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FW: Worldwatch: WTO & NGOs
Information for those interested in organizing for the upcoming trade talks
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, October 29, 1999 3:59 PM
Subject: WWN: Worldwatch: WTO & NGOs
NEWS FROM THE WORLDWATCH INSTITUTE
Worldwatch is pleased to announce the publication of the November/December
of World Watch magazine, which features two articles of special relevance to
upcoming meeting in Seattle of the World Trade Organization.
Hilary French's article, "Challenging the WTO," looks at how global trade
threaten to undermine environmental laws of sovereign nations. You can
this article as a free pdf file by going to the Worldwatch web site
(http://worldwatch.org/mag/1999/99-6.html). Recent transatlantic disputes
hormone-treated beef are emblematic of a new kind of global trade conflict,
which various national health and environmental laws, rather than such
traditional trade-war issues as tariffs, quotas, and the "dumping" of
commodities like steel or wheat, are now at stake. French reviews GATT and
agreements, and the glaring inconsistencies between the rules of the world
trading system and emerging international environmental principles and
practices. French highlights cases involving tuna, dolphins, shrimp,
food and forestry. And the article concludes with the issues confronting
governments and citizen activists at the WTO meetings in Seattle in November
Curtis Runyan's article, "Action on the Front Lines," looks at the growing
of nongovernmental organizations in influencing and setting policies that
formerly the preserve of governments and corporations. Through their
international connections and networks, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
concerns global platforms--connecting the hundreds of millions people who
to grassroots, community organizations that are working in small but
ways to change the status quo. This chaotic "third sector" is charting a new
course deep into the waters long ruled by nations and corporations. And
swelling numbers, size, complexity, and effectiveness are compelling the two
traditional sectors to change.
The press release attached below describes the article's principal findings.
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WTO CONFRONTATION SHOWS GROWING POWER OF ACTIVIST GROUPS
Private citizens throughout the world, banding together in millions of
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), are exercising an unprecedented level
influence over the decisions of governments and businesses, reports a new
by the Worldwatch Institute.
"The proliferation of these groups and the spread of their influence
been very rapid," said Curtis Runyan, author of "Action on the Front Lines"
the November/December issue of World Watch magazine. Estimates show that up
70 percent of the 2 million NGOs in the United States have been created in
last three decades. The number of NGOs operating internationally-those with
significant presence in three or more countries-has quadrupled to 20,000 in
As the powerful proponents of trade liberalization gather for the
World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle, activists groups are
their own meetings and demonstrations to fight for labor, health, consumer,
environmental standards threatened by the WTO's current agenda. "The biggest
story in Seattle may not be the WTO and its trade negotiations, but the
influence that citizen protests around the world, coordinated by thousands
NGOs, exercise over one of the most powerful yet least accountable
organizations," said Runyan.
Despite having modest budgets and resources that pale in comparison to
of their government and business counterparts, NGOs are increasingly
players in local, national, and international decision-making.
"Many groups have proved more adept than governments and business at
responding to social and environmental problems," said Runyan. "In
for example, a child is more likely to learn to read with the assistance of
of the 5,000 NGOs working on literacy programs than through a state school
More and more, these groups are operating in extensive, worldwide
coalitions, teaming up to give local issues international prominence, or
international issues local relevance. In 1988, for example, as countries
working to ratify a treaty permitting mining in Antarctica, a coalition of
NGOs crafted a counter-proposal to set the continent aside as a world park.
Using data showing the fragility of the region from Greenpeace's Antarctic
monitoring station, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition marshaled so
public support for its park proposal that the mineral treaty was abandoned
Antarctica was soon declared a world park.
By withholding or conferring public support, activist organizations have
affected policies of the world's most powerful institutions. Greenpeace and
other environmental and health groups in Europe have rallied consumers
the bioagricultural industry's efforts to introduce genetically modified
onto supermarket shelves without sufficient testing of ecological and health
effects. In the past year, major supermarket chains and baby food
have announced that they will refuse to use genetically modified food in
products. Faced with unrelenting criticism, Monsanto, one of the most
purveyors of genetically modified crops, recently announced that it was
plans to develop its "terminator" seed technology, which would have made it
impossible for farmers to save seeds from one season to the next.
Even governments once impervious to protest are responding to the
coordinated pressures of local and international activist groups. In
NGOs like the London-based Tapol and the East Timor Action Network, helped
pressure the government to allow an independence referendum in East Timor
25 years of military occupation. Despite the Indonesian military's
response, the overwhelming vote for independence stands as a victory for the
East Timorese and the international NGOs working on their behalf.
Citizen action groups also play an important role in providing consumers
with information about the behavior of corporations. One example is the
approval that some groups offer products, such as SmartWood, which certifies
wood that is harvested sustainably; Green Seal, which promotes
friendly products; and the California Certified Organic Farmers, which
food which meets its organic standards. In addition, massive consumer
coordinated by NGOs have pushed clothing, shoe, toy, and other companies to
address the use of sweatshop and child labor.
Increasingly, activist groups are bypassing tactics that require
government or industry. Instead, they are providing their own solutions to
social and environmental problems. The Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, which
tackled rural poverty by providing poor women with small amounts of capital,
sparked a micro-lending revolution around the world. The Grameen Bank's
which average around $175, provide small-scale entrepreneurs with the money
need to get on their feet. To date the bank has lent more than $2.4
seen a phenomenal repayment rate of 97 percent, and made unparalleled
against poverty and discrimination against women in many poor countries.
The vast majority of NGOs are not high profile activist groups that
to grab headlines. Instead, in most countries, a large share of these
provide education, health, and social services. One survey of 22 countries
found that two-thirds of all nonprofit employment is devoted to such
primary and secondary education, hospital and health care, income support
emergency aid and relief.
"While NGOs are increasingly stepping up to provide unmet needs," said
Runyan, "we should not allow governments to shirk their social and
responsibilities by pawning off their duties to citizens groups and
Runyan also highlights the confusion caused by the growing number of
nonprofit organizations funded and controlled by corporate interests.
observed the effectiveness of grassroots groups, industries are setting up
groups that attempt to make use of these same channels of influence," said
Runyan. " Groups like the Greening Earth Society and the Global Climate
Coalition are nothing more than well-funded industry PR firms." Nonprofit
industry and trade groups already employ four times as many people as
environmental groups do.
Also visit the Worldwatch website at <www.worldwatch.org>
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