BRAZIL: Debt Takes Precedence Over War on Child Labor

RIO DE JANEIRO - Child labour has not yet been eradicated in Brazil due to cutbacks in social spending aimed at ensuring payments on the foreign debt, Social Watch, an international network linking non-governmental organisations from 60 countries, said Wednesday.

The social policies followed by the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso have failed due to continuing cuts in public spending, said Fernanda Carvalho, a political analyst with the Brazilian Institute of Socioeconomic Analysis (IBASE), one of the local NGOs that belong to Social Watch.

''Brazil has good social programmes, which were initially well-conceived. But their implementation has run up against budgetary limitations, and especially cutbacks in expenditure already authorised in the budget,'' she said.

''The most tragic case is that of child labour, which could already have been eradicated if the necessary resources were available,'' she maintained.

Carvalho is one of the coordinators of this year's annual report released Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro by the Observatorio da Cidadana, which is made up of six civil society organisations representing Social Watch in Brazil.

The 2002 report, ''The Social Impact of Globalisation in the World'', was launched during an international seminar on ''Globalisation, Hegemony and National Sovereignty''.

Social Watch was created in 1995 to monitor compliance with the commitments towards poverty reduction and gender equity assumed by governments at the World Summit on Social Development and the Beijing World Conference on Women.

''Social Watch emerged in response to an obvious need,'' Roberto Bissio, with the Third World Institute in neighbouring Uruguay, told IPS. ''After decades of international conferences, there was no entity making an inventory of the concrete actions and social results arising from the decisions adopted.''

But recent international developments have made it necessary not only to assess compliance with commitments, but to design new strategies of action for organisations representing civil society, as well as international bodies outside the United Nations system, he added.

Unlike what happened in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which drafted far-reaching documents that are still relevant 10 years later, the latest international conferences have been a fiasco in that respect, said Bissio.

The Uruguayan activist pointed to the poor results of the UN Conference on Development Financing held last March in the Mexican city of Monterrey, the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa from Aug 26 to Sep 4, and the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome.

Carvalho said that ''besides finding that compliance with the commitments assumed by the governments has fallen far short of the targets set, we find ourselves now with a new reality,'' in which the increasingly unilateral stances assumed by the United States have made it extremely difficult for social organisations to reach agreement on certain issues.

And it has become even more difficult to issue ''progressive'' statements, she added, which has led to a certain degree of loss of credibility on the part of social organisations.

''In addition, we have seen changes in the way civil society mobilises itself, as demonstrated by the 1999 protests surrounding the third ministerial World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference in Seattle.

''For all of these reasons, it has become necessary for social organisations to come up with new strategies of action,'' said Carvalho.

''The Social Impact of Globalisation in the World'' report also highlights the plight of Argentina, where more than 50 percent of the population of 37 million has fallen into poverty and nearly eight million people are living in extreme poverty.

In addition, it refers to the Palestinian territories, saying the economy has been literally dismantled as a result of the armed Israeli occupation, leading to tragic deaths and growing poverty.

But Atila Roque, another of the coordinators of the Social Watch study and seminar, said the advances already made on the social front should not be underrated, despite the shortcomings.

That only heightens the need, he argued, for more effective strategies in the particular case of Brazil, in three specific areas in which public awareness has been raised.

Roque stressed the advances made, for example, in the field of human rights, especially since the designation of Sergio Vieira as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as in environmental questions.

In addition, global institutions like the WTO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have increasingly taken on a social perspective, he said.

Activist John Foster, a Canadian member of Social Watch, said civil society should be wary of international agreements which contain clauses that run counter to national laws and limit the actions of democratically elected governments.

Foster warned that the ''fine-print'' should be read, and said ''the new Brazilian government (that takes office on Jan 1) should be alert to supra-national conventions aimed at protecting transnational corporations from eventual measures designed to protect and support national companies.''

Martin Khor, with the Malaysia-based Third World Network, also warned that agreements on competitiveness, investment safeguards, and government procurement currently being discussed in the WTO multilateral talks could be extremely dangerous for the developing world in some aspects.

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