UN Millennium Summit:
NOGs assail UN ties to corporate-led trend
On the eve of the UN Millennium Summit in New York, members of several leading non-governmental organisations convened a forum to denounce the trend of corporate-led economic globalisation, in particular addressing growing concern that the United Nations is placing too much priority on its partnerships with powerful corporations worldwide. Representatives from NGOs such as Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, the Rainforest Action Network and the Transnational Resource and Action Center/Corporate Watch held a series of panel discussions at Town Hall in Manhattan to articulate the dangers of the unchecked power of global corporations and to discuss measures to refocus the UN charter on human rights and the environment. The meeting, entitled "Globalization and the United Nations: Can the United Nations Be Salvaged", was sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization, an international alliance of 60 activists, scholars, economists, researchers and writers. Kenny Bruno of the Transnational Resource and Action Center/Corpwatch said during his speech before the packed hall that the UN has in recent years been forming partnerships with massive transnational corporations that are "infamous for environmental degradation and violations of human rights", such as Nike and Royal Dutch Shell. Most of the organisations at the meeting strongly criticised the UN Global Compact, a cooperative framework initiated by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which leaders of nearly 50 global corporations signed onto in July. Bruno charged that the UN is vulnerable to forming these kinds of partnerships under pressure from the United States to be more business- friendly, adding that pursuing them is "terrible judgement". Bruno further criticised the Global Compact by saying that the corporations face little or no monitoring and a lack of enforcement, since the companies involved agreed to sign onto the compact voluntarily. Many of Bruno's arguments are included in his organisation's report, Tangled Up in Blue: Corporate Partnerships at the United Nations, released at the meeting, which accuses corporations of "bluewashing" their image by hiding behind the UN flag. International Forum on Globalization associate Vandana Shiva said in a release that by aligning itself with powerful corporations, the UN risks becoming a vehicle for "the new colonialism of the Third World that rests on free trade and liberalised rules for investment and privatisation and deregulations." Vicky Tauli-Corpus of the Indigenous Peoples' International Center for Policy, Research and Education denounced the trend of the UN relinquishing economic roles to the World Trade Organisation, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, organisations she charges have only contributed to global poverty. "It is our role to still ... assert that the UN is not a body that should be giving priority to corporations", she said. While the UN's role in the globalisation debate was the subject of much criticism at the forum, Tony Clark of the Polaris Institute in Canada was one of the first to say the NGOs cannot simply fault Annan for the trend toward developing corporate partnerships. "This kind of system is not just at the global level", he said, adding that the problem exists locally in many countries. Bruno added that the NGOs support UN principles, but "the UN is weak" and that the NGOs should lobby for increased US support for the UN "with no strings attached." He also said that they need to act to make the corporations more accountable. "If the UN won't monitor them, we will", he said. Phyllis Bennis with the Institute for Policy Studies went one step further and said that, if anything, the United Nations has been a "victim of corporate control", while the United States has been the villain by exercising its influence. Bennis warned that "we are on the same side" as the UN but said the challenge lies in creating a new "internationalism" that rebuilds people's sovereignty and withdraws from corporate domination. "It's up to us to reclaim the United Nations", she said to a resounding ovation."