Notes for presentation to General Synod on Globalization
I am honoured to be invited by the EcoJustice committee to speak to you today because I wholeheartedly identify with its mission "to pursue vigorously the church's commitment to the integrity of God's creation."
In this age of globalization, the pursuit of ecological integrity and the pursuit of economic justice are intimately inter-related. Indeed the very words ecology and economy share a common Greek root referring to the care of our home or household. Thus ecology refers not just to the study of the natural environment around us but to caring for "our home - its nature, rules, and how we fit into it."
The classic definition of economics is "management of the household." Today it is imperative that we realize that our home includes the entire earth community. Our role as caretakers of our household implies taking responsibility for all the ways we impact on nature.
The intimate link between ecological devastation and social injustice has been graphically summed up by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, "One of the most visible signs of apartheid is the existence of black townships. Go into any of them and you will immediately experience the connection between injustice and the environment - by the smell."
At a recent theological forum sponsored by the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, David White a member of the Walpole Island first nation told us that in his peoples' tradition the Creator gives us instructions through the natural environment.
Some 800 years ago the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart expressed a similar insight. He said we should "apprehend God in all things for God is in all things. Every creature is full of God and is a book about God."
What message then do receive today from the Creator when we witness human induced deforestation, declining fish stocks, species extinction and climate change all around us?
Is the Creator not calling us to conversion - to amend our wasteful and destructive habits; to take only our share; to clean up our pollution and to harmonize our economic practices with ecological sustainability.
In theological terms this call to conversion is a call to restore right relationships. This is at the heart of Jubilee theology.
Rosemary Radford Ruether says Jubilee is a process through which "human society regains its right [ecological and social] relationships and starts afresh."
The Jubilee is all about the restoration of right relationships:
Consider for a moment just how distorted our social relationships have become:
In fact there are many globalizations. Globalization is not only economic - it also has political, technological, cultural and even spiritual dimensions.
The issue is not whether we are experiencing too little or too much globalization but the wrong kind of globalization.
As Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes writes "We do not accept a globalization that only universalizes misery."
Presently we have an increasingly globalized economy but we do not yet have a global society which allows for truly global citizenship. Right now, the globalization we have favours investors, making it easier for them to move their money about. What we lack is a more democratic variation in which ordinary citizens are the chief actors and beneficiaries.
Although there are many definitions of globalization, I propose to cite one from an executive of a global corporation who says "I would define globalization as the freedom for my group of companies to invest where it wants, when it wants, to produce what it wants, to buy and sell where it wants, and support the fewest restrictions possible coming from labour laws and social conventions."
What then are the consequences of having the fewest restrictions possible from labour laws and social conventions?
One consequence is an increasing exploitation of low-wage labour - especially of women. A team of Canadian church leaders recently visited some of the factories located on the Mexico-US border known as maquiladoras. These factories assemble products for the North American market and now employ 1.3 million workers - the majority of whom are women.
Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect in 1994 the real purchasing power of the wages these women earn has fallen by almost one half. A member of that inter-church delegation Archbishop Morgan of Saskatoon testifies that he witnessed a level of poverty in Ciudad Juarez that left him "in turmoil" … and that "to open up the Americas to more free trade is to open them up to a level of exploitation we have never known before." A worker makes just $95 a month "scarcely enough to buy a jug of milk a day and little else."
"A water truck comes once a week to fill their barrels and if that runs out they have to buy their water."
Another consequence of the kind of globalization we now experience is environmental: it is exacerbating the exhaustion of natural resources - soil nutrients, forests, groundwater, hydrocarbons - rather than preserving them for future generations. This kind of globalization violates the wisdom of native peoples who say we must learn to plan for the needs of seven generations yet to be born.
Another consequence of the wrong kind of globalization is the universalization of North American consumer culture:
A recent survey of 7,500 youth in the Asia-Pacific region asked them to name their favourite food and drink. The majority of respondents in 7 of the nine sub-regions - Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan all gave the same answer: McDonald's and Coca-Cola. Only youth from Malaysia and Thailand differed. They named Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pepsi.
I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi's wise words: "I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."
At its very worst globalization involves an accelerated traffic in women and children for sexual exploitation. 500,000 women and girls a year are brought into Western Europe alone - one of the most despicable violation of human rights.
The ideology behind this form of globalization is called Neo-liberalism
It presumes the only way to organize the multiple interdependencies of the global system is according to market principles;
It translates into a scenario whereby not much can be decided by the political process because when all is left up to the markets, it's one dollar one vote rather than one person one vote;
It leads to the TINA syndrome - thinking that There Is No Alternative.
In fact there are many ways to organize interdependence - Our slogan should be not TINA but TAMA - There Are Many Alternatives.
Public authorities must intervene when free markets fail to provide sustenance for all or harm the environment.
How do we live out our Jubilee vision of restoring right relationships in this kind of world?
Through the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative we have already made a start.
It would be false modesty not to acknowledge the success we have already had.
The Jubilee debt campaign mobilized over 640,000 Canadian signatures and 24 million worldwide on the petition to cancel the unjust debts of low income countries which Archbishop Ndungane of Cape Town rightly denounces as a form of slavery.
The Jubilee debt campaign was a mobilization success without a corresponding policy response.
We had 2 demands - cancel the debt of low-income countries and end Structural Adjustment Policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank
So far the Cologne Debt Initiative announced by the Group of Seven leading industrial countries has led to the cancellation of only about 8% of the debt of all low-income countries. This involves US$34 billion worth of debt for 22 countries.
Like the persistent widow in the Gospel story we refuse to give up.
Since the Cologne G7 Summit the international Jubilee movement has grown and matured. Leadership now comes increasingly from Southern countries directly affected.
Our Southern partners emphasize the illegitimacy of their debts.
Debts are illegitimate when their payment denies sustenance to the poor;
when they were contracted by despotic regimes and used to buy weapons to repress the people; or when the loans were stolen;
or when they accrued due to the compounding of interest payments after Northern countries unilaterally raised interest rates to usurious levels in the 1980s.
What our Southern partners are demanding now is that developing countries' debts be audited through a fair and transparent process so that illegitimate debts would be identified and cancelled.
This is reminiscent of Archbishop Ndungane's call at the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops for "an independent arbitration process, a ... procedure that will ensure that creditors no longer call all the shots when countries run into difficulties."
Our second demand for an end Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank is based on two decades of experience with the failure of these programs to bring the prosperity their advocates promise;
The logic of SAPs goes like this
Poverty reduction occurs mainly through economic growth.
Economic growth in turn mainly results from policies to attract private investment such as control of inflation through tight monetary policy (i.e. high interest rates); free trade; freedom for investors to move capital in and out of a country at will; privatization of public services; and restraints on public spending.
But what is the actual record of countries where these policies stringently applied for 20 years?
Even when judged on their own narrow criterion of promoting economic growth, SAPs have not been effective. In one study, 77% of countries undergoing structural adjustment saw their per capita rate of growth fall significantly over a twenty year period.
The following story about an encounter between Julius Nyerere the former President of Tanzania and officials from the World Bank makes the point eloquently:
In 1998, at the dusk of the century and of his own life, Julius Nyerere met with top-level staff at the World Bank in Washington. This champion of African unity had governed Tanzania for twenty years, from its independence until 1985, and had applied a policy based on communitarian agriculture, social property and self-determination.
"Why have you failed ?", the World Bank experts asked him.
Nyerere answered :
"The British Empire left us a country with 85% illiterates, two engineers and twelve doctors. When I left office, we had nine per cent illiterates and thousands of engineers and doctors. I left office thirteen years ago. Then our income per capita was twice what it is today; now we have one third less children in our schools and public health and social services are in ruins. During these thirteen years, Tanzania has done everything that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have demanded."
And Julius Nyerere passed the question back to the World Bank experts:
"Why have you failed?"
Closely related to issues of structural adjustment are those of international investment and trade agreements.
On the occasion of the recent Summit of the Americas in Quebec City Canadian church leaders issued a statement which articulates a theological basis for our work in international trade:
"The God who gives life calls us to share in responsibility for all of life. Our linked continents were created to be a true home for communities of life, interconnected and mutually supportive. This purpose of the Creator should be echoed in every human law and policy. Trade in goods and services can be a life-sustaining dimension of human sharing or it can exacerbate inequalities if it is carried out on unequal terms.
In the spirit of the radical Jubilee proclaimed in the Hebrew scriptures, in response to Jesus who invites us to extend Jubilee to the ends of the earth, we believe that the new millennium can see human societies move towards equality and justice. We are not doomed to recycle old wrongs! Our peoples need policies that restore right relationships, preserve responsible communities, shrink economic inequalities, and allow space for all of creation to flourish in its diversity."
[cited from "Just Trade, not just trade" - background paper prepared by the Canadian Council of Churches prior to the Quebec Summit.]
A simple story from Dom Helder Camera illustrates why increased trade is not always good for the people.
In the mid seventies the price of sugar skyrocketed to 64 cents a pound and it looked as though the impoverished North East of Brazil might finally derive some benefit.
But a group of women came to Dom Helder with a complaint "Now the sugar is coming right up to the door."
What they meant was that previously they had been able to plant vegetable gardens around their huts to supplement their husbands' meagre earnings from cutting cane.
When the price went up the landowners took away these plots and planted sugar literally up to the door resulting in greater hunger and privation.
This story illustrates how more trade, even better prices for exports, is not enough if people are not empowered to share in the gains.
Why did so many of us join in the Quebec protests?
Free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas promote an economic model that benefits only a small minority while excluding the majority. These agreements expedite the vast chains of production and distribution that constitute the new global economy. National economies - and the employment and buying power they create for ordinary citizens - are deemed of secondary importance. In this strange new world, a country's "economy" can be said to be doing well while ordinary citizens experiences poverty and exclusion.
While these agreements are nominally about "trade" they are, in fact, primarily about investment. For every dollar worth of goods and services that crosses borders in world trade, transnational corporations produce another two dollars abroad through their overseas subsidiaries.
While these foreign investments create some jobs, the transnationals employ only a relatively small proportion of the world's workers pushing aside local enterprises and leaving millions of people marginalized. The 200 largest transnational corporations have sales equivalent to 28% of world economic activity, but they employ less than one percent of the global workforce - 0.78% to be precise.
What is particularly disturbing is the way in which certain provisions of the investment chapter in NAFTA (known as the investor-state provisions) have given foreign corporations the ability to sue national governments to seek compensation for virtually any action that might decrease their expected profits. Transnational corporations have used NAFTA's investor-state provisions to challenge a variety of measures designed to protect human health and the environment.
There 16 known cases so far. Here I cite just 1 example orally while the text of my talk contains 2 others.
Sun Belt Water Inc. is suing Canada for a refusal by the British Columbia government to issue a permit to allow the export of bulk water from that province.
Methanex Corporation, based in British Columbia, makes chemical compounds from methanol. The company is seeking almost a billion dollars in damages from the United States government in compensation for a California order to phase out the use of its gasoline additive, MBTE, that is believed to be a cause of cancer. The state of California is concerned that MBTE is leaking from storage tanks and is contaminating groundwater and well water.
Metalclad is a US-based a waste-disposal company that began building a dump in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi without receiving approval from the local municipality. The State Governor ordered the site closed down after a geological audit showed the facility would contaminate the local water supply. Metalclad sued for damages under NAFTA's investment chapter and the tribunal ordered Mexico to pay Metalclad US$17 million in compensation.
This particular case and other similar ones challenge governments' normal regulatory powers. These cases are particularly disturbing because of their implications for the ability of governments to safeguard human health and the environment. They also pose an enormous challenge to the democratic process by enabling corporations to veto national, provincial or municipal regulations.
Another way in which international trade agreements threaten social well being if through their services' chapters.
Public education, health care and water services are endangered by negotiations for "free trade in services". Private firms view health care as a US$3.5 trillion global industry, education as a US$2 trillion investment opportunity and water services as worth another US$800 billion.
When education, health care, water are treated as tradable services that should be distributed according to the logic of the market the best and sometimes the only services are made available to the wealthy while the poor are left with inferior services or none at all.
When water privatization makes water less accessible, the immediate impact falls most heavily on women and children.
Worldwide more than five million people, mostly children, die every year from illnesses caused by drinking unclean water. By 2025, two-thirds of the world will not have access to clean water.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are making water privatization, and removal of subsidies for distribution to the poor, conditions for their Structural Adjustment loans. During the year 2000 alone these conditions were imposed on 12 countries - mostly small, poor African nations.
The people of Ghana have formed a National Coalition Against Water Privatization to resist World Bank plans to compel Ghana to privatize water in order to gain access to soft loans. Five multinational corporations have bid for the urban water service in Accra where some poor families are paying up to half their daily wage for just 10 buckets of water.
Access to food, clean water, education, health care ... are fundamental rights and the rules of international commerce must give priority to fulfilling these needs
Before his journey to Mexico Archbishop Morgan said he had an "exotic view of human rights." Now "I think it's about food, water, health and education."
In their pastoral letter released on the occasion of the Quebec Summit Canadian church leaders affirm:
"Commitments made under the UN Declaration of Human Rights and other internationally recognized agreements on labour and environmental protection must take precedence over investors' rights as inscribed in trade agreements. Indeed, the test of any economic integration agreement is the degree to which it meets the needs of all citizens."
Are the activities of churches, faith communities, public interest organizations and other members of 'civil society' having an effect?"
They certainly are. The defeat of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment which contained provisions similar to the Investment chapter of NAFTA just discussed was a significant turning point.
Even the staid British magazine The Economist which is not known for having radical views acknowledges that "The protesters are right that the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time is Third World poverty. And they are right that the tide of 'globalization', as powerful as the engines driving it may be, can be turned back."
If Time permits
I want to refer to just one more issue that is being shaped international trade agreements although it has very little to do with trade per se. However, it is an issue that brings us back to a theme that I broached at the beginning of this talk - our concern for all of Creation and the particular wisdom of aboriginal peoples.
One little known aspect of trade and investment agreements is their chapters on what are called Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPs for short. These agreements govern ownership of such things as patents, copyrights and trademarks.
In today's world biotechnology is becoming one of the most significant forces in the fields of science, commerce and agriculture. When new biotechnology discoveries are patented they become the property of seed companies or pharmaceutical firms.
However, these intellectual property rights pose a serious threat to indigenous communities when they appropriating traditional knowledge without native peoples' consent.
In a practice known as "bioprospecting" corporations send agents into indigenous and farming communities to "discover" "new" crop varieties or herbal medicines. They do not just collect plant, animal and micro-organism specimens. Bioprospectors also gather DNA samples from humans. They often seek remote populations or tribal groups that may show signs of immunity to particular diseases or have other unique traits.
A leader of a remote indigenous community in Colombia spoke to me passionately about the violation of his people's rights by bioprospectors who took blood samples from his people without informing them that these samples were to be used for genetic research leading to the patenting of any discoveries.
Corporations that own these patent rights then charge exorbitant fees for products based on the information they patent. They may even forbid farmers to replant seeds grown from varieties they have patented.
The takeover and patenting of the knowledge of the poor by global corporations is doubly offensive. It creates a situation where the poor have to pay for the use of the seeds or the medicines they themselves evolved and passed on freely from generation to generation.
One notorious example is the US patent on basmati rice won by a Texas company, Rice Tec Inc., in 1997. As Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva, observes, "Global law has enshrined the patriarchal myth of creation to create new property rights to life forms just as colonialism used the myth of discovery as the basis for the takeover of the land of others as colonies. Humans do not create forms when they manipulate it. Rice Tec's claim that it has made 'an instant invention of a novel rice line'... denies the creativity of nature ... and the prior innovation of the Third World communities. ... When patents are granted for seeds and plants, as in the case of basmati, theft is defined as creation, and saving and sharing seed is defined as theft of intellectual property. Corporations which have broad patents on crops such as cotton, soybean, mustard are suing farmers for seed saving and hiring detective agencies to find out if farmers have saved seed or shared it with neighbours... Sharing and exchange, the basis of our humanity and of our ecological survival has been defined as a crime."
Rodney Bobiwash a member of the Nishnawbe Aski nation from Northern Ontario observes that "every time [a global seed company like] Monsanto takes a seed [from indigenous communities] they deny 1000 generations of agricultural history."
Bobiwash declares "genetic researchers collect the genetic information of Original Peoples.... [They] offer back the most minute portion of what they have stolen. We call for an international moratorium on bio-prospecting and genetic piracy until there are sufficient protections for our full and informed participation in all aspects of this endeavour… The theft of our cultural property, our sacred knowledge is the theft of our identity and autonomy.
International and state bodies alike must move forward on the drafting of ... legislation that will guarantee the safeguarding of indigenous cultural property."
I will close with a final citation from Rodney Babiwash because he eloquently ties together the link between spirituality, ecology and commerce. Speaking on behalf of native peoples everywhere Babiwash says:
"in practicing our spirituality we assert our relationship with the earth in a way which challenges the right of ... companies to exploit her. In guarding our traditional knowledge we deny the right of pharmaceutical companies to monopolize the benefit of the medicines given us [by the Creator] for the healing of humankind."
Indeed native peoples' belief that all the gifts of the Creator must be conserved, cared for and shared with all humankind sums up the essence of our Jubilee theology.
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