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NEW YORK -- Activists, businessmen and government leaders met on Tuesday in the shadow of the U.N. Millennium Summit, agonizing over the future of economic globalization following the disruption of the WTO in Seattle and how to narrow the widening gap between rich and poor.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a key player in the breakup of the
communist bloc 10 years ago, told the fifth annual "State of the World
Forum" that since then "the gap between rich and poor has grown,
globalization has been privatized by a few countries."
A few blocks away at a separate conference, activists who protested against
the World Trade Organization in Seattle late last year and the World Bank
and International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C. last spring, warned the
United Nations about "becoming an engine for corporate globalization."
They cited the U.N.'s Global Compact with corporations such as Nike and
Royal Dutch Shell, which have been implicated in human rights violations.
"What we think the U.N. should be doing is making corporations accountable
on the world stage," said Joshua Karliner, executive director of the San
Francisco-based Transnational Resource and Action Center. "The U.N. needs to
change because globalization has changed the world and U.N. values and
principles need to be applied to corporations that operate across borders."
The two gatherings were taking place the same week as the U.N. Millennium
Summit attracting more than 150 heads of state in the largest gathering of
world leaders in history. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the Sept.
6-Sept. 8 summit a global debate to help billions of people escape poverty,
particularly in developing countries.
The risks and rewards of an integrated world economy have been a big
international issue for policymakers since the financial crisis of 1997-99
drove home the dangers that the free flow of capital across borders poses to
both emerging markets and industrial countries.
Critics Attack IMF Policies
Critics blamed the IMF in particular for making things worse with its
policies, which have required developing countries that sought its help in
times of crisis to raise interest rates and shut down inefficient
Martin Khor of Third World Network, Malaysia, said in an interview at the
activists' "Teach-In" sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization
that IMF and World Bank financing programs for developing countries should
"There are tremendous implications for hundreds of millions of people," said
Khor, who was scheduled to speak at both forums outside the United Nations
this week. "So those policymakers particularly in the United States and
Europe have to think through what their policies mean because a policy
mistake which they are promoting through the IMF or the WTO can lead to life
and death for people in the developing world.
"I'm not saying kill free trade. This is a complex reality and don't come
forward with simplistic prescriptions."
Gorbachev, who called for the creation of a U.N. economic security council
with the same status as the U.N. Security Council when he addressed the
world body as Soviet leader in 1988, suggested the idea again on Tuesday in
remarks at the four-day forum he is chairing. The forum brought together
business and labor leaders, heads of government, nuclear disarmament
activists, civil society, religious groups and scientists.
Civil Society's Role in Shaping Economy
Participants in the two conferences appeared to agree that the role of
non-governmental organizations, or civil society, was very important in
shaping the global economy with respect for labor, environmental and human
"They are transmitting public opinion in an organized form," Gorbachev said.
"Consequently, politicians and businessmen should understand that they
should deal with them with seriousness, responsiveness and constructively
because otherwise we'll see Seattle again and again and again."
Demonstrators in Seattle late last year and representatives of developing
countries caused the collapse of a round of negotiations on the rules
governing world trade drawn up by the WTO. A minority of protesters ran
riot, causing $3 million in property damage.
Billionaire financier George Soros, whose Open Society Institute has
funneled money and resources into various causes, particularly in Russia
and Eastern Europe, told the conference "we have to find a way to mobilize
civil society in favor of international law and international institutions.
"I'll be frank, I have no clear idea how to go about organizing it."
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