Global Economic Crisis Melts Down Human Rights

"People Yes, Bankers No: The IMF Has Got To Go. "-- Chant from protesters at World Economic Forum in Davos SwitzerlandNo question facing the world today is more important than the decision as to which path should be taken to ensure both global economic stability and human rights. As the global economy takes shape, what are its values? Are democracy and human rights included; and if so, how do they intersect with free trade and economic growth? Ultimately, what is the best way to foster human rights and democratization--by linking them to economic concerns, or rigidly separating the two?Fortunately, with uncanny timing, the internationally renowned television company Globalvision is bringing to PBS a powerful documentary addressing the quandary of our global economic crisis. "Globalization and Human Rights" will begin airing on October 29. (Check local listings or call your local PBS station to see if they are planning to run this timely show in your area.)The program takes us on a riveting, sophisticated and ultimately troubling journey around the globe -- from the halls of the rich and powerful to the deepest diamond mines of South Africa. Along the way, the viewer visits the oil fields of Nigeria -- where international martyr Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed fighting for indigenous Ogoni people, by that country's repressive regime, while Shell Oil Company stood by on the sidelines. We're taken to Southeast Asia, ground zero in the global meltdown, and witness exclusive footage of the world's first Global March against child labor. Throughout the entire program, "Globalization & Human Rights" raises provoking questions, without patronizing the viewer with the notion that there are simple answers.The journey begins with the captains of industry -- like U.S. Treasury Secretary Rubin, former American Express CEO James Robinson, Robert Hormats, Goldman Sachs Vice President and others -- gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum. Of course, with such a concentration of power and wealth, the familiar sound of protesters can be heard in the background.We hear from strong critics such as Ralph Nader, AFL-CIO head John Sweeney, Amnesty International head Pierre Sane, Indonesian expert Alan Nairn, and others. In the middle of it all, perhaps symbolically, is George Soros, the billionaire capitalist with a human face, struggling with how to reconcile the powerful forces of the global economy with the real human cost.Clearly, the global economic bubble has burst. Key countries have economies in near collapse. South Korea and Thailand's economies have been virtually cut in half while Indonesia has lost 80 percent of its value. The rapid post-Cold War push to globalize is having an enormous, negative impact.More fundamental, however, is the suffering of families and cultures in those countries -- the consequences of the calculations and misjudgments of distant international bankers and economists whose rapid road to market economy theories are now thought to be an essential part of the problem.Ralph Nader insists: "The essence of globalization is the subordination of human rights, labor rights, consumer rights [and] environmental rights to the imperatives of global trade and investment. This is a world government of the Exxons, by the General Motors for the DuPonts."What impact do events in far-off places like Jakarta and Lagos have here on Wall Street--and, more importantly, Main Street, USA? Suddenly, Americans are angry and fearful. And without much understanding of the links between the various global players and events, the majority are left feeling vulnerable. How do ordinary citizens understand why institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), not topics normally covered in the popular media, are suddenly having an impact on their lives?This acute need for education is one reason why "Globalization & Human Rights" is so necessary. The program is a clear-headed global economy primer, sharply pointed but appropriately balanced, and smoothly moderated by award-winning journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault. There is no question: This show deserves a wide audience and Americans need to see it to better understand what is going on.To keep pace with the rapidly changing global events, however, Globalvision was forced to keep reshooting the show. Thus, the program ran over budget. There are literally no resources left for marketing and audience building. A citizens marketing campaign is, therefore, necessary. If there ever was a time for a grassroots education and publicity campaign by activists, concerned citizens, labor unions and elected officials to publicize a TV show, this is it."Globalization & Human Rights" demonstrates that the global economic debate has been opened. A new opportunity to raise fundamental questions about the wisdom of the world's unaccountable economic leadership and the anxiety ridden public now exists.Increasingly, reformers are recognizing this opportunity for change. As Greg Zachary writes in "In These Times": "Today, economic ideas deemed impossible just weeks ago, are suddenly in fashion. Currency controls, an anathema to the IMF, are gaining favor." George Soros, diverging from many of his colleagues, adds that "economic growth by itself will not necessarily guarantee that human needs will be met. There are other needs in society which cannot be fulfilled by the market and those needs are neglected."As the film aptly notes, political leadership is needed. But politicians argue that they have less and less influence over global forces as the power of corporations grows. Certainly, there is no clear pattern of response around the world: The nationalists are rising up in the Soviet Union; a long-time human rights hero is now the Premier of Korea; and street demonstrations have chased Suharto out of office.The ability to organize unions is one key element in the international human rights fight. John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president, adds: "Workers are suffering and they are losing their jobs, or being exploited. It's about time that leaders of Congress and industry hear the story of what working conditions are really like."Many activists, such as British labor leader Phillip Jennings, are saying: "We don't need a new set of rules, they are already rules in place -- international labor standards, a universal declaration of human rights. They need to be applied in the global economy. They simply are not. The 50-year-old declaration of human rights firmly anchors labor rights and economic demands in a human rights context."If there is an opportunity for change, what's the program? There has been steady organizing across the globe -- focused on the IMF and the World Trade Organization -- against global corporations like Nike and The Gap for their use of child labor and sweat shop conditions. But does this type of organizing cohere into a comprehensive program? What are the realistic alternatives that a broad cross section of reformers -- human rights stalwarts and the full range of other interested parties -- can support?The situation is volatile. As Congressman Bernie Sanders, writing in "The Nation" (9/28/98), notes: "... right-wing populists like Pat Buchanan are lining up to ride to power on public fear about globalization." If economic decline continues for ordinary Americans, according to Sanders, "... we're likely to see a rise of scapegoating, demagogy and virulent right-wing economic nationalism."Perhaps the biggest question is whether some global corporations will listen to inside critics like Soros and those activists protesting sweat shop conditions. Or will the corporate pell-mell race to the bottom line continue unabated? Sanders notes that the recently passed Sanders-Harkin Amendment, banning the import of products made with child labor, is one positive step. Other legislation -- that would end U.S. support of those IMF programs that degrade the environment, undermine workers' rights, restrict the power of governments to regulate hot money capital flows and give more bailout to international bankers and investors -- has been proposed.Passing strong corrective IMF legislation is a long shot, though a good place to focus. Still, the hope that global corporations will learn some lessons from this latest situation is a major unknown. Longtime Chilean activist and author Ariel Dorfman was at the Forum in Davos, and on the inside for the first time. Dorfman says: "It is certainly worrisome when corporations by their capacity in the marketplaces become sort of a shadow government." But Dorfman adds: "Many of these corporate people are very worried. ... Whether they are worried because it will explode in their faces or ... they feel compassionate is something that needs to be debated."Of course, the jury is still out on just what changes might take place. Growing protests will perhaps help corporate chieftains see the light. As South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki summarizes near the end of the film: "Issues of poverty, of equity, of a better life ... These issues are coming back onto the agenda, even of the corporate world." Desmond Tutu adds: "I hold to the view that this is a moral universe. Goodness matters as it did forever in the past. It will continue to do so. I have no deep anxiety that we are going to become an amoral society because of globalization."

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