By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In the case of living genes, however, the whole problem is stopping the cycle once it’s started. Patented genes, once they are released into the environment, cannot be controlled. StarLink corn, for example, a strain created by the biotech firm Aventis Crop Science, became a big problem for the U.S. corn industry in 2000. Approved in the United States only for animal feed, StarLink was later found in Taco Bell taco shells and nearly 300 other products. The patented gene seems to be spreading through cross-pollination.
”If there‘s one overriding concern, it’s that corporations . . . are making decisions that affect the future of all of life on Earth,“ says Brian Tokar, who teaches at Goddard College. ”Those decisions need to be made in the public sphere, not behind closed doors, in corporate boardrooms and at high-priced business conventions.“
A better, new world
What should become of the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization? In 1994, a San Francisco--based group called the International Forum on Globalization began studying such issues. ”There‘s not going to be one glorious day when their system comes crashing down and we’re going to be called in to put ours in place,“ says the task force‘s chair, John Cavanagh, co-author of the group’s master document Alternatives to Economic Globalization. Instead, we are in the process of slowly delegitimizing and weakening the power of the WTO, IMF and World Bank. And we are slowly making our arguments that there ought to be things like debt cancellation. There is increased space for alternatives.”
The group buys into the six-point manifesto of the anti-globalization crowd and isn‘t pushing for destroying the three global agencies. In fact, some of their functions are essential. But which global functions must stay, and how would these three organizations be rejiggered?
“That’s the hardest question,” says Cavanagh. “We fear that each of those three institutions is dominated by economists and a mindset that places free market values over other values. At the World Bank, they still call labor unions ‘Labor Market Inflexibility.’ So the notion of trying to have that institution have a labor-rights clause is very scary. We have concluded that it‘s better to try to clip them all down to size and, instead, increase the power and the teeth of international environmental treaties, the U.N. International Labor Organization, and so on.”
In fact, as unfashionable as it would seem, the Forum proposes turning over a lot of the current regime’s necessary functions to the United Nations. It may be prone to corruption and waste, but in a push to now integrate social values into the pure trade formula, the U.N., the original globalizer, is set up to handle limited functions and return many rights and standards to nation-states.
The U.N. was effectively gutted in the 1980s, stripped of funding and powers that were then expanded under the WTO, IMF and World Bank to reflect corporate, rather than social, priorities. Under the Forum‘s proposal, a remade U.N. World would flip a lot of that back. For instance, the U.N. World Health Organization has been central to the global battle against HIVAIDS. The U.N. World International Labora Organization has already done the heavy lifting of working out more than 100 conventions that define international worker’s rights. Giving that agency or the U.N. itself sanction power -- or tying it to the sanction power of the WTO -- would immediately create an answer to the kind of neoliberal policies that result in sweatshops. Similarly, the U.N. Development Programme and Economic and Social Council have already created innovative standards for measuring and monitoring human welfare. Creating a new U.N. Environmental Council to enforce the more than 200 international eco-agreements that already exist could bring about the “green court” environmentalists have wanted for decades.
None of these proposals, the Forum stresses, are meant to kill global trade. Nobody wants that. These alternatives are meant to bring social and environmental values up to at least the same level as those of trade.
And what of the WTO, IMF and World Bank? Well, in a perfect “alternative” universe, the World Bank would be quietly retired, replaced by smaller, national micro-credit agencies.
The IMF would be forced to respect its own mandate and end those aptly named structural adjustments, replacing those mechanisms with a kind of world bankruptcy court with an emphasis on maintaining social services.
The WTO would have its teeth pulled. Its much-abused sanction powers would be trimmed. Decision making would be democratized, and global rules on trade and investment would be subordinate to national rules where they conflicted. Many sectors, like agriculture or the patenting of life forms, would be eliminated from global trade rulings altogether.
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