Human Rights Dialogue (1994–2005): Series 1, Number 11 (Summer 1998): Toward a "Social Foreign Policy" with Asia: The Relevance of Social Problems to International Affairs: A "Shopping List" for the Future Agenda for Globalization

Jun 5, 1998

Given the ambivalent scenario of globalization, where do we stand with regard to an agenda for the future? Let me offer you a shopping list for the future agenda for globalization.

  • First, we must address anti-poverty measures. This is surely a cliché, but there must be greater satisfaction of basic needs—food, medical access, shelter, education, income generation, employment, social security, social cohesion. It is all there in international agreements. What is lacking is implementation.
  • The second item is equity. We know very well that in many countries 60 percent of the national wealth is in the hands of 20 percent of the population. The international distribution of resources is similar; wealth is increasingly being channeled to the rich nations, not to the poor, even with, or perhaps because of, the globalized context. What I would put on this agenda is more equitable income distribution, more realistic tax bases, and deconcentration of wealth and landholding by means of incentives such as a progressive land tax, social security for the poor, and entitlements for those who are needy. And internationally, I would include more stable sources of international liquidity plus better surveillance and better crisis response mechanisms, as well as more accountability by the multilateral agencies concerned.
  • Third, foreign direct investment is part of liberalization, but international capital is not currently investing in the poorest countries. The problem is to deconcentrate international capital markets so that they spread to poorer countries, but at the same time to prevent the negative impacts of foreign investment. This also means management of trade and capital flows, which must be made much more accountable and transparent. And it reflects the changing face of transnational corporations and the need to bring them into the discussion, in order to make them accountable, and because they are potential partners. This is important precisely because the 350 largest corporations now account for 40 percent of global trade. It is not necessarily the state that matters anymore; there are other key players at stake.
  • The fourth item on the agenda is debt relief. We should not forget that, despite all our initiatives, debt is still weighing down many developing countries. There should be more debt reduction measures and more innovative ways of converting debt reduction into poverty alleviation programs.
  • Fifth, many NGOs and the like depend on international aid. But we know very well that the amount of aid offered is falling; moreover, aid is not getting to the countries that need it most. Aid is often granted because of political considerations rather than social concerns. I would like to see more aid for those in need; a shift away from the use of aid for political purposes and toward its use for social purposes; and a shift away from deploying expatriate technical assistance personnel and toward building local capacities.
  • Sixth, we need a fairer environment for global trade, whether it be the institutional environment or the natural environment. Of course, that means restructuring international trade patterns, for example permitting more tariff cuts for developing countries. But in terms of the natural environment, the problem is how to realize the standards that we have already set at the international level, how to implement them properly to avoid the negative impact of ongoing development programs. One approach is through impact assessment, both in social and in environmental terms, to attenuate the negative impact of development projects.
  • Number seven is human rights. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but we still see extensive violations on many fronts. This includes governments that persist in claiming we should put civil and political rights ahead of economic, social, and cultural rights, and, conversely, other governments that want to put economic, social, and cultural rights before civil and political rights. I believe that one set of rights cannot be used to bargain for another set. We need food, but we also need the ability to claim and advocate for good food.
  • The eighth item is more social investment—not just economic investments, but social investments, providing incentives for those who perform services for the community. Which NGOs get tax exemptions in our countries? Maybe they are tax exempt in the United States, but certainly not automatically in my country. There needs to be a diversification of human skills so that people do not always have to seek outside employment, but can choose self-employment and other opportunities for their livelihood.
  • Item nine is partnership building, not only among governments, but also among civil societies, and between civil societies and governments. Very often we are remiss in incorporating the private sector as participants in partnership building. Good businesses should be brought in.
  • Finally, from the perspective of human development, there is a need for accessibility and sustainability—more pro-poor, sustainable, equitable, and accessible policies, measures, and resources, linked with decentralization and devolution of power, so that the poor can participate from the start in decision making, and follow through toward implementation and reform. This is also a call to international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to incorporate sustainable human development policies.

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