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Disneyland, Doha, and the WTO in Hong Kong
I t’s fitting that the Sixth WTO Ministerial arrived in Hong Kong December 13-18 only a couple of months after the September 2005 opening of Hong Kong Disneyland. In both cases reality is abandoned at the door while fiction and fantasy take over. The magical Doha “Development” Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) promises an end to global poverty and prosperity for all—based on an agenda that boosts transnational corporate power and demolishes the remnants of political and social barriers to corporate profit. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors and dazzling special effects, but we end up where we began—with $545 billion in global agricultural exports co-existing with 8 million people dying of hunger and hunger-related diseases every year while tens of millions of small farmers and agricultural workers who produce the food that feeds the world are living in hunger.
Access to water—universally recognized as a human right, yet denied to hundreds of millions of people throughout the world—is transformed into a logical need to commercialize water supplies and open up “water markets.” Water markets? In the real world we’d wonder, “What the hell is a water market?” But in the world of the WTO we’re assured that everything is or should be a market in which private corporations are free to invest, buy, sell, and profit. Anything preventing corporations from doing so is a barrier, an “unfair trade practice.” Let’s be fair to corporations, they tell us. So when the transnational “services” conglomerate Suez proudly declares its motif of “Delivering the Essentials of Life” (including access to water, a human right turned profitable commodity), we wonder how the company took control of the essentials of life in the first place.
Added to the absurdity of this is a sense of fear that the Doha Round (named for the Qatari capital where the current round of WTO trade talks began in 2001) will “fail” and the WTO talks will collapse, heralding the demise of multilateralism and the emergence of a global economy “without rules.” Fear of failure in Hong Kong is used not only to secure concessions from developing country negotiators forced or enticed into bilateral trade-offs and backroom deals, but also those “civil society” organizations who believe that a reformed WTO is essential to the future of multilateralism. To preserve this fiction of “multilateralism at risk,” we’re expected to:
- ignore that the WTO consolidated (and never challenged) the unilateral power of the U.S.
- facilitated unilateral coercion in bilateral trade deals
justified the coercive power of unilateral trade
- further entrenched global inequality between and within nations
Also ignored is the conflict between the new rules imposed under the WTO regime and an array of international instruments on human rights, cultural, social and economic rights, the environment, and conventions on worker and trade union rights.
On October 25, 2005 U.S.-based corporations and business associations
formed the American Business Coalition for Doha (ABCDoha) with the
aim of saving the Doha Development Round from failure in Hong Kong.
Its website “fact of the week,” entitled “The Promise
of the Doha Round,” declares that the elimination of global
trade barriers will “lift more than 300 million people out
of poverty over 15 years” and “empower the world’s
poorest citizens.” Stepping off that fantasy ride we can read
statements from ABCDoha’s members that describe the benefits
of a successful Doha Round to U.S.-based corporations. No mention
of poverty alleviation or the empowered poor there.
The corporate co-chairs of ABCDoha include Cargill (the agribusiness conglomerate that dominates the global trade in grains and agricultural commodities such as cocoa), Caterpillar, Eastman Kodak, Goldman & Sachs, Intel, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Time-Warner, and Wal-Mart. At the press conference launch of ABCDoha, the CEO of Cargill called for “tough decisions on market access,” while the CEO of Wal-Mart reminded the U.S. government that his corporation has a “vital interest in the expansion of the international flow of goods, agricultural products, retail services and financial capital.”
Similar statements in defense of multilateralism and the need for a unilateral U.S. corporate offensive were made by the member-organizations of ABCDoha’s steering committee, which includes the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Council for International Business, and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Described by the president of NAM as “a powerful new force in support of a successful Doha Round for agricultural, manufacturing and services interests,” ABCDoha will apparently act as a powerful force in saving the global economy’s fragile multilateralism, while channeling the benefits of expanded global trade to U.S. business interests.
F or decades U.S.-based corporations, backed by the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Council for International Business, and NAM, have aggressively opposed the application of any multilateral or national instruments that could hold them accountable for violations of international law, particularly with regard to human rights violations. While the corporate interests driving ABCDoha actively promote new universal values and norms for a globalized economy, they vigorously oppose the universal application of long-standing international human rights conventions.
This is epitomized by the corporate offensive against the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) or Alien Tort Statute (ATS), an obscure U.S. law passed in 1789 that has recently been used by victims of international human rights abuses to sue U.S.-based corporations in U.S. courts. Farmers, workers, fisher-folk, and local communities in more than a dozen countries have filed cases against corporations such as Texaco, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Gap Inc., Unocal, Royal Dutch/Shell, Rio Tinto, Coca-Cola, Del Monte, Union Carbide, and Freeport McMoran. The cases range from the Union Carbide tragedy in Bhopal, India in 1984, in which 20,000 people died and 140,000 were injured, to the use of forced labor in Burma in the construction of an oil pipeline used by Unocal and the torture and toxic pollution by Freeport mining company in Indonesia.
Among these cases was a class action lawsuit filed by the Vietnam Association for Agent Orange Victims against a dozen U.S. chemical manufacturers, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto, which was thrown out by a U.S. federal court on March 10, 2005. Like many other cases filed under the ATS involving atrocities against humanity, war crimes, torture, slavery, and genocide, the Victims of Agent Orange sought— more than anything—to expose the truth about the involvement of these corporations in perpetrating these crimes. What is remarkable about the corporate response is the attempt to prevent these cases going to trial, challenging not the claims made by victims of these atrocities, but their right to use U.S. courts to make their claims. There was rarely any attempt to deny that the atrocities occurred. Corporations have declared that they shouldn’t be held accountable and that any laws—international or national—that may be used to enforce accountability for these crimes should be ignored, amended, or revoked. It was for this reason that energy was concentrated in securing a Supreme Court ruling limiting the interpretation of the ATS so that it could no longer be used to “victimize” U.S. corporations. Indeed, “support groups” were soon created to help corporate “victims,” such as Unocal and Dow Chemical, apparently “traumatized” by the reminder of their crimes. Fear and absurdity returns with a vengeance.
So members of ABCDoha essentially argued that legal liability for violations of international human rights is a competitive disadvantage in the global economy. But the fear of judicial imperialism doesn’t stop there. A separate brief, submitted to the Supreme Court by NAM, argues that the problem lies in the threat posed by the dangerous application of universally recognized worker and trade union rights: “The dangers that lurk if courts do not focus on assent by the United States are especially dramatic in the area of labor standards, where the International Labour Organization has adopted 185 conventions over the years, many of which could be invoked by plaintiffs as norms of customary international law against corporate defendants. Yet the United States has ratified only 14 of those conventions.”
Finally, corporate fears of victimization reach even greater heights in the “nightmare scenario” depicted in “Awakening Monster,” a policy paper on the Alien Tort Statute published by the Institute for International Economics. In this roller coaster ride through their corporate house of horrors, we see 100,000 class action lawsuits filed by plaintiffs in China against major U.S.-based corporations for “abetting China’s denial of political rights, for observing China’s restrictions on trade unions, and for impairing the Chinese environment.” There’s no question about the complicity of these corporations in committing such violations or how much they profited from them. That’s not the point. The point is that if these cases were to succeed, they could amount to damage claims of up to $20 billion. Added to this is the risk that the Alien Tort Statute could fall into the hands of “antiglobalization forces,” which would ultimately be “more destructive to the liberalization agenda than protests mounted in Seattle, Prague or Washington, DC.”
There are, of course, International Criminal Courts and guidelines on transnational corporations like the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises. But none of these have the enforceability—based on a genuinely democratic mode of social and political power—needed to effectively regulate transnational capital. This kind of social regulation would run counter to the logic of the WTO regime. That’s precisely why it’s absurd to attempt to add social clauses to WTO rules, attaching international human rights as a footnote to the corporate agenda. Proposals like the social clause are premised on the assumption that rights have been inadvertently neglected or somehow left off the agenda. Yet in the real world we see an orchestrated effort by transnational corporations to prevent the imposition of any kind of mandatory, enforceable, and effective multilateral instrument on human rights. That’s one reason why voluntary instruments like the UN Global Compact are welcomed by business interests—they allow corporations to receive public approval for voluntarily acknowledging human rights already enshrined in UN conventions and treaties. Gone is the obligation to recognize human rights as fundamental and universal. Instead, human rights are voluntary and selective (corporations are free to choose which rights to recognize). This is used benevolently to declare: “We’ve decided to recognize human rights,” tantamount to recognizing people as human.
So where does that leave us? Twenty years after the nightmare of the Bhopal tragedy and forty years after the tragedy of Agent Orange in Vietnam, we’re witnessing new tragedies in the making. Meanwhile, communities are compelled to live under the shadow of fear and absurdity, constantly promised that they’ll be lifted out of poverty through more global trade while systematically denied their rights. In the fantasy world of the WTO and the magical Doha Round all of that is swept away.
At least in Disneyland fiction and fantasy end when you leave.
Hidayat Greenfield is a labor research activist and union organizer working in East and Southeast Asia.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.