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Plain Speak About The WSF

sexta-feira 9 de janeiro de 2004, por ,

By Suhas Chakma

Asian Centre for Human Rights
09 January, 2004

"Until that dark ugly night of January 29, the Thai psyche simply refused to absorb the hard, cold fact that we were considered a new breed of imperialist. We thought they needed our capital - which might be true, but only up to a point. We thought they were trying to imitate us - which might be partially valid but not necessarily a universal fact. We thought since they use our mobile phone service, watch our TV soap operas and consume our instant noodles, they must really love all things Thai.........That’s where we have gone wrong. That’s where the Japanese and Americans have been wrong about us" - Suthichai Yoon, The Nation, Bangkok, 6 February 2003

With over 52,000 people already registered, the 4th World Social Forum (WSF) being held in Mumbai, India from 17- 21 January 2004, is all set to become another big congregation of groups and activists that "are opposed to neo- liberalism and domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a society centred on the human person". Started in Brazil in January 2001 as a counter to the World Economic Forum, the WSF has become an annual world conference of NGOs. The WSF does not claim to have a common political manifesto and its basis is anti-imperialism, anti neo-liberalism, and the conviction that "another world is possible". In such "an open meeting place", where Hindu nationalists, the neo-Swadeshis and the left wingers may share the same view on "capital", the debate on "neo-liberalism and domination of the world by capital" certainly requires re-thinking.

Nationalism Vs Globalisation:

Swadeshi, literally meaning national, is a term nostalgically associated with India’s freedom movement’s call for only Indian products to be bought and sold in India and to stop buying anything made with British machines or in British factories to weaken the British industry and the Empire. Since the start of liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1990s, Swadeshi has come to mean opposition to opening up of Indian industries to foreign capital domination. The rightwing Hindu nationalists and the Left parties share the same view on opposition to foreign capital. Both the groups however without any compunction accept the "foreign capital" of the "citizens overseas"(1) - a term coined by the Indian government to describe the Persons of Indian Origin who acquire Indian citizenship. Whether it is the protection of the steel industry by the United States or "agriculture sector" by the United States and Europe, nationalism is often invoked. It is nationalism against globalisation.

But do the organisers or constituents of the organisers of the 4th WSF share such views on capital? Jharkhand, the heartland of India’s indigenous peoples, has been the epicenter of India’s industrialisation since the colonial times. Jharkand has important mineral resources, including 37 per cent of the country’s coal reserves and 40 per cent of its copper reserves. It has also massive reserves of iron ore, mica, bauxite and limestone, chromite, graphite, asbestos, kyanite, uranium, manganese, dolomite, tungsten and others. Besides, the Geological Survey of India has found gold reserves in parts of Singhbhum district.(2) At present, Jharkhand ranks number one State in India in the production of iron ore, copper ores, mica, kyanite, uranium and asbestos. (3)

Yet about "90 per cent of the indigenous tribal groups have been crippled by the large-scale exploitation of natural resources, the development of industries and mines and the commercial exploitation of the forests. The majority of them live in semi-starvation throughout the year while the remaining 10 per cent of the Jharkhand population are immigrants who have come to amass wealth for themselves."(4) For poor indigenous peoples of Jharkhand, it makes little difference whether the resources are extracted by one Mr Tata or one Mr Gates. The right to entitlement is fundamental for sharing the benefits of development; and many conflicts across the world relate to the denial of such benefits, the right to land and natural resource. Globalisation, in most cases, only accelerates the exploitation and discriminatory processes and mechanisms already in-built in societies or in the State apparatus.

Global South: Bad records on rights

The United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on the Right to Development reflects what is Global South. The voice of the South often means what is presented by Cuba, Nigeria, Brazil, India, China, Pakistan, Malaysia etc. South Korea and Singapore are on the fence. Poor Laos does not have a mission in Geneva while many Southern countries such as Nepal can hardly follow the proceedings of the sessions.

Global South is not uniform although neo-developed and developing countries exploit "South-South Solidarty". While there is hue and cry about the "Fortress Europe" for closing its borders, there is abject silence on the mal-treatment of the migrant workers across the Middle East and South East Asia. Consequently, United Nations International Convention on Migrant Workers has been ratified only by migrant-workers producing countries (5) and not the recipient or potential recipient countries. The absence of rule of law across the Middle East and South East Asia in comparison to Fortress Europe is starkly clear. Rather than prosecuting the guilty personnel for torture and other abuses against migrant workers, Ms Irene Fernandes, Director of Tenaganita, an NGO working with migrant women was sentenced to 12 months prison by a Malaysian court on 16 October 2003 under Section 8(A) of the Printing, Presses and Publications Act of 1984 for allegedly "publishing false information with malevolent intentions". The government filed the case after the publication of a report, "Memorandum on abuses, acts of torture and inhuman treatment towards migrant workers in detention camps" containing allegations of ill-treatment of mainly Bangladeshi migrant workers based on Ms Fernandez’s interviews with over 300 migrant workers. (6)

Even on economic issues, many neo-developed countries such as India, Thailand, Malaysia etc continue to exploit the smaller economies. In 1996, India and Nepal signed a bilateral trade agreement. This agreement allowed Nepal-produced goods wide access to the Indian market with drastically reduced ’local content’ requirements. Because of the alleged smuggling of non-Nepal produced goods, Indian government reacted with anti-dumping duties. The bordering state governments of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh also imposed luxury taxes on Nepali products. India finally obtained strong amendments to the treaty when it came up for renewal in early 2002. (7)

This is despite the fact that since the start of Nepal’s foreign trade with the third countries in the 1960s, Indian business and industrial entrepreneurs poured into Nepal to secure benefit from the provision of foreign trade because of the high demand for foreign manufactured goods in India on the one hand and imposition of restrictions and heavy duty on the import of foreign goods. Therefore, in the process of industrialisation in Nepal, the Indians came in the forefront for investment to derive the benefits provided for the supply of foreign exchanges to import machinery and raw materials, excise and tax exemption and foreign exchange bonus for the export of goods manufactured in Nepal. Of the total joint venture investors in Nepal, (8) approximately 33% are Indians.(9) The 1955 Indo-Nepal Treaty gives advantages to the Indian nationals in comparison to others.

Many smaller countries such as Laos and Cambodia find themselves sandwiched among the regional economic super powers. The origin of the capital makes little difference. Sometimes, protests against economic domination by regional economic powers found expression through violence such as the anti-Thai riots in Cambodia in January 2003 after an alleged remark by a Thai TV star suggesting that Angkor Wat - Cambodia’s national symbol and represented on its flag - had been stolen from Thailand (10) or anti-Indian riots in Nepal in December 2000 after a rumour of an alleged derogatory remark by an Indian film star.

"Capitalism" is no longer synonymous of "western capitalism". The complicity of the oil companies such as Talisman Energy Inc. of Canada and Lundin Oil AB of Sweden, for human rights violations in Sudan has been well documented. Amid mounting pressure from rights groups, Talisman and Lundin sold their interests in 2002. These Western-based corporations, however, have now been replaced by the state-owned oil companies of China’s China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petronas (Petrolium Nasional Berhad) and India’s Oil and Natural Gas (ONGC) Videsh Ltd.(11) The question remains as to how and whether any pressure could be brought to bear upon these state-owned oil companies from Asia about the corporate responsibility against human rights violations.

The verdict of the California state courts in the ongoing lawsuits filed against the UNOCOL Corp. under the 200-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act for the conduct of subsidiaries, Thailand’s PTT and France’s Total, in the violation of human rights such as beating, enslavement, rape and murder by the Burmese military personnel may set the trend in the land of the free. Internationally, the United Nations Sub-Commission in its 55th session in August 2003 adopted the Draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights (12) as a first incremental step towards adoption of a morally binding international instrument for corporate responsibilities.

In the global village, the possibility of another world must mean ensuring equal access to education, health care and other basic human needs, respect for rule of law and human rights, good governance and corporate responsibility and accountability. However, the focus of the WSF must be equally on national and multinational capitals alike, as capital knows no boundaries. Otherwise, the struggle against "neo- liberalism and domination of the world by capital" may turn into a self-censoring exercise of the apologists from the neo-developed and developing countries, just to blame only western capital.

1 Citizenship Amendment Bill 2003 of India

2 http://www.cpahq.org/news/2000/update/nov.htm

3 http://www.jharkhand.nic.in/mines/minerals.htm

4 http://www.rediff.com/election/1999/sep/23bihar.htm

5 Azerbaijan, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Senegal, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Uganda and Uruguay have so far ratified the MWC.

6 http://www.fidh.org/communiq/2003/my1710a.htm

7 The squandering of a promising economy by Sujeev Shakya in State of Nepal, edited by Kanak Mani Dixit and Shastri Ramachandran, Himal Books, Kathmandu, July 2002.

8 http://www.ifa.org.np/talk/trade.php

9 Lama, Mahendra P. (2001), "Investment in South Asia: Issues, Constraints and Opportunities", in K. K. Bhargava and Sridhar K. Khatri (eds), South Asia 2002: Challenges and Opportunities, New Delhi: FES and Konark Publishers.

10 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2708499.stm

11 Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, September 2003

12 E/CN.4/Sub.2/2003/12


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