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ASIA: Globalization Critics Gain from US Corp Scandals

by Marwaan Macan-MarkarInter Press Service
August 13th, 2002

The timing of the scandals is apt, say some critics from South and South-east Asia, who ended a three-day conference here Monday.

The crisis in corporate America comes at a moment when the Anti-Globalization movement in the region is reasserting itself after losing some steam following the September 11th attacks on the United States, they add.

''There was some disorientation after September 11th and the momentum we had gained till then was lost,'' says Walden Bello, executive director of Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based think tank. ''But with the corporate scandals, we see the other side losing the momentum and our side is gaining,'' he said.

However, Bello feels that the Asians leading the charge against corporate-driven globalization have still to make up for the lost political ground in the wake of the September 11th attacks. ''We are not at the point we were in the region before the attacks in the U.S., but we are getting there,'' he said.

But for one Indian activist, what is significant is the evidence shown by the U.S. corporate scandals that corporate America is not the ideal model it had been made out to be by the champions of the neo-liberal economic order.

''We have been getting more arguments in our favor to expose the so-called efficiency of giant corporations, the above board practices of multinational companies, and governance in these companies -- that they are clean and non-corrupt,'' says Minar Pimple, executive director at Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action, a Mumbai-based non-governmental organization (NGO).

An Indonesian delegate asserts that critics can now point to what he called ''the hidden face of capitalism''.

''The U.S. corporate model has lost its legitimacy. It was not based on fairness, but one favoring the economic elite of the world,'' says Tito Soentoro, who heads Solidaritas Perempuan, a Jakarta-based women's human rights lobby.

Many activists here singled out the case of the failed U.S. energy giant Enron, which collapsed after an accounting and accounting scandal in the United States. Likewise, it had until its failure been considered as an ''invincible'' energy sector giant in India, where it was reported to have tried less than transparent ways to get a power project in Maharashtra state going.

Other high-profile U.S. corporations that have been hit this year for giving a false picture of their profitability include Xerox, Tyco, Global Crossing and WorldCom.

Bello and Soentoro were among over 200 people from a broad range of Asian civil society groups -- including grassroots bodies, social movements, human rights and labor rights lobbies and NGOs -- who met in the Thai capital to map out a regional strategy to combat corporate-driven globalization.

This gathering of the Asia-Pacific Social Movements (APSM) is part of the World Social Forum (WSF), a global movement that emerged in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in January 2001 to serve as a counterweight against the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The movement has grown since then, aiming to become a forum for an alternative model to that of corporate-driven globalization.

The WSF attracted over 60,000 people from across the world to Porto Alegre in January this year, a significant show of force by individuals who wanted to drive home the point that 'Another World is Possible,' the theme of the 2002 gathering.

Among the issues that the activists here identified to agitate against ranged from the impact of land being privatized to the detriment of local communities, the manner in which mining companies are damaging the lives of tribal people, to the suppression of those voices critical of globalization.

Other areas of concern were the the increasing lack of labor rights in Asia governments are being forced to privatize some well-run state ventures, resulting in workers being dismissed without adequate compensation; and the trend to privatize public utilities, like the supply of water, that deny poor groups access to services.

In Bangladesh, for instance, workers at the world's largest jute mill that was forced to shut down in July were denied their promised compensation package, says Nurul Kabir, a Bangladeshi journalist.

''Over 22,000 workers were promised 2,000 U.S. dollars for one year's pay and gratuities, but they only got 200 U.S. dollars,'' he said.

And in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Pakistan, a number of farmers and community leaders have been thrown into prison as a result of their struggles to protect their land and natural resources.

Representatives of farming communities at the conference faulted the World Bank for their plight, saying that international financial institutions' push for agriculture reform policies favored the economic elite at the expense of the rural people.

The International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank were also accused of compelling governments in the region to push through local initiatives that the activists described as ''anti-poor''.

Yet while the current financial climate may serve the Anti-Globalization movement, there is also a worry that critics need to conceive a convincing alternative. ''We have to do a better job to provide an alternative to the neo-liberal agenda,'' says Bello of Focus on the Global South.

He adds that this alternative agenda needs to beat the secular and religious right in reaching out to the growing number of people in Asia disenchanted by the flaws of economic liberalization.

''This discontent will grow; it will be felt in Asia, given the signs that the financial scandals in the U.S. is resulting in an economic decline,'' adds Bello.



Copyright 2002 IPS





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