Global Policy Forum



Victoria Clarke

World Federalist Movement News
Winter 2000

The critics of globalization who have dogged the international financial institutions at meetings of the WTO in Seattle, the IMF and the World Bank in Washington DC and Prague and the World Economic Forum in Melbourne brought their line of questioning to the UN during the Millennium Summit this past September. While 150 Heads of State met at UN headquarters, just a few blocks away, at the Town Hall on 43rd Street, the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) held a "teach-in" event entitled "Globalization and the Role of the United Nations."

IFG is a San Francisco-based alliance of sixty activists, scholars, economists, researchers and writers who are concerned about unregulated corporate activity in world affairs and have been some of the most vociferous critics of globalization. Since its founding in 1994, IFG has conducted several similar teach-ins on globalization in different cities across the country, including highly popular events in Seattle and Washington DC.

This was the first IFG teach-in that focused on the role of the UN. IFG points out that the UN mandate is to promote peace, human rights, the environment, social justice and democracy, and that it "was not created to be an engine for corporate globalization." However, many are increasingly concerned that the UN mission is being undermined by the multilateral financial institutions' "corporate free trade model." The question of the day was thus: Will the UN be countervailing force addressing globalization issues of inequality and exploitation or will it be annexed into it?

The ten-hour event consisted of four back-to-back panels and featured 24 speakers. Of greatest concern to many of the panelists was Kofi Annan's "Global Compact" project. Originating from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 1999, the Global Compact is an initiative to encourage corporations to embrace a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labor standards, and environmental preservation through partnerships with UN agencies. Participating transnational corporations (TNC) include Nike, Novartis, Shell, Rio Tinto, British Petroleum, DuPont, DaimlerChrysler, ABB and the International Chamber of Commerce (for more information see

The Global Compact initiative has come under fierce attack from some NGOs and activists. They argue that without mechanisms for monitoring and holding corporations accountable, the Global Compact is merely allowing corporations to use the UN to "blue wash" their reputations. Critics fear that the Global Compact threatens both UN's mission and integrity.

Several speakers highlighted that the UN is the only truly global institution with the potential to counterbalance corporate-driven globalization. As Roberto Bissio of the Third World Institute, based in Uruguay, pointed out, "down the street at UN headquarters 150 heads of state are meeting. Only the UN convenes such a meeting." He noted that the UN helped to keep the Cold War from becoming a hot war, but, he added "the UN has been less successful at securing justice." Joshua Karlinger of the Transnational Action Resource Center, called for a "corporate-free UN" "championing UN values." He concluded: "The anti-globalization movement will be on the UN's side when it abandons corporate partnerships."

Phyllis Bennis outlined a new kind of internationalism consisting of people's sovereignty, in place of national sovereignty. In order to challenge corporate driven globalization, Bennis said new coalitions between countries and people must come together to demand accountability, transparency and participation. Richard Falk of Princeton University succinctly posited that "we have come to the point of realizing two possibilities: corporate globalization or people's globalization/global governance." He went on to say "The question is: can the UN be converted from being corporate driven to being an instrument for people's globalization?"

Falk described the UN as "schizophrenic – both a place of vision and hope and an arena of struggle." It is also, he explained, "a creation by and for States; a geopolitical arena dominated by power politics." He emphasized that it is important to realize that "governments themselves are instruments of corporate globalization" and that "even the most benevolent States have been disempowered to the point that they are not instruments of the people." Falk's summation was that "we are in both a struggle for the soul of the UN and also the soul of States."

Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club-Canada recalled that her parents were members of the World Federalists. After describing that the Earth Summit failed because of issues of national sovereignty, she went on to enthusiastically outline the need for "a world government on environmental issues." And she brought the house down with this metaphor:

Four decades ago, the United States' ambassador to the United Nations, Adelai Stevenson, said, after seeing the first photos of Earth from outer space, "we are all passengers on this fragile craft, this spaceship Earth." There is a lot wrong with this metaphor. It is anthropomorphic. It suggests that we as human beings are top dogs in running this planet. However, let's run with this metaphor….Let's see how we are doing on spaceship Earth.

First of all, 80% of the passengers are locked below deck and some are in shackles. A large number of them aren't being fed. But things aren't so good in first class either. The toilets are backing up. Air quality is poor, but the casino is doing great, the gaming tables are full and every time the ship's engineer shows up to tell them that the life support systems are crashing, the gamblers look up and say "We can't stop now, we're winning."

Like on the Exxon Valdez, the captain is drunk, but we are here as a grassroots civil society movement to say:

"We are here to help! We are your psychiatrists. We say you are nuts and we are taking over the controls of this spaceship."


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.