A 21st Century Agenda
To the skeptics, the millennial summit held at the United Nations in early September was just another talk fest with lofty objectives and noble purpose.
But to those who watched the proceedings closely, this summit was different. Instead of the polarization and acrimony of the Cold War, we witnessed the beginning of a new spirit of global community and the globalization of maturity.
US President Bill Clinton reminded the leaders to “look for solutions in which all sides can claim a measure of victory and move away from choices in which someone is required to accept complete defeat.” His statement signals a turning away from the zero-sum approach to international relations and an emerging global culture in which we all have a stake in each other's success.
The summit brought together 150 heads of state, government leaders, and monarchs — the largest number ever assembled in one place. This group represents the political power structure of the Earth, and its decisions carry significance and meaning well beyond the pageantry, protests, and traffic congestion that captured most of the public attention.
The summit was intended to identify the central global challenges facing the human community and elevate them to priority status. In their final declaration, the leaders publicly acknowledged their collective responsibility “to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality, and equity at the global level.” They also outlined a set of priorities for action:
• to free all peoples from the scourge of war within and between states, and to eliminate the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction.
• to free people everywhere from the dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty and to make the right to development a reality for everyone, thereby freeing the human race from want.
• to free all of humanity, especially children and grandchildren, from the threat of living on a degraded planet whose resources would no longer be sufficient to meet their needs.
• to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law as well as respect for all internationally recognized fundamental freedoms and human rights, including the right to development.
• to ensure that civilian populations who suffer disproportionately from natural disasters, genocide, armed conflict, and other humanitarian emergencies are given every assistance and protection.
• to support the consolidation of democracy in Africa and assist Africans in their struggle for lasting peace, poverty eradication, and sustainable development.
• to strengthen the UN to make it a more effective instrument in the fight for the development of all peoples of the world.
The agenda is clearly ambitious but not beyond humanity's ability to implement.
If civil society could mobilize the same energies as it did in Seattle, Washington, DC, and Prague and focus them on strategies to implement the Summit agenda then the gathering may indeed contribute to advancing the human future and opening a new chapter for humanity.
—Noel J. Brown
Brown, the former director of the United Nations Environment Programme,
North American office, is president of the Friends of the United
Nations, a fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and editor
of Ethics and Agenda 21: Moral Implications of a Global Consensus.
BIA Apologizes for “Ethnic Cleansing”
In an historic act of contrition, the head of the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has offered a detailed and formal apology for the institution's past acts.
At the September ceremony marking the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the BIA, Kevin Gover called BIA acts “so terrible that they infect, diminish, and destroy the lives of Indian people decades later, generations later.” Gover acknowledged that the BIA had not only failed to prevent the systematic destruction of “all things Indian,” but had participated in the “ethnic cleansing” of native peoples in the war for the West.
“This agency forbade the speaking of Indian languages, prohibited the conduct of traditional religious activities, outlawed traditional [tribal] government, and made Indian people ashamed of who they were. Worst of all, the BIA committed these acts against the children entrusted to boarding schools, brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually.”
Gover went on to say that “poverty, ignorance, and disease have been the product of this agency's work,” and by accepting “this legacy of racism and inhumanity,” the BIA also accepts the “moral responsibility to put things right.”
Bureau of Indian Affairs chief Kevin Gover's complete speech can be found at:
WTO protesters file suit in Seattle
A federal class action lawsuit has been filed against the city of Seattle, its mayor, and its former police chief for violations of constitutional rights during last year's protests against the World Trade Organization.
Initially brought on the behalf of four individuals, the lawsuit has expanded to include more than 600 people arrested during the WTO protests. The suit seeks compensation for those jailed or subjected to excessive police force during the protests.
The premise of the lawsuit is that the creation of a “no protest zone” violated the First Amendment and was therefore unconstitutional. The use of the zone, the plaintiffs argue, “stifled expression and demonstration in a much more expansive area.”
Jennifer Hudziec, plaintiff in the case, says she became involved in the lawsuit to bring to light a disturbing trend toward stifling the voices of dissent.
The Seattle lawsuit, which is being spearheaded by the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a national public interest law firm, has attracted support from law students, activists, and civil rights lawyers across the country.
A similar class action lawsuit is being filed in Washington, DC, and civil rights groups hope similar suits will follow in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and elsewhere.
— Elyse Fields
Milk Imports Threaten Indian Dairy Farmers
The dumping of imported, subsidized milk products into the Indian market by the US and the European Union is threatening the livelihood of thousands of Indian farmers.
The World Trade Organization has been pressuring India to lift import restrictions that have protected milk producers. India was faced with a severe food shortage in 1960s, but the country is now the largest milk producer in the world. As much as 80 to 90 percent of India's milk and dairy industry comes from more than 80 million dairy farmers, mostly women, who are members of more than 60,000 dairy cooperatives. The dairy cooperatives have pulled millions out of poverty.
For 20 years, India has said it could not permit large-scale imports because of a "balance of payments crisis." In recent years, however, India's exports of other products have risen by as much as 20 percent per year. Under WTO rules, India must open its milk markets. India has offered to liberalize imports over a nine year period ending in 2006. This request is unlikely to be accepted by the US, the EU, and other developed countries that want India to scrap import restrictions within five years.
The Miss Waldron's red colobus, a large monkey native to Ghana and the Ivory Coast, has become extinct, says a team of US researchers in West Africa. This is the first time since the early 1700s that a member of the primate order — to which humans also belong — has disappeared.
“The extinction of the Miss Waldron's red colobus may be the first obvious manifestation of an extinction spasm that will soon affect other large animals in this region,” warned Hunter College anthropologist J. Oates, author of the team's report.
Forest fragmentation is thought to be the primary cause of the extinction. Logging and road building have trapped West African primates and other wildlife in isolated pockets that leave them vulnerable to hunters. Over-hunting, a problem throughout the past century, has picked up in recent years due to the growing popularity of bush meat in urban restaurants.
Fox Turns Chicken in BGH Story
A Tampa, Florida, jury award of $425,000 supports the argument of a husband and wife investigative team. They contended that their employer, Fox TV, illegally pressured them to broadcast distorted and slanted news, then fired them for resisting.
Jane Akre and Steve Wilson had investigated and produced a story that highlighted the widespread secret use by Florida dairymen of rBGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone. The controversial genetically engineered stimulant produced by the Monsanto Corporation is injected into cows to increase milk production by 25 percent. Critics claim that consuming rBGH-boosted dairy products, which are banned in Europe, can contribute to cancers in humans, and that rBGH compromises the health of the cattle. The couple's story also showed how Florida supermarkets were quietly selling the treated milk despite promises not to.
Among the trial's highlights were testimony by journalist Walter Cronkite and presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The couple's evidence included letters from Monsanto's attorneys to Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, warning that “there is a lot at stake ... not only for Monsanto, but also for Fox News and its owner.”
Perhaps most ironic was the battle over the meaning of the Federal Communications Act. Fox's attorney tried to get the case dismissed, saying that there is no law against the station's slanting, distorting, or lying about the news.
The case against Fox, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, has received little attention in the press.
Fox is appealing the ruling.
For more information on this continuing saga, see: www.foxBGHsuit.com
GM Seed Company Bans GM Ingredients
Swiss agribusiness and pharmaceuticals giant Novartis has banned genetically modified (GM) ingredients from its food brands worldwide. As of June 30, 2000, the company's ingredient suppliers have been required to show certificates stating that their products are GM free.
Novartis' policy responds to growing public concerns over the nutritional and environmental impacts of GM foods.
The anti-GM stance, however, does not carry over to the company's agribusiness division, which continues to be one of the world's largest producers and promoters of GM seed. When asked about this, a Novartis spokesperson denied there was a contradiction between these practices: “All our business centers operate independently in totally different markets. The market for seeds is totally different from the market for food products.”
— Elyse Fields
Old Growth CO2 Sinks
Old, wild forests are far more effective than new tree plantations at sequestering carbon dioxide, a pervasive greenhouse gas, according to a new study cited in The New York Times, which also concluded that any policy that rewards the cutting of old-growth forests to make room for new plantings would be counterproductive.
The study, published in the journal Science, was done by Dr. Ernst-Detlef Schulze, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, and two other scientists at the institute.
Old growth forests take carbon out of the air and store it in trunks, branches, and leaves. Old growth forests also store carbon deep in the soil where it can stay for centuries if left undisturbed.
In climate change negotiations, the US, Russia, and Canada have sought to achieve a major portion of their Kyoto greenhouse targets through such carbon sinks as tree planting. Schulze says planting trees in areas already deforested would help reduce atmospheric carbon, but that the main goal remains reducing emissions at the source — smokestacks and tailpipes.
In an odd twist, a Business Week cover story warned of a massive disaffection with big corporations, while two other groups that might be expected to be concerned with corporate power — political scientists and the big environmental groups — were criticized for their silence on the role of corporations.
Business Week's cover story reports that three-fourths of Americans think corporations have gained too much power over too many aspects of life, according to a poll the weekly conducted jointly with Harris. Only 47 percent believe that what is good for business is good for Americans, and 66 percent think that making large profits is more important to big companies than developing safe, reliable, quality products for consumers.
“Put simply, it's becoming fashionable to be anti-corporate,” says Business Week.
The implications for business are huge, according to the article:
• This summer's $144.8 billion judgment in the Miami tobacco case came with a warning from the jury foreman, who said jurors wanted to ‘'put the companies on notice — not just the tobacco companies, all companies —concerning fraud or misrepresentation.''
• The visibility companies gain through huge investment in promoting a corporate name and logo makes them especially vulnerable to citizens' campaigns, according to Naomi Cline, author of the recent book, No Logo.
• Local activists have succeeded in interfering with corporate plans, blocking such retail giants as Wal-Mart and Home Depot from locating outside towns across the US.
Perhaps most troubling to CEOs is dissatisfaction within corporations. Last year, 43 percent of workers at large corporations said they ‘'find it very difficult to balance work and personal responsibilities,'' up from 36 percent two years earlier, according to Chicago's International Survey Research; 45 percent said they are ‘'very much underpaid,'' up from 38 percent in 1997.
The dissatisfaction could lead to a resurgence in labor union membership, Business Week warns. “An astonishing 40 million employees say they would vote in a union today if given the chance,” double the number of a decade ago, say pollsters at Peter D. Hart Research Associates.
Meanwhile the big 15 environmental groups, who might be expected to be critical of corporations, were criticized for ignoring the effects of corporate power. In response the groups' joint letter sounding the alarm about anti-environmental legislation, 170 people responded with a letter admonishing the environmental giants for ignoring the role of corporations in environmental problems.
“If you do not write and talk about today's large corporation, if you do not educate and mobilize your members as you know how to do, our legislatures will face crisis after crisis like the one you described in your letter,” Rachel's Newsletter reported.
Political scientists, too, remain remarkably unaware of the role of corporate power in any of the fields they study — international relations, US politics, or comparative political systems — according to Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman. In their column, Focus on the Corporation, they report the results of an informal survey they conducted at the political scientists' recent annual convention: less than 4 percent of the papers presented at the conference even included the word “corporate,” “business,” or “corporation.”
—Sarah van Gelder
Students Nix Private Prison Food Service
Students from Evergreen State College in Washington have won a two-month struggle to keep a catering company tied to the private prison industry from taking over the school's food service contract. In July, administrators announced that the college was in final negotiation with Sodexho-Marriott Services over a 7–10 year contract. However, negotiations broke down amid growing controversy and boycott threats.
Evergreen is the latest in a series of confrontations between Sodexho-Marriott and college students, who claim that the company's violations of workers' rights and relationship with the scandal-ridden Corrections Corporation of America make it an unfit provider of campus dining services. Sodexho Alliance is the largest investor in prisons for profit through its 17 percent stake in CCA and 9 percent stake in Prison Realty Trust.
—The Progressive Review
Globalization Threats Stifle Unionization
A rise in threats to close plants and move corporations overseas is stifling union organizing in the US, says a federal trade study carried out by Cornell University labor experts. The offshore trend has kept wages flat, blocking US workers from making real economic gains in a booming economy. The report calls for new labor protections.
The study, conducted by Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, determined that international trade and investment policies, combined with ineffective labor laws, have created a climate that has emboldened employers.
“Employers are using the global economy to intimidate workers from organizing by putting out the threat that they plan to move their operations overseas,” Bronfenbrenner said.
Researchers collected detailed information on the extent, nature, and impact of plant closing threats and actual shutdowns within the US private sector for more than 400 union certification election campaigns that took place in 1998 and 1999.
More than half of all employers made threats to close all or part of their plants during union organizing drives, the study found. In more mobile industries such as manufacturing, communication, and wholesale/distribution, threats were made 68 percent of the time.
Although only 3 percent actually carried out a threat to close or move, Bronfenbrenner pointed out that the tactic appears to effectively stifle union drives. The win rate for union campaigns at companies that threatened to close plants was 38 percent, compared with 51 percent at units where no such threats were made.
“Wall Street celebrates the fact that wages haven't gone up in years,” Bronfenbrenner said. “But if American workers aren't doing well, what good is our prosperity?
—American News Service
Download the study at www.americanrightsatwork.org/resources/studies.cfm
It's entitled "Uneasy Terrain: The Impact of Capital Mobility on Workers, Wages, and Union Organizing".
US Corporation Drops Indian Rice Patent
Rice-Tec, a Texas-based company, has been forced to withdraw claims on its Indian Basmati rice patent. The withdrawal signals a major victory for India's farmers, who for centuries have been growing the variety Rice-Tec claims to have “discovered.”
Farmers in other parts of the world have not been so lucky: the corporate patenting of locally cultivated plant varieties has forced potato farmers in Scotland, rice farmers in Thailand, and many others to pay royalties for genetic material that was once communally shared.
Had Rice Tec's patent stood, the US would likely have captured the basmati seed market, making it difficult for India to compete on an international level.
A severe shortage of condoms in the developing world is the fault of the US and other industrialized nations that failed to supply promised funding, according to a recent report by the United Nations Population Fund.
Nafis Sadik, the retiring head of the fund, sharply criticized wealthy nations for spending enormous amounts of money on military operations and offering very little support for health and family planning programs. The shortage is hampering efforts to curtail population growth, stem the spread of HIV, and give people the means to control the size of their families.
The report also highlighted the plight of women and girls around the world who, because of entrenched gender bias, are routinely denied access to adequate health care as well as education, equal pay, and legal rights. These problems contribute to 80 million unwanted pregnancies and 20 million unsafe abortions each year.
Dinner's Getting Hot
At grocery stores in five Midwestern states and at meat markets in rural southwest Florida, people are reaching into chilled display cases, picking up ground beef that's been “treated” with radiation, and taking it home to serve to their families. The meat might be E. coli-free. But is it safe to eat?
Federal officials, food industry executives, and the likes of the World Health Organization and American Medical Association think so. So does the largest retailer on the planet, Wal-Mart, which is planning to test-market irradiated meat. As does the international Codex Alimentarius Commission, which announced this spring that any dose of radiation, no matter how high, can safely be used to rid food of harmful microorganisms and extend shelf life.
Nonetheless, many un-answered questions remain. No one denies the studies by universities and private research centers showing that irradiation destroys vitamins and other nutrients, alters the flavor and texture of food, can spawn mutant forms of E. coli and other bacteria, and generates mysterious chemical compounds in food that can destroy cell membranes.
The question now is: Will consumers bite?
— Mark Worth
Mark Worth is with Public Citizen, 202/546-4996, web: www.nonukedfood.org.
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