Towards a Human Rights based Market Economy?
Defining a new role for Non-Governmental Human Rights Organizations.
Some Reflections on the sell out of the UN to the Transnational Corporations.
Dakar. February 2008.
More than 25 000 people die daily because their right to survive is not guaranteed and enforced by the states, particularly in poor third world countries. The most basic of all human rights, that is the right to be free from poverty, is ignored by most governments. This is primarily caused by growing power of Transnational Corporations (TNCs). They do not only control the government of the most powerful country in the world, viz. the USA, but they influence most governments in the world as well as the international institutions of the UN. The growing gap between countries and within nations is growing and lead to instability, wars and increased mortality, especially among infants and children under five. Since 9/11 the USA aggressively promotes a freedom ideology, which it defines as freedom for the TNCs. The Monterrey Consensus brought public aid institutions in line with the policies of free trade, which henceforth was to be packaged as an integral part of democracy and human rights. The economies of the world are slowly but surely being incorporated within the economic interests of the USA and its TNCs. The author demonstrates how the so-called free media of the industrialized countries of the West protects big business from the objective and democratic interests of the people. While recognizing the importance of economic growth for development, it can only be sustained within the framework of human rights principles, guaranteeing the equal protection of everybody from poverty and preventable diseases.
This guarantee is not likely to be forthcoming neither from the United Nations, nor from any of the democracies led by the USA. Only the people themselves can defend their right to survive, which presumes their right to be free from poverty. The analysis proposes a significant role for non-governmental human rights organizations.
On Dec. 31, 2005 Exxon Mobil’s Lee Raymond retired from his posts as the company’s Chairman and CEO. As a reward for a very long and distinguished career, he received a retirement package of US$ 400 million and a number of other benefits; including access to an executive Jet and one million dollars a year for making himself available as a consultant, in case he should be needed. In total his retirement remuneration is equivalent to US$ 141.000 a day or about US $ 6000 per hour, as per calculation by abc News. At the same time as Exxon rewarded Mr. Raymond for his services, it donated a more modest amount to the work of a UN agency in Equatorial Guinea. With a view to support girls education in that country Exxon Mobil generously donated US$ 400.000. Yes, Mr. Lee had indeed had a distinguished career. Since his employment with EXXON he became its president in1987 and CEO since 1993. When Lee Raymond retired on 31 Dec. 2005, he had made the company into the world’s largest business with more than US$ 377 billion revenue in 2006. He had successfully overcome the world’s largest oil spill disaster in Alaska caused by the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, when it spilled more than 30 million gallons of oil, causing the death of thousands of wildlife animals and fish. He had also successfully bought Exxon Mobil’s influence with the White House with the largest contribution to the Republican Party election campaign which assured the presidency of George W. Bush. During the 2000 presidential election cycle, Exxon Mobil’s contribution came to US$ 1.376 million, according to Greenpeace’s website. During his time working for Exxon and later for the merged Exxon Mobil, Mr. Lee did everything possible to ensure that the corporation for which he was responsible would excel regardless of which calamities it may cause for mankind.
His company did everything possible to prevent the international community from establishing standards to stop global warming. In 1998 at a meeting at the American Petroleum Institute, in which Exxon was a participant, Lee Raymond proposed a strategy of providing “logistical and moral support” to climate change dissenters, “thereby raising questions about and undercutting the ‘prevailing scientific wisdom.’ “And that’s just what Exxon Mobil has done: lavish grants have supported a sort of alternative intellectual universe of global warming skeptics.” Through Raymond’s chairmanship of Exxon, he bombarded the media with disinformation about global warming through financial support of numerous pseudo-scientists, including virtually all right wing Think Tanks, each one of which contributed to spreading disinformation detrimental to global sustainability . Lee Raymond of Exxon Mobil became the father of a denial industry, claiming that the science on global warming is inconclusive, writes George Monbiot in the Guardian Weekly . Lee Raymond thus ‘helped’ to set the world back at least one decade. During Lee Raymond’s time as head of Exxon, his Corporation increased financial support to many right wing Think Tanks. Mr. Raymond was particularly fond of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) of which he is still the vice President. The efforts of Exxon (Mobil) during the reign of Mr. Raymond to buy support paid off. Immediately, when George W. Bush took over the presidency of the USA the Kyoto protocol of the UN on measures to curb global warming was effectively shelved because of the resistance of the US government to ratify it.
I have chosen to open this analysis of the influence of TNCs on world affairs and governance with this brief reference to the distinguished career of Exxon Mobil’s Lee Raymond, because it shows us the power of the TNCs over national governments. He has demonstrated to the world what money can buy and how financial power can buy political influence to the detriment of the welfare of the international community, by bringing to a halt or slow down effectively the work of the international institutions, such as the UN and its agencies. The adverse impact on effective functioning of the UN by TNCs (TNC) such as Exxon Mobil is – moreover – being reinforced by the strategic interests of the USA, which is after all the only unchallenged global power. With the largest economy in the world, its GDP was about $ 13.2 trillion in 2006 thus producing more than 27 % of all products and services in the world. Through its control of the world’s oceans, it has the capacity to control militarily all international trade flowing through these oceans. The USA has one overarching interest, i.e. to ensure that it remains the world largest economic power with its businesses having access to all markets of the planet. To ensure this it will at all times try to use its military power to prevent any other country or group of countries to become a competing force. For this reason the USA seeks to prevent establishment of coalitions which could threaten its world hegemony. From this it follows that the USA has an interest in controlling the United Nations and preventing that countries use that institution as an instrument to contain its global power and interest. In an analysis of the present kind, which aims at presenting the inherent conflict between two trends of globalization, i.e. the promotion of free market policies on one hand and on the other hand the encouragement of human rights principles, references will obviously have to be made repeatedly to the USA.
“Through economic globalization, the structures of trade and finance are increasingly widening the gap between the rich and the poor, posing threats to global peace and to the earth. “ (World Council of Churches)
As I began to reflect on the contents of this essay, I recall three events, which have motivated me to reflect on the role and impact of the UN on the course of world events. Firstly, I recall the warning words of one of my senior UN colleagues, when I was the head of a UN country office in central Africa: You do not oppose the Americans. This ‘warning’ advice was uttered when I had advised the Government of Equatorial Guinea in 2005 on which partnership approach to adopt when aiming at improving the welfare for its children and their families: The one which the government had agreed upon since 2004 with one of the Funds of the UN, or one which had been proposed by the US State Department with support from the trans-national oil corporations, including Exxon Mobil. According to the US Charge d’Affaire, pressure had been made upon the government of Equatorial Guinea by the White House to give priority to a bi-lateral partnership with the USaid, rather than to the one already signed with the UN. The second recollection which came to my mind was the acceptance speech by the British author Harold Pinter at the Nobel Price Ceremony in 2005 . While he appealed to the world to always search for the truth, he concluded with many examples taken from the post second world war period that “The Crimes of the US have been constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a clinical manipulation of power worldwide, while masquerading as a force of universal good”, promoting freedom and human rights for the oppressed. The third event, which inspired me to proceed with the present essay, illustrates Pinter’s reference to the USA as a ‘force of universal good’. It came with the announcement that billionaire Buffet had contributed $ 37 billion to the Gates Foundation. With his donation in 2006, Mr. Buffett was quoted as saying that “Life has dealt a terrible hand to literally billions of people around the world…….” Mr. Buffett did not seem to realize that it was because of the policies of the USA that he had been able to accumulate wealth beyond his personal needs and that this accumulation had taken place at the cost of lives mostly in the poorer countries of the world, but also at home in his own USA.
Structure of present analysis
On the pages that follow, we will show the causal link between the policies of the USA in the area of trade and foreign affairs and the widening disparity among nations and within nations. We will argue that the activities and influence of TNCs, of which the largest ones are USA based, prevent the United Nations from carrying out its mission and moreover that the media keep a slur over the exploitative nature of these same corporations. The combined result of this is the daily death of 25 000 people, including children.
In the present essay we pursue a number of questions relevant to our analysis of the weakening position and impact of the UN on the direction which the world is taking today. In our search for answers to the questions raised we will particularly look into how the USA positions itself globally after the attack on 11. 9. 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Secondly we will assess the influence of TNCs on the behaviour of governments in general and in particular that of the USA. We will in that context also look at some of the instruments applied by these private corporations to influence public policy. Following this analysis we will take a closer look at why the UN has difficulties implementing its mission, while it seeks to adapt its behaviour to various sponsors. Finally, we will look at the role of a particular group of the TNCs namely those doing business with news and entertainment, since the way they impart and present the events of the world and particularly the behaviour of the TNCs will has a direct bearing on how the public position itself in the context of global politics and events. At the very end of this essay, we propose how civil society under the leadership of courageous NGOs can turn the ship around and create a new and better world for all.
Part I. USA: Global Policy Maker and Watchdog.
The fall of the Iron Curtain.
One would have expected that the growing globalization of commerce and communication would provide the United Nations with unique tools to advance its mission of promotion of peace and stability necessary for eradication of poverty wherever it exists and for protection of the rights of all peoples against violation of their humanity and right to development through health, education and other social interventions. But observations clearly show that this has not been the case. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain which symbolically indicated the collapse of communism in 1992 with the disintegration of the USSR, the number of countries in war has increased. In Africa, the under five child mortality, has stagnated or deteriorated in a significant number of countries.
Until the end of the cold war in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, the United Nations (UN) had made good progress in the world towards its mission. The UN was in general accepted as the global leader in terms of promoting a just world with equal opportunities for development of all peoples to fulfill their economic, social and political rights on basis of the principles of democracy and human rights. The fall of the Iron Curtain was seen by many as a failure of the principles of central government planning and regulation. The Government of the USA saw this as an almost divine sign to promote and to a large extent impose its type of government administration and ideology on the world in its entirety. Although the concept of ‘Government’ gradually became a bad word, US Government continue to seize any opportunity to aggressively impose its will and interest on any country in the world which did not already satisfy its cherished principles of freedom. The words of Woodrow Wilson have long been forgotten, when he in 1915 said that “No nation is fit to sit in judgment on any other nation.” On the surface the USA has made it appear as if it is a greater advocate for democracy and human rights than the United Nations. Some of the monitoring instruments on good governance and human rights are now routinely carried out by the US State Department. The use of the conclusions of these reports, published annually, as we shall see in the following, is to support national and security interests of the United States of America often by using the ranking of countries to intimidate their leaders by threats of various kinds, if they do not adopt appropriate policies. As we shall see below such policies are by and large synonymous with US business interests. These reports and other advocacy instruments coming out of the USA serve to build a front under the cover of democracy and human rights, while in fact they allow the USA to introduce free trade areas supporting the business interests of the TNCs. Actually, a country’s readiness to sign a free trade agreement with the USA is seen as an indicator of that country’s willingness to introduce democracy and human rights. The introduction of free market policies have so far only led to deterioration of living conditions for a majority of the people and the creation of a small group of super rich controlling the state apparatus, while remaining loyal to the USA. The decline of the influence of the United Nations begun in serious in the early 1990’ies. Its role is on the ground – gradually being replaced by the United States of America – and this trend continues.
The USA on collision course with the world.
The rise of the United States of America as the single most powerful nation in the world, at least speaking in military terms and so far also in economic terms, have contributed to reduce the influence of the UN. The USA perceives its grandeur and global position as the result of individual initiative and minimum interference and regulation by a central government. The official position of the USA seems to be that it does not only have the right, but it is its moral and God given obligation, to actively universalize its value systems and political institutions to all undemocratic and dictatorial nations in the world, as defined and identified by itself. One should not be mistaken to assume that this is being done for the sake of the world. Promoting the American way of life and its values worldwide is good for big business. The trans-national business corporations, such as Exxon Mobile, the Bechtel Group, General Electric, Fox, Citigroup, Goldman Sacs etc. most of which have their HQs in the USA, are seen both as the results of such policies and also as the best instruments to promote the same principles abroad, which made their own success possible.
Since the foundation of the USA 200 years ago, Americans have seen themselves as the savior of the world .The fall of communism brought discredit to socialism and even to social democratic systems, by which many European countries had succeeded to develop welfare systems with equal development opportunities for all of its citizens, while protecting the rights of the more vulnerable segments of their populations. However, since the dawn of the United States of America, following the genocide of the original Indian population, the Americans have felt encouraged in the image of a nation given a divine historic purpose. Through a subservient media, made to believe that it is free, the USA has been able to achieve a state of self-hypnosis and have created a nation of citizens who believe that they are the greatest in all respects, and not just great, but also the best. They believe that their culture and value systems underlying the political institutions and business conglomerates must serve as a model for the entire world. This optimistic belief carries within it the notion that the USA is the exclusive repository of the means by which a better world can be created. The confidence of the USA in its global mission are underlined in the Mission Statement of the State Department, which assumes USA’s leadership in fighting global poverty, aids, environmental degradation and deforestation. “Confronting these threats effectively is beyond the means of any one country, and calls for the principled American leadership aimed at achieving effective coalitions that magnify our efforts to respond to these critical challenges,” it is stated on the website of the State Department of the USA .
NSS sets the tune for USA’s role in the world.
The Mission statement of the State Department of the USA Government gets its justification from the National Security Strategy (NSS). Each presidential term begins with a declaration of a new NSS. The current one (2006) expresses the conviction that globalization holds the promise for a better future for all of mankind. The President states in the National Security Strategy that “Globalization presents many opportunities. Much of the world’s prosperity and improved living standards in recent years derives from the expansion of global trade, investment, information, and technology” . However, the security of the USA and its people is so important that it cannot be left in charge of others, such as that of the UN. The President of the USA concludes his NSS that “America cannot know peace, security, and prosperity by retreating from the world. America must lead by deed as well as by example.” Following this trend, the DoS mission statement stresses that globalization “….is expanding the exchange of ideas, providing an impetus for political freedoms. Millions of the world’s poor, however, have not yet benefited from globalization, increasing their risk of alienation. Furthermore, transnational threats have emerged from globalization, enabling the creation of deadly global terror networks, spurring crime that reaches beyond borders, and spreading disease via the most mobile population in history.” It is upon this background that the State Department and other branches of the Government of the USA define their leadership role in the world.
The State Department does not try to understand the reasons for these global threats, but merely notes that global problems, such as poverty, aids, environmental degradation and deforestation, will require American leadership to be solved, because “confronting these threats effectively is beyond the means of any one country and calls for principled American leadership aimed at achieving effective coalitions that magnify our efforts to respond to these critical challenges,” it is stated in the Mission Statement of the DoS. There is very little on the home page of the DoS which could suggest that the USA perceives even a coordination role with the UN, except perhaps for the WTO and the Bretton Woods Institutions. However, since the UN is there and does not seem to go away by itself, an additional challenge for the DoS is to push for more Americans to be given the opportunity to work in the UN and related institutions, since “it is vital that the US exert robust leadership throughout the UN system in pursuit of its values and interests.”, it is stated in the Mission Statement of the DoS.
US National Security and the growth of global poverty.
It is now widely recognized that free trade as interpreted by WTO and the UN at large only widens the gap between rich and poor. In spite of this the world’s most compassionate president launched his National Security Strategy in blatant disregard for its impact upon the world poor. The activities accompanying free trade policies worsen the social conditions such as health and education for a great part of the world’s population, and particularly so in the third world. No country better than Russia demonstrates the rapid negative impact of a deregulated economy following the fall of socialist Soviet Union. Until 1989 there were virtually no legal rich Russians, but in 2006 there are more than 500 super rich Russians with individual assets of more than $ 300 million, 5000 Russians with upwards of $ 30million and about 115.000 millionaire households. The world’s third richest man, Laksmi Mittal spent £ 31 million at his Kensington Palace Gardens residence on his daughter’s wedding , while the majority of his Indian country men did not have enough means to buy a proper daily meal. As a result of free market policies with its deregulation and privatization one finds the same trends in most developing countries. The rich get even richer, also in the third world. From the Guardian Weekly (June 30-July6, 2006) one can learn that the number of US dollar millionaires increased by 11.7% in Africa, the poorest continent of the Planet.
Free Trade and Mortality.
Against knowing better the world under the leadership of the USA continues to be coerced to adopt free market democracies wrapped up in human rights jargon. The attack on the world trade center in NY provided the USA with more arguments to accelerate this process. During the 1990’ies it became increasingly obvious that the peace dividend expected by the end of the Cold War did not benefit the world’s poor. Actually, the number of poor and hungry people, as well as number of infants and children dying was growing, especially in Africa, but also among the working poor in the industrialized countries. Since 1990 the under-5 mortality rate in 12 Sub-Sahara African countries out of 28, did not improve. In fact it deteriorated in seven of these countries. The UN agencies, particularly UNICEF and WHO, globally responsible for the technical support in the area of infant and child health, either do not have the expertise or resources to identify the very basic causes, or they are reluctant to address these basic causes, perceived as too sensitive to some of their donors. These basic causes are related to development policies affecting significantly the achievement of sustainable development. Infant and child mortality are among the best indicators of socio-economic development, since life expectancy at birth is determined by the survival chances of infants and children. Most UN agencies today practice what they refer to as human rights programming. The stagnating and at times deteriorating mortality rates of children indicate at the same time a worsening of the human rights situation in these countries. Infant and child mortality are directly associated with availability of health services, environmental health factors (housing, and water and sanitation), level of mother’s education, availability of medicine and trained staff and parents’ knowledge about childhood illnesses. That improvement in child mortality which took place before the early 90’ies in all countries was explained by a decline in the proportion of children who were malnourished and a reduced number of people living in poor environmental conditions (in poor housing and without adequate water and sanitation.). The deteriorating trends seen in some countries suggest growing poverty among a larger part of the populations. This supports the observation of an unfair and unequal distribution of the fruits of economic globalization. This negative trend, particularly evident in some of the poorer countries of the world, is also seen in most of the rich industrialized countries, for example the in the USA and in Germany. Le Monde wrote on August 18, 2007 that close to seven million Germans is now faced with daily poverty and depends on unemployment subsidy. This has come about because social reforms were introduced on basis of principles adopted from the private sector. The growing poverty in the world’s most powerful country was reported by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, on December 20, 2004 quoting data from a report published by the US Department of Agriculture: “One in nine households at risk of hunger; half of poor families face multiple hardships”. For the informed ones, this was old news, since the “Number at Risk of Hunger Climbs for Fourth Straight Year, to 36 Million.”.
It could have been hoped when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, that the leader of so-called democratic nations would have taken the leadership in a way which would have benefited the entire world, and not just a small group of individuals and companies. But instead, one can observe continued exploitation of the third world, and exploitation of the working masses in the industrialized countries. A super rich elite emerged. The “ultra high net-worth individuals, who are those with more than 30 million worth of financial assets, increased by 10 % between 2005 and 2006. In all, there are approximately 85.400 such individuals. Together they control 24 % of global wealth . There is a general consensus on both side of the political center that this widening of the gab between rich and poor is the direct result of globalization of free market principles and their inherent emphasis on decentralized administrations and privatization. This in turn makes it more difficult for governments to ensure even the basic human right to survive.
With growing poverty and inequality, the world came to witness an increased number of conflicts, often erupting into open civil wars within states and outright war among other states. It is estimated that Sub-Sahara Africa has lost at least an amount equivalent to the total of foreign aid received since 1990. Almost half of Africa’s countries have been involved in some kind of conflict since 1990, according to an Oxfam study from 2006 on Africa’s Missing Billions. A study undertaken at the USA Army Command and General Staff College fort Leavenworth concludes that the many conflicts in Africa in part are caused by the increased liberalization and expansion of international trade, which has occurred in the aftermath of the Cold War.
The Millennium Development Summit.
At the end of the 90’ies the impact of current foreign and aid policies became so evident that something had to be done urgently. The planning of yet another window dressing conference to cover up for the global misery began and gave at least the impression that something was being done to address the problem. The UN called for yet another summit, which should become the Mother of all Summits. In the year 2000, the Millennium Development Summit took place in New York. This summit attempts to summarize all preceding summits by setting goals for all nations to be reached by 2015. The Millennium Development Goals and its Declaration approved by virtually all leaders of the world were to bring focus to the role of the UN and provide it with a road map for its leadership.
Heads of States renewed their commitment to the UN in the Millennium Development Declaration . In its opening statement the Declaration read: “We, heads of State and Government, have gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 6 to 8 September 2000, at the dawn of a new millennium, to reaffirm our faith in the Organization and its Charter as indispensable foundations of a more peaceful, prosperous and just world”. The Declaration read further, while reiterating other declarations made over the last twenty to thirty years, including the Declaration on Rights to Development: “We are determined to establish a just and lasting peace all over the world in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter. We rededicate ourselves to supp