from a Symposium on Consequences of Economic Globalisation that was held in Bangkok in November last year.

GENEVA 2000

The United Nations General Assembly's Special Session on Social Development, (now commonly called ‘Geneva 2000') will take place in June 2000 in Geneva and is a major event on the agenda of the United Nations.

Geneva 2000 is an opportunity for the churches to

  • affirm their commitment for social development,
  • emphasise the goal of eradication of poverty,
  • challenge the neo-liberal ideology,
  • call for the cancellation of foreign debt and
  • advocate for measures against the massive flow of speculative capital in the "casino economy".

    The call for the cancellation of debt is a centerpiece for advocacy work by the churches this year. not only at Geneva 2000. The Group of 8 (the annual summit of the leaders of the major industrialised countries plus Russia) meet in Okinawa in July 2000. The Jubilee 2000 network has called on those leaders to designate July 23, as "debt decision day" when they agree to cancel all debts from the ‘heavily indebted poor countries'.

AN INVITATION

In preparation for Geneva 2000 the Executive Committee of the WCC has invited all WCC member churches, Christian World Communions, Ecumenical Organisations and other partners to formulate a statement. This statement should affirm your own engagement for people-centered development as a response to God's option for the poor. It should call on governments for a change of heart and the necessary political will for the eradication of poverty, the cancellation of foreign debt and a clear financial commitment to support social development for all.

We ask that you:

a) Share your statement with your ecumenical partners.

b) Share your statement with your national government.
(It would be most helpful if actions a) and b) could be completed by 1 June)

c) Consider releasing your statement to your national media in the weeks before the Special Session convenes in Geneva on 26

d) We would be grateful if you would also send a copy of your statement to the WCC, preferably before 1st June. It will be joined with other statements from member churches and ecumenical partners to strengthen the WCC's media and advocacy work during the Special Session and demonstrate the commitment of churches around the world.

e) Of course, some of our ecumenical friends will not want to confine their contributions to simply a press release or statement and so, we encourage you to send to the WCC audio or videotapes on work for eradication of poverty, the cancellation of foreign debts and other issues relevant to social development in your country.

COPENHAGEN 1999

In March 1995, the representatives of 186 nations, met in Copenhagen for the United Nations World Summit for Social Development, including 117 heads of state or government - the largest gathering of world leaders before or since. They agreed an ambitious and comprehensive plan of action intended to put people at the centre of development.

The three major social issues, which the plan of action was particularly intended to address, were

poverty

full employment

social integration


The centrepiece of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action was a series of 10 principal commitments.

  • eradicate poverty, "as an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind" (Commitment 2);
  • promote full employment as a basic policy goal (Commitment 3);
  • attain universal and equitable access to education and primary health care (Commitment 6);
  • foster social integration through the promotion and protection of all human rights (Commitment 4);
  • achieve equality and equity between women and men (Commitment 5);
  • accelerate the development of Africa and the least developed countries (Commitment 7);
  • ensure that structural adjustment programmes include social development goals (Commitment 8);
  • increase resources allocated to social development (Commitment 9);
  • create "an economic, political, social, cultural and legal environment that will enable people to achieve social development" (Commitment 1); and
  • strengthen cooperation for social development through the UN (Commitment 10).

Each of these commitments was supported by a list of specific initiatives at both national and international levels to promote their achievement, and a detailed Programme of Action. There was a sense of optimism that a genuine attempt might be made to implement the commitments, given the breadth and level of the international consensus on which it was based.

Failure in the distribution of wealth and power

Five years after the Copenhagen Summit much, if not all, of that optimism has dissipated. It is the scandalous truth that overall the concentration of income, resources and wealth has continued to increase while much of the world's population has lost out and is poorer now than it was five years ago.

  • The top three billionaires in the world hold assets worth more than the combined GNP of all 48 least developed countries (LDC's), with their population of some 600 million.
  • The assets of the 200 richest people (over US$1 trillion) are higher than the combined income of 41% of the world's people. 
  • The income gap between the fifth of the world's people in the richest countries and the fifth in the poorest is growing at an ever-increasing rate. It took 30 years for the ratio to double from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 60 to 1 in 1990, but it jumped up to 74 to 1 by 1997. The wealth gap is also widening in the richest countries.
  • About 1.5 billion people live in absolute poverty at the beginning of the new millennium. It would take just 5% of the wealth of the richest 225 people in the world to provide food, shelter, basic health care and education to every one in the world who lacks access to these basic needs.
  • Just 100 transnational corporations (TNCs), based in the highly industrialised countries are the driving force behind economic globalisation. 70% of all trade takes place within and between TNCs. They generate 80% of foreign direct investment and own one-fifth of all foreign-owned assets. However they employ, less than 3% of the world labour force.
  • The terms of trade have deteriorated for most of the developing countries. Negative trade balances and falling export earnings made many of the developing countries more dependent on foreign capital. Asia countries, but also Russia, Brazil and other countries, were hit by severe financial crises caused by sudden movements of massive amounts of speculative capital. Source: UNDP Human Development Report 1998 and 1999 and Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice (Canada), Economic Justice Report X #3, 1999

Little remains of the golden promises of the Copenhagen Summit. Wars, which are often fought for access to, and control of, resources, civil strife, frequent natural disasters and the HIV/AIDS disease, are always barriers to development. But the debt burden, and negative effects of economic globalisation, are the most important constraints to development in recent years.

Data show clearly:

Economic globalisation led to a re-distribution of wealth in favour of the already powerful rich on the one hand and social disintegration and environmental degradation on the other.

MAJOR CONCERNS AFTER COPENHAGEN

The WCC monitored the Copenhagen follow-up through delegations to the meetings of the Commission on Social Development. The delegations formed an Ecumenical Team with New York-based staff of WCC, LWF and United Methodist Church, as well as representatives of some member churches, predominantly from North America and Europe.

The WCC hosted a meeting in January 2000 with participation of members of the Ecumenical Team and NGOs, such as Social Watch and the International Council on Social Welfare. A representative of the Roman Catholic organisation CIDSE also attended the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to plan involvement in the preparatory process and major concerns that should be addressed.

Participants in that meeting in January 2000 highlighted the following major concerns:

  • Focus on eradication of poverty: During the preparatory process for Geneva 2000 attempts have been made to replace the target of poverty eradication introduced at the Copenhagen Summit by the goal of 50% reduction of the number of people living in absolute poverty by the year 2015. However the 1997 UNDP Human Development Report has shown how to eradicate poverty completely, with only modest additional resources, by the same date. The new target silently admits the lack of any convincing attempt to meet the Copenhagen commitment, which must remain the primary goal. Poverty is a scandal that cannot be accepted by the human family.
  • The critique of the neo-liberal economic ideology and the search for alternatives: It was not that the goals of the Copenhagen Summit were unrealistic or too ambitious, but that the means chosen to achieve them were wrong. Protagonists of economic globalisation, believing in the benign reign of the free market forces, deny that an ever increasing number of people are sacrificed if an economy is organised only on the basis of unregulated markets, profits and efficiency. This ‘idolatry of the market', and the justification of social, political and economic exclusion of people and even entire nations, should be rejected by people of faith as a threat to human dignity and basic values of human life held in common by the world's religions. A qualitative framework for the economy is essential.
  • Cancellation of foreign debt: Unbearable debt burdens have undermined and destroyed the achievements of many years of development efforts. Present debt-management proposals, such as the HIPC Initiative, offer too little, too late, to too few countries and do not address the devastating cycle of debt accumulation.
  • The need for an alternative financial system: Malfunctions of the international financial systems have often wiped out progress made by individual countries within hours. Foreign direct investment concentrated on just a small number of countries has not become the development-engine so often portrayed by business representatives. Competition to attract foreign direct investment has merely served to create favorable environments for Trans National Corporations and foreign investors at the expense of domestic industries and the people. NGO's have not been able to break the taboo against discussion of the Tobin tax (a proposal that excessive speculation should be regulated by tax) and other measures to control the transnational flow of capital at the World Summit on Social Development in 1995. It remains on the agenda.
  • Accountability and transparency of the major actors of corporate globalisation: The impact of structural economic issues such as trade, finances and monetary policies on the life of communities, societies and nations, calls for appropriate mechanisms both at national and international levels to guarantee just, equitable and sustainable trade and financial policies. International financial and economic actors such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the WTO must become effectively and unconditionally accountable to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Implementation of effective codes of conduct for Transnational Corporations (TNCs) and Financial Investment Institutions is absolutely necessary: That view is contrary to the opinion of those who continue to pursue the implementation of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) proposal in the WTO after it was defeated when it was introduced by the OECD. (The MAI is certainly being studied by the WTO but is, as yet, not on the agenda).
  • A call for new initiatives supporting African countries: A serious political will to change the current situation must be focused on the continent of Africa. Jubilee South and the Africa Consensus coalitions have developed proposals for a comprehensive approach to the situation of the African continent. They need the support of the churches and ecumenical organisations.

A COMPREHENSIVE SOLUTION TO DEBT IS URGENTLY NEEDED

The continued failure to deal comprehensively with debt ensures the crisis will worsen. The debt initiative taken by the Group of 8 (G8) meeting in Cologne in June 1999 has begun to show signs of failure. The actions that followed concentrated on improving what was called the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), a proposal that had been agreed at the Group of 7 Summit in 1996. At their Cologne Summit they began a HIPC-II by which the G8 would go a step further in declaring total debt cancellation for unpayable debt on the one hand and increase the number of countries officially designated as Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) from 41 to 52.

It has, however, been revealed by Jubilee 2000(UK) that, even if the actions were applied to all 41 designated HIPCs, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank terms would, in the main, be providing only ‘relief' on debt that is already not being paid and which the international finance institutions know full well will never be paid.

1. Delays in cancellation
It was agreed in Cologne by the Group of G8 to cancel USD 100 billion of debt for up to 36 countries. It is now more than 8 months since the G8 announced the initiative. But, out of 36 countries, only four were considered for some debt cancellation under the HIPC-II initiative. These countries were Uganda, Bolivia, Mauritania and Mozambique. The plan was to have 25 countries qualify for the initiative before the end of 2000.

The legacy of HIPC-I, and the many conditions attached to its use, have contributed to further complications and delays in the application of HIPC-II to the 25 countries. Jubilee 2000(UK) reports that the 25 countries were further reduced to 24 when Ghana, after heavy pressure from the Japanese government, was reported to have withdrawn itself from the initiative.

Jubilee 2000(UK) also reports that, of the 24, nine of had already completed what was required of them under HPIC-I and expected they would receive further relief under the HIPC-II initiative. But they could not because HIPC-II added even more conditions and they had to start the process all over again.

However this group of nine potential ‘immediate cases' was further reduced to eight when Guyana was removed after a dispute over public sector pay despite having been through the entire HIPC-I process once already.

2. More delays in the process
HIPC-II is responsible for the delays, because of its new conditionality. Eligible HIPC-II countries must now produce a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). It is a condition which is aimed at ensuring that the funds released go towards so called poverty reduction through the involvement of civil society. The World Bank drafted a Tool Kit for Governments assisting them in organizing participatory process for PRSPs. The document was made available on January 12, 2000.

Mozambique was dropped from the group mentioned as beneficiary of from HIPC II because it has delayed production of a PRSP.

In reality now there are only 3 countries expected to benefit from the HIPC-II initiative by the time of the Geneva 2000 meeting, one year after the G8 decision. Even by then the actual stock of debt will not be written off until completion point for Uganda and Bolivia is reached later this year. Mauritania will have to wait until 2002. In the meantime it is estimated that these three countries will gain a 35 per cent cut in their annual debt service payments.

What one envisages from this long process is a scenario of frustration from the HIPCs. If it takes one year to apply HIPC-II to only two countries, what does this mean to deal with the remaining 39 countries? The amount offered for relief will still be too little too late and new debt arrears will have been accumulated by these countries.

Furthermore, the HIPC-II changes from Cologne are likely to leave debtor countries paying on average 15-20% of their export earnings each year, (according to the IMF/World Bank Paper' modifications to the HIPC initiative, July 1999).

Jubilee 2000 NGO actions in Germany have campaigned for at least a 5% level of export earnings, as applied under an agreement in 1953, for Germany to apply to these countries. This proposal has not reached the G7 as yet.

3. Participation of the Civil Society is neglected
The HIPC-II requires that civil society should be included during the preparation of any PRSP. The reality has shown that governments in the South hesitate to include the civil society, either during Debt Sustainability Analyses or preparation of economic policies related to long term structures for indebtedness.

During the African People's Consensus meeting in Nairobi, in August 1999, the Uganda Debt Network reported that they were involved in the discussion with the government/World Bank and IMF-related Debt Sustainability Analysis Studies. They indicated the problem of too much paper work being given to NGOs in their final stages of the studies and the lack the civil society participation during the formulation stage of the studies. In other words the civil society was excluded during preparation of papers.

During the ‘Pan African NGOs meeting' at Lusaka, April 1999, cases for Mozambique, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Tanzania were raised. In all cases, there were concerns for more involvement of the civil society in formulating financial and economic policies.

Thus civil society is organising itself by not only limiting itself to the single issue of debt cancellation but the overall social economic strategy to solve this problem comprehensively.

There are several other such civil society initiatives looking for alternatives. During the November 1999 South-South Summit on Debt held in South Africa, stories of exclusion of civil society were shared. One story was:

"We had briefings from resident representatives of both World Bank and IMF. Then we had a briefing from our ministry of finance which has also given us interim 'Note on Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper process (PRSP) for HIPC Debt Relief' which has been prepared by our Government with no participation of civil society. We were further discouraged by a relaxed insistence from the World Bank representatives to pressurise the government on civil society participation in Tanzania which is in form of a Coalition on Debt and Development (TCDD) composed of 13 NGOs including churches, 26-1-2000 Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, meeting on participation of civil society in preparation of PRSP.

At the end of the day, we all agreed our efforts should be done under the Tanzanian Coalition on Debt and Development. Then five sectoral committees of represented NGOs were formed with named convenors:

  • Budgeting and macro-policy by Tanzania Gender Network Programme
  • Education by Tanzania Education Network Secretariat
  • Health by NGO Technical Aids Committee
  • Poverty Analysis by Institute of Development Studies (University of Dar es Salaam)
  • Food Security by Rural Food Security (University of Dar es Salaam)

    Those convenors deliberated with their group members in the following two weeks about which issues needed to be addressed, added, decuted or modified on the government note. Then, the PRSP Steering Committee and two representatives from each sectoral group met in February in Dar es Salaam to harmonise the reports into one position paper. In March they invited all NGOs (members and non-members of TCDD) to a Civil Society Forum in Dar es Salaam, to adopt the document as representative of Civil Society. They then approached the government and demanded to be included in the technical committee of PRSP not as consultants but as partners in development."

4. The Jubilee South position on DebtAs noted earlier, the G8 HIPC-II initiative was actually supported by some Jubilee 2000 campaign NGOs in the North. But Jubilee South (a coalition of NGOs, churches and civil society movements from over 43 countries in the South), in a number of their conferences, have rejected HIPC initiatives, particularly the continuous pressure they allow the North to put on the South through the conditions attached to HIPC, and other related ethnocentric economic and financial policies.

The Jubilee South has as their mission to confront the historical and structural causes of debt and to promote lasting alternatives of economic, social and ecological justice. They state their position thus:

"people of the South do not demand relief from the North but RESTITUTION and REPARATION for the profound economic, social, political, cultural and environmental damages wrought upon our countries and peoples through centuries of DEBT-RELATED colonisation and neo-colonisation".

Jubilee South believes that the South should now teach the North on this issue. Because of this a concerted effort by the ecumenical movement should be focused on:

  • creating awareness, by way of examples, of sustainable solutions to the current global financial crisis in which the debt problem is related.
  • The centres of financial and economic power in the North need to be confronted by the civil society and churches in the North because it is these powers which have led to impoverishment in poor countries on the one hand and accumulation of ecological debt on the other.
  • As for the South, their efforts should be born from, and contribute to, struggles of the peoples of the South for national and global transformation. The comprehensive solutions suggested by the South should be communicated to the G7 summit which will take place in Japan in July 2000.

    A statement by the WCC and the member churches could help influence the G7 2000 meeting.

    The position of the South is summarised by the following quotations:

    "...debt is one of the most important instruments of Northern domination on the South and the domination of financiers over people, production and nature everywhere. As part of our struggle to liberate ourselves from this bondage, we make demands for the cancellation of debts as part of a broader struggle to fundamentally transform the current world economic order." In sum we reject HIPC and the other current debt processes."
    (The Lusaka Declaration "Towards an African Consensus" on sustainable solutions to the Debt Problem: May 19-21,1999.)

    "We do not accept the Cologne debt initiative announced by G7 as a step towards the solution of the problem. We reject its insistence on maintaining HIPC conditionality and Structural Adjustment as prerequisites for debt cancellation. We also reject the increasing meddling of the IMF in the design and control of policies that control our lives"."
    (Buenos Aires Declaration, For Debt-Free Millennium, Latin America and Caribbean Jubilee 2000 Coalition, September 20-23,1999)

    "We demand unconditional immediate and total cancellation of third world debts beginning with odious and illegitimate debts and oppose the HIPC initiative as a grand scam, a self-servicing scheme to push HIPCs into further debt dependence."
    (Cebu Declaration: Break the Debt Cycle, Philippines-Asia Jubilee Campaign Against the Debt, May18, 1999.)

THE WTO'S THIRD MINISTERIAL ROUND IN DECEMBER 1999 IN SEATTLE

PEOPLE CALLED FOR ALTERNATIVES TO GLOBALISATION

Seattle, on the west-coast of the United States of America used to be synonymous with Microsoft and Boeing for business people around the world. However during the World Economic Forum this year in Davos, Switzerland, very few speakers referred to the two big companies whenever Seattle was mentioned, despite the fact that Bill Gates was one of the celebrities present.

But, after the spectacular failure of the WTO's Third Ministerial Round in December 1999 in Seattle, the name of the city has become a symbol for the resistance against corporate globalisation and the call for alternatives. In Seattle the fast running train of globalisation was forced to slow down.

New coalitions
The week of the WTO meeting in Seattle saw activities of a broad alliance of social movements, civil society groups, trade unionists, religious and peace activists, representatives of churches and church related organisations, and thousands of young people fed up with corporate globalisation. This alliance had developed in the protest against the Multinational Agreement on Investments (MAI) when the information on secret negotiations in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development was leaked and made public by some Non Governmental Organisations. As they prepared for the protest in Seattle, direct action groups and the worldwide alliances held hundreds of seminars, meetings and training workshops all around the world.

This movement gained strength as the Seattle meeting got closer. Even though the global media concentrated their cameras on the actions of a small number of hooligans and wreckers in Seattle, they could not undermine and destroy the credibility of the movement itself. Through many other channels of communication, the real story of victims of brutal police-violence in the streets of Seattle was shared around the globe.

Seattle was a success for the resistance movements against the negative effects of corporate globalisation. It is difficult to count all the events that were organised by representatives of Indigenous Peoples, farmers, the Jubilee South movement, Third World Network, Focus on the Global South or ecumenical organisations. The local ecumenical organisations hosted a number of them and did a wonderful job in supporting ecumenical guests. In many of the worships, panel discussions, workshops and seminars, the critique of the neo-liberal economic model was accompanied by the search for viable alternatives and new social and institutional arrangements that create a space for alternatives at local, national, regional and global levels.

Thousands of activists-turned-experts and specialists on trade and development in groups from every continent knew what they are talking about and what they wanted to achieve. They are not ignorant about the issues at stake. The experiences of people who will be affected by the decisions of the trade delegates, provides another perspective. The WTO fiasco in Seattle made clear that social movements and civil society group claim their space to contribute and shape the global agenda.

Success for the resistance against corporate globalisation

The public protest and good preparatory work by some southern NGOs, members of the Africa group and other states of the G77 (the caucus within the UN system of states from the South) has led to tangible results. G77 countries no longer accept their concerns being treated as secondary, compared to issues pushed by the USA, Europe and Japan. For the G77 countries US anti-dumping laws and the lack of implementation of those elements of agreements that would benefit them were high on the agenda. They also refused to simply accept results of so-called "Green Room" negotiations that used to take place behind closed doors for the majority of them. Transparency of WTO negotiations became a key-issue. As a group of Caribbean countries put it: "as long as due respect to the procedures and conditions of transparency, openness and participation that allow for adequately balanced results in respect of the interests of all members do not exist, we will not join the consensus to meet the objectives of this Ministerial Conference."

The USA and the European Union found themselves in a deadlock over trade in Genetically Modified Organisms, which draws strong opposition from citizens in Europe. The representative of the EU commission had already given in to US pressure on this matter in exchange for some concessions in the area of agriculture, when EU ministers of the environment called him to order. The ministers knew exactly what kind of protest they would face at home if they agreed to the deal.

At the end, Mike Moore, the Director-General of the WTO, and US chairperson, Charlene Barshevsky, had to admit they failed to reach agreement among delegates. The meeting did not produce a final declaration or even a word of thanks for the hosts.

Very few people would have predicted such an outcome when the whole discussion on a "Millennium Round" of the WTO started in 1998. This time, the USA and Europe could no longer impose their agenda on the other member states. This time, the voices calling for alternatives to globalisation made themselves heard

A word of caution

But a word of caution is also necessary. The new coalition that developed in the protest against the MAI is itself fragile and reflects the tensions between Northern and Southern perspectives and realities. Some of the Northern NGOs will not easily subscribe to the critical analyses of Prof. Walden Bello, of the Focus on the Global South, who proposed replacing the WTO with a reformed United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

"Fixing or Nixing the WTO" was the headline of an article in Le Monde Diplomatique written by Susan George of the Transnational Institute, in which she expressed her sympathy with Walden Bello's position.

A very critical issue for the alliance of northern and southern NGOs will also be their differences regarding social and environmental standards. While there is some agreement that the WTO is the wrong place to negotiate social and environmental standards that should not be re-enforced by trade sanctions, the issue as such is highly controversial. It became very clear at Seattle just how much US trade unions and environmental groups in fact played to the tune of US trade policies.

One of the major reasons for the anger of Southern governments at Seattle was President Clinton's straightforward call for labour standards in his Seattle speech. At that moment, Clinton had not realised the shift that had taken place and so still used the old script that reflected the US choreography for the meeting.

Social and environmental standards could become the breaking point of the movement if no new ways are found to respond to the concern that standards are only instruments to block market access in the North for products from the South.

Negotiations will continue

The WTO will continue with the negotiations on the review of the Agreements on Agriculture, Trade Related Property Rights (TRIPS), and some other issues that remain on the agenda.  

The WCC will continue to monitor the WTO negotiationsand focus on advocacy for the concerns of the poor and excluded.

The WCC Central Committee meeting in September 1999 confirmed the need to share information on the WTO and other major actors in the process of economic globalisation with WCC member churches and ecumenical partners.

AN ECUMENICAL SYMPOSIUM ON THE CONSEQUENCES OF ECONOMIC GLOBALISATION held in Bangkok, Thailand, 12-15 November 1999

The delegates of the WCC Eighth Assembly in Harare in1998 called the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) to join hands and work together in response to the challenge of globalisation. The Assembly referred to the decision of the 1997 WARC General Council to call for a process of confession concerning social injustice and environmental destruction as an important contribution by a World-communion that should find a positive response by the WCC.

Under this mandate, WARC and WCC together with the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), and the Asian Cultural Forum on Development (ACFOD) held a Symposium on the Consequences of Economic Globalisation, from 12 to 15 November 1999 in Bangkok (Thailand). It was attended by over 60 people from various sectors of society in Thailand and from 19 other countries, namely, Canada, China, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Uganda, and Vanuatu.

Participants of the Bangkok meeting drafted a number of messages to the major actors in the process of economic globalisation: to the Churches in the North, to the World Trade Organisation, to the International Monetary Fund and to Transnational Capital. Each message began with the same preface:

"Meeting here in Bangkok and coming from different countries in Asia and elsewhere, and comparing the experiences of our economies and people; listening to the stories and cries of farmers, women, Indigenous Peoples, fisher folk, the urban poor and slum dwellers of Thailand, and hearing similar stories from India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka; we are struck by the commonality of the consequences of debt and the globalisation of the economy on our societies and on nature."

One of the messages, however, is of specific interest to the churches. It is the message by Christians from the South who participated in the meetings to the churches in the North, urging them to take action:
"We are convinced that the time has come for a return to the fundamental and undiluted teachings of the gospel. It is time for all of us to make a choice: God or mamon, the one true God or the idolatry of wealth. We know that some churches in the North are very active in this regard and we feel strong solidarity with their actions. But the present situation invites us to stand up all together." 

MESSAGE TO CHURCHES IN THE NORTH

"As a Christian community, we are members of the same body of Christ; ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together with it' (1 Cor 12.26). According to the Reformed tradition, the economy is a social framework that is supposed to sustain life in community. However, today's economic order, promoted by neo-liberalism, contributes to dismantling community rather than sustaining it. We were convinced by the evidence presented to the symposium that many people - both Christian and non-Christian - are not only suffering, but being systemically excluded from the community. Many people in the South say that today's economy is intolerable and people in the North also say so. How can we justify the faith affirmation that we are one in Christ if more and more brothers and sisters are suffering and excluded?

Growing impoverishment, increasing inequality in income distributions, casualisation of cheap labour, feminisation of poverty, an increase in child labour and trafficking of children, and ecological destruction affecting the health and livelihood of the rural poor, were revealed by the symposium as concrete consequences of economic globalisation based on neo-liberalism. Moreover, poverty, suicide and increase of crimes have soared as a result of the Asian economic crisis and the International Monetary Fund intervention in response. The number of poor people in Thailand increased from 7 million in 1997 to an estimated 12 million in 1998, out of a total population of 63 million; the suicide rate also increased from 10 per 100'000 to 14 or 15 per 100'000, and the number of prisoners increased from 66'000 to 170'000. Ironically, even as the poor were terribly hit by the economic crisis, the percentage of national income in Thailand, Korea and the Philippines earned by the rich minority increased. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening due to the present trend of economic globalisation.

Next to the pain and suffering in the South, there are the threats in the North. We heard about poverty, coming back in even your richest societies; we received reports about environmental destruction also in your midst, and about alienation, loneliness and the abuse of women and children. And all that, while most of your churches are losing members. And we asked ourselves: is most of that not also related to being rich and desiring to become richer than most of you already are? Is there not in the western view of human beings and society a delusion, which always looks to the future and wants to improve it, even when it implies an increase of suffering in your own societies and in the South? Have you not forgotten the richness which is related to sufficiency? If, according to Ephesians 1, God is preparing in human history to bring everyone and everything under the lordship of Jesus Christ, his shepherd-king - God's own globalisation! - shouldn't caring for and sharing with each other be the main characteristic of our lifestyle, instead of giving fully in to the secular trend of a growing consumerism?

What has happened to our common faith in God, in Christ, and the church universal? What has happened to the basic teaching of common stewardship and Christian solidarity with the suffering neighbour?

We are convinced that the time has come for a return to the fundamental and undiluted teachings of the gospel. It is time for all of us to make a choice: God or mammon, the one true God or the idolatry of wealth. We know that some churches in the North are very active in this regard and we feel strong solidarity with their actions. But the present situation invites us to stand up all together.

We call for concrete acts of solidarity to alleviate the massive suffering in our nations in the North and in the South.

We call for urgent action on your part to address your governments and the institutions that are designing and implementing the present globalisation project.

We call for study of the current economic system and its consequences in our midst, in the light of our common faith in Jesus Christ, the Saviour, who showed us caring and sharing as members of God's family.

Economic injustice is a violation of the basic tenets of our common faith. We call on you to join us in confessing that the economy is a matter of faith."

MESSAGE TO THE WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION

"We note that the trade liberalisation policies pursued by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) contributed significantly to the following results:

1. Growing impoverishment and discontent among the majorities of people in these countries.

2. Increasing inequality in income distribution within countries, which is masked by the economic statistics that indicate economic recovery, but do not show how the urban poor and rural communities were pushed even further into misery and despair, carrying the burden instead of the affluent sectors of society and business.

3. Feminisation of poverty as demonstrated in Korea and Thailand, the increased exploitation of child labour and sex trafficking of children, casualisation of labour as in Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

4. Accelerated destruction of environment and ecological systems particularly affecting livelihood and health of the rural poor and threatening the food security of countries as a whole, as in the case of small fisher folk and small farmers of Thailand.

5. Trade liberalisation exacerbates the culture of consumerism and threatens the very survival of the extremely precious, diverse and ancient cultures and religions of the Asian region.

We also note that the WTO is essentially dominated by the US and other industrial countries. The rules and standards applied by the organisation are biased against developing countries and the poor, which despite their majority in number, have little say.

Imposing US American concepts, e.g., intellectual property rights, legal systems, and accounting regulations, will lead to the death of diversity, which in fact is the source of life for the future survival of our global community.

In its forthcoming Ministerial Round in Seattle (30 November to 3 December 1999), we strongly urge the WTO to:

1. Respect the economic sovereignty of all nations (states and peoples). They must have the right to determine the level and type of their integration into the global economy.

2. Recognise and respect the non-reciprocal character of trade relationships between developed and developing countries.

3. Respect international instruments for environmental protection and the rights of Indigenous Peoples to maintain their way of life in their natural environment.

4. Impose a moratorium on the further expansion of the powers and activities of the WTO in order to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the impact of its activities, including the possibility of dissolving the WTO."

MESSAGE TO THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND

1. "You have gone beyond your original tasks, which were formulated originally in terms of assistance to countries with balance of payments problems. Most people perceive your role now as being a master rather than a facilitator, interfering with legitimate national policies. Also you do not really honour the UN human rights instruments, including the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which we see as compulsory pre-conditions for all your activities. You sometimes legitimate your policies by speaking about "necessary sacrifices" which is in fact a term with religious significance which we totally reject; never can the suffering of the poor be accepted as a means or tool to contribute to the success of the economy. By imposing structural adjustment programmes on countries, you hijack governments' accountability to their own people while you yourselves are accountable to no one.

2. Looking at the consequences of the Asian crisis in general and the role of your policies in particular, the strong impression we have is that you see signs of economic recovery, but underestimate the sufferings of the people and their communities and the ongoing destruction of the environment by the over-exploitation of mother earth. There was a deep concern that by stimulating economic growth in the modern sector alone, resources are used to feed the process of a growing consumerism, while basic needs remain unfulfilled.

3. Necessary renewal asks for respect for the principle that every culture is entitled to have and to develop its own economic system. We remind you that the concept of Jubilee as it can be found in the Bible links the real renewal of the economy with the willingness to make the basic resources of life (land and capital) available to all, and not only to the privileged. The Washington consensus is bulldozing all other cultures, creating a consumerist attitude and taking away the life of agricultural communities.

We advise you strongly to try to regain the respect of those who are now deeply afflicted, and not to see them as obstacles for reaching your own objectives."

MESSAGE TO TRANSNATIONAL CAPITAL

"Transnational Capital is the culprit behind the economic crisis now engulfing Southeast Asia and other parts of the world.

Transnational capital, seeking rapid profits, arrived in and left the region with equal suddenness, leaving host countries to deal with unmanageable consequences. Governments were left with no choice but to bite the bitter pill imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, a medicine that has proved ineffective in solving the problems in Russia, Brazil and Mexico. These failed policies should be stopped.

We therefore propose that the following measures should be undertaken and the institutions and authorities concerned should implement concrete actions.

1. Government has a duty to protect the space in which local cultures and economies can flower. It therefore should be allowed to protect people-controlled financial and savings institutions from interference by Transnational Capital.

2. Workers should ensure that the capital invested by their pension and provident funds should not be used to harm other workers.

3. Government and local companies should monitor and regulate the entry and exit of Transnational Capital.

4. There should be limits to the share of local companies that Transnational Capital should be allowed to acquire.

5. Transnational Capital and government authorities should be accountable for the damage they do to the countries (unemployment, ecology, etc).

6. Transnational Capital should not aim solely for profit through the financial markets, but should be involved in developing the local economy. In particular, Transnational Capital should not be allowed to withdraw suddenly.

7. The hegemony of the US Dollar and everything it stands for should be challenged.

8. Healthy companies should not be sold to foreign companies in order to be closed."

Text of a letter sent by the general secretaries of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches at the conclusion of the meeting:

Geneva, 26 January 2000

Dear friends,

We wish you a blessed and hopeful New Year and new millennium.

We have been looking forward to a more just and peaceful world as we enter into the third millennium of our era. Unfortunately, however, signs of the times are not quite positive. Ongoing violence, injustice, exclusion and erosion of nature are likely to prevail in the world.

As people's reaction to the WTO conference in Seattle last November showed clearly, one of the concerns which worries many is neo-liberal globalisation. The present globalisation is not simply related to the economic dimension. Willingly and unwillingly, it is also related to all problematic aspects of our life like violence, ethnic conflicts, ecological destruction, social conflicts, culture of merciless competition.

Both the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches have studied this question from a faith perspective over the last several years, and our ongoing commitment has been affirmed by our respective General Assembly or Council meetings.

Under this mandate, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches, together with the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), and the Asian Cultural Forum on Development (ACFOD) held a Symposium on the Consequences of Economic Globalisation, from 12 to 15 November 1999 in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Symposium was attended by over 60 people from various sectors of society in Thailand and 19 other countries, namely Canada, China, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Uganda and Vanuatu.

We would like to share with you the enclosed message drafted by the participants in the Symposium, hoping that you take it seriously in your work related to this issue.

The meeting focused on the Asian Crisis and its international roots. While recognizing that the economies affected by the crisis had structural and managerial weaknesses, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) severely aggravated the crisis by imposing its own economic ideology. The governments in the region did not feel able to resist, apart from Malaysia.

IMF policies emanate from the world's most powerful economies (the G7 countries). The meeting noted in particular that IMF prescriptions served not only to ensure that foreign creditors' interests were defended above all others, but also that the measures rendered the countries more defenseless for the future.

Furthermore, it was clear that IMF policies had failed to restore the health of economies affected, notwithstanding the appearance of recovery. The participants were concerned that the figures indicating recovery do not properly reflect reality. They are averages that only measure part of the economic activities in a given society.

Listening to the witnesses from seven sectors in Thailand - Children, Women, Workers, Slum Dwellers, Indigenous Peoples, Small Fisher Folk, and Peasants - and of participants coming from the various Asian countries, we realise that official statistics ignore the people driven to the margins of society and beyond.

People, especially women, were ousted from the labour market altogether. Suicides increased, children suffered from malnutrition at the expense of their future development.

The IMF policies have led to a widening gap between rich and poor with the poor paying the costs for everyone. Witnesses from Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines showed that during the crisis, the poor got poorer whilst only some people got richer.

The Buddhist and Christian perspectives shared in the meeting brought out not only that people of different religious faiths need to be concerned, but that they have specific proposals to make. The meeting produced different messages addressed to the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, transnational capital, churches in the North, as well as religious communities, civil society and the authorities in Thailand.

Both the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches are seriously concerned about the current trend of neo-liberal economic globalisation and its serious consequences.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Milan Opocenský
General Secretary
World Alliance of Reformed Churches

Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser
General Secretary
World Council of Churches