The Other Economic Summit:

As If People Mattered!


Special to The Progressive Populist

Denver, Colo.

Just as the nearby majestic Rocky Mountains dominate this mile-high city so too the future of democracy throughout the world was the towering issue of the recent People's Summit.

Based on the theme "Working Alternatives: A World That Works" The Other Economic Summit (TOES) drew some 500 participants from around the nation and the world to the Auraria Campus of the University of Colorado-Denver June 20-22 as a counter to the G8 Summit across town.

David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World (Kumarian Press), set the tone for the three-day convention in remarks to the opening plenary session. "While we gather here as private citizens from around the world for the People's Summit 1997, the Heads of State, Foreign Ministers, and Finance Ministers of eight countries -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States and Russia -- meet elsewhere in Denver to craft policies with far reaching implications for the lives of every single person on this planet. Most of the world's democratically elected leaders -- to say nothing of ordinary citizens -- are excluded from these meetings.

"Here at the People's Summit," Korten continued, "where our discussions are open and public, we will be sharing the stories of real people who are organizing at local, national, and global levels to reclaim control of their economic lives and to counter the devastating growth in inequality, exclusion, social breakdown, and environmental destruction being experienced everywhere on the planet."

TOES/USA, the summit's 1997 host, is part of an international non-governmental forum for the presentation, discussion, and advocacy of the economic ideas and practices upon which a more just and sustainable society can be built -- "an economics as if people mattered."

TOES promotes economics which incorporate the sustainable use of natural resources and the productive engagement of all people in the development of their communities and societies. It addresses the disarray in conventional economics by helping to bring such economic thinking into line with late 20th-century realities.

TOES' major ongoing activity is a yearly forum/exposition held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the world's leading industrial countries. TOES also publishes books, occasional newsletters, and maintains contact with TOES-related colleagues in other countries.

While the Summit itself reminded one of atoms swirling about in space it was apparent no critical mass was achieved or as one Summit organizer commented "it would have been better if more people had attended workshops than given workshops."

In addition, however, to the many workshops two significant "actions" were also staged by convention participants in front of the Denver convention center, which served as the press and media communications center for the nearby G-8 summit meeting.

On opening day a "silent vigil" was held on behalf of Free the Children. The international children's organization is dedicated to giving children a voice on issues affecting them on a local, national and international level while fighting for the protection of children from exploitation and abuse. It also is committed to to the implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Led by two extraordinary young girls representing Free the Children -- 12-year old Laura Hannant from Ottawa, Canada, and 14-year old Tanya Davis from Toronto, Canada -- the vigil participations, carried enlarged photographs showing how children around the world are being exploited in sweatshops in the name of corporate profit.

They called upon the G-8 heads of state to:
* Prohibit the exploitation of child labor and establish environmental and health standards that reflect children's tolerance levels.
* End negotiations of undemocratic international trade and investment agreements, such as expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) unless those agreements
a) include enforceable labor and environmental rights and standards in their core provisions,
b) guarantee the democratic right of national, state and local governments the right to protect labor, the environment, public health and safety as they see fit, and
c) require multinational corporations based in the G-8 countries to fully respect human, civil, labor and environmental rights and standards in their worldwide operations.
* Create a livable future for our children, by, at minimum, fully respecting internationally recognized human, civil, and labor rights and standards, including those in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The two girls, whose trip to the TOES Summit was sponsored by the Alliance for Democracy, were joined in their appeal by Ruth Caplan, Alliance Co-Chair; John Sweeney, President, AFL-CIO; Leland Swenson, President, National Farmers Union; Carl Pope, Executive Director, Sierra Club; Gar Alperovitz, President, National Center for Economic and Social Alternatives; Ira Arlook, Director, Citizen Action; Susan Bianchi-Sand, Executive Director, National Committee on Pay Equity, and Brent Blackwelder, President, Friends of the Earth.

Throughout the world more than 250 million children as young as four are doomed to often short and unhappy lives of forced labor, Hannant pointed out.

Young children are especially sought after for work in rug factories, Davis noted, because with their small hands they can tie tighter knots. Frequently they are beaten and chained to their looms, often working 16-hour days. "They hardly have any time for happiness, let alone education," she added.

The following day the Summit's overriding concern was addressed with workshops and another "vigil" at the G-8 convention communications site.

With the theme "Don't Dump Democracy: New Multilateral Investment Pact Threatens Social Contract and Sovereignty," TOES participants challenged the leaders of the G-8 nations to open the Multilateral Agreement on Investment negotiations to basic democratic accountability and launch an international Campaign of Inquiry.

During a press conference held by Mike Dolan of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, Dan Seligman of the Sierra Club, Steve Suppan of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Andrea Durbin of the Friends of the Earth, and the Alliance for Democracy, TOES participants hoisted hefty "bags of rights" into the "G-8 Dumpster" to symbolize the many economic and social policies that will be trashed by the MAI.

In their statement, the group stressed that "much like the proceedings of the Group of Eight Summit, Organization for Economic Development (OCED) negotiations on the MAI are conducted behind closed doors.

"Something is rotten in Paris and it's not bad cheese," they continued, "it's a new investment treaty called the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and it reeks of corporate welfare. Without the knowledge and scrutiny of citizens, elected officials or the media, 29 of the world's richest countries have been negotiating a multilateral treaty at the Paris-based OCED.

"As drafted, the MAI will trash state sovereignty, environmental standards, sustainable development, labor rights and more. Each of the G-8 leaders are secretly and aggressively pursuing these negotiations and we want them to come clean. It's time to clear the air! The MAI is the worst form of transnational garbage."

Public Citizen Director Lori Wallach has characterized, "the MAI is like GATT on steroids." It will require countries that sign it to:
* Open all economic sectors, including real estate, broadcasting, and natural resources to foreign ownership;
* Treat foreign investors (and companies) no less favorably than domestic firms;
* Remove performance requirements, which are laws requiring investors to behave in a certain way in return for market access;
* Remove restrictions on the movement of capital;
* Compensate investors in full when their assets are appropriated, either through seizure or through "unreasonable" regulation;
* Accept an international (possibly the World Trade Organization) enforcement process allowing investors to sue governments for damages when they are thought to violate the MAI, and
* Ensure that states and localities comply with the MAI. While the variety of workshops and demonstrations during the 1997 TOES Summit went for the most part unreported in the media and ignored by the G-8 leaders its some 500 participants, nevertheless, left the meeting with a firm commitment to further define what is real wealth, real sustainable communities and real international security within their respective communities and nations.

As Korten summed it up: "So let us be perfectly clear as we proceed with our deliberations. If we chose to reject the capitalism of the G-8, the World Bank, the WTO, the OCED, the International Monetary Fund, and the MAI, it does not mean we are against markets and democracy. To the contrary, we are rejecting their capitalism, because it is anti-market AND anti-democratic."

A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, P.O. Box 2201, Everett WA 98203, phone 206-258-5345, email Check the Internet: He is author of The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness (Essential Books: 1992).

See also "MAI fast track set;Vote seen in Sept."

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