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Autopsy Of The World Social Forum

By Suhas Chakma

The Pioneer
27 January, 2004

The 4th World Social Forum held in Mumbai from January 17 to 21, 2004, ended with a pledge to end the rhetorical analysis and adopt a programme of action for implementation in the next year's summit. Unless the WSF is able to adopt such a programme of action, polemics will soon suffer from the law of diminishing returns. However, if the process of adoption of the NGO Declarations in the World Conferences organised by the United Nations were any indication, adoption of a programme of action in the next WSF would be akin to climbing up the Mount Everest.

While the chorus is against globalisation, the participation of over 100,000 people from 130 countries undoubtedly contributes to globalisation. Many anti-globalisation activists themselves take advantage of globalisation. Therefore, what is required is ethical globalisation. Moreover, globalisation is no longer synonymous of Western globalisation. While West Pakistan failed to impose Urdu on Bengalis of East Pakistan in 1950s and New Delhi failed to impose Hindi on its south in 1960s, Hindi successfully made inroads across the subcontinent through cable TV. Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi has replaced Bangladesh TV, Pakistan TV, Nepal TV and MTV.

In most cases, globalisation only accelerates the exploitation, iniquities and discriminatory practices and mechanisms already in-built in societies or in the state apparatus. Jharkhand, the heartland of India's indigenous peoples, has been the epicentre of India's industrialisation since the colonial times. It is resourceful with minerals including 37 per cent of the country's coal reserves and 40 per cent of its copper reserves. Jharkhand ranks number one State in India in the production of iron ore, copper ores, mica, kyanite, uranium and asbestos. Despite over a hundred years of industrialisation, the Adivasis remain poor due to the denial of the right to entitlement.

The so-called South is no less exploitative than North. The maltreatment of the migrant workers across West Asia and South-East Asia requires little introduction. In fact, the UN International Convention on Migrant Workers has been ratified only by migrant-workers producing countries and not the recipient or potential recipient countries. The absence of rule of law across West Asia and South-East Asia in comparison to 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 in October 2003 for allegedly "publishing false information with malevolent intentions." Her only crime was to highlight
abuses against the migrant workers, mainly Bangladeshis.

For poorer countries of South, origin of capital makes little difference like the Adivasis of Jharkhand. 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 UP also imposed luxury taxes on Nepali products. India finally obtained strong amendments to the treaty when it came up for renewal in early 2002. However, since Nepal opened up in 1960s, Indian business and industrial entrepreneurs poured into Nepal to secure benefit. Of the total joint venture investors in Nepal, approximately 33 per cent are
Indians. The 1955 Indo-Nepal Treaty gives advantages to the Indian nationals in comparison to others.

"Capitalism" is no longer synonymous with "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 West-based corporations, however, have now been replaced by the state-owned oil companies of China's China National Petrolium Corp., Malaysia's Petroleum Nasional Berhad and India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (Videsh) Ltd. 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.

In the global village, the possibility of another world must mean ensuring equal access to education, health care, food, housing and other basic human needs, respect for rule of law and human rights, good governance and corporate responsibility and accountability. The focus of the next WSF must, therefore, be equally on national and multinational capital alike if it is not to turn into a self-censoring exercise of the apologists from the neo-developed and developing countries. In "an open meeting place", which WSF claims, semantics will rule the roost.