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The Global Compact is built on a set of nine "universal values" selected by the Secretary-General from a large array of multilateral declarations and agreements as being "core values". It is unclear how this selection was made and on what basis other values were excluded. This is quite remarkable, given the difficulty that inter-faith dialogue has in achieving any lasting consensus on a global ethical framework - to mitigate against the many regional religious wars in which the UN is frequently called upon to take a peacekeeping role. In one fell swoop the Secretary-General has come up with a definitive set of values and principles to be woven into global corporate behaviour.
As Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, John Ruggie stated: "Governments have defined universal principles and the Secretary-General has convened the relevant partners...necessary to translate those principles into everyday practice." (UN Press Briefing, 20 July 2000). This presumably makes it clear how NGOs who were not so convened should interpret the UN's assessment of their relevance.
The ICC states that "The Global Compact is a joint commitment to shared values, not a qualification to be met. It must not become a vehicle for governments to burden business with prescriptive regulations" (ICC, 25 July 2000). It is not clear how profit-focused corporations could share any "values" articulated by the UN in the Compact that are incompatible with profit-making - other than as exercises in public relations and image building. Curiously the January 2001 Davos Symposium debated a "truncated" version involving just 5 basic principles of which Ethan Kapstein states:
"It is hard to think of any corporation that would reject these guidelines." (IHT, 24 January 2001).
It is not clear how the two sets are related -- or what this implies for the Global Compact. It is unforunate that the UN does not adopt a more systematic approach to the range of values for which it claims to be a standard setter to determine how many there are, how they are related, and how they can be clustered or repackaged into sets of various sizes. This would avoid problems created by inadvertently omitted values and would address the question of values of other cultures to which the UN is not sensitive. (For some database work in this direction by the Union of International Associations on over 3,000 values (see: see) The challenging of structuring comprehensive sets of values could also benefit from such work.
The Corporate Europe Observer (October 1999, #5) questions the nature of the values held in common:
"A look at the social and environmental records of the companies that have been most actively involved in the Global Compact is cause for concern....The reality of corporate behaviour leaves no doubt that, rather than 'human security in the broadest sense', the corporations with which Annan has engaged in the Global Compact are primarily interested in the pursuit of profit and returns for shareholders. Indeed the discourse of 'global corporate citizenship' is deeply flawed as it implies that the social and ecological problems caused by corporate-led globalization can be solved by appealing to the moral consciousness of these corporations." (http://www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/ceobserver/5/globcom.html)
The Secretary-General has stressed the importance of enhancing the "social responsibility" of multinational corporations. It is to be wondered how he reconciles this with nonpayment of corporate taxes in the US by a significant number of them (as reported in 2000), notably through use of executive share options as tax loopholes. This would also be an important question to Sandrine Tesner and Georg Kell (The United Nations and Business: a partnership recovered, 2000) who consider that corporations cannot survive without being "socially responsible" -- is tax avoidance a responsible action of a global actor?
As argued by William Pfaff (The West's Globalization Drive is Proving a Massive Failure):
"Globalization's values are entirely materialistic. Its sponsors define progress wholly in terms of wealth accumulation. The ultimate purpose of economic activity and industry -- of human work, the defining activity of human beings -- is described solely to reward business investors. From that, it is said, all other benefits flow. It has been self-serving ideology, elevated to the status of economic principle. The assumptions that have underlain globalism's promotion of international economic deregulation are recent in origin and will eventually pass into economic history." (International Herald Tribune, 29 September 2000 http://www.iht.com/IHT/WP/00/wp092900.html)
Reasons why the globalization logic works in the West but not elsewhere, for 80 percent of humanity, are explored by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto (The Mystery of Capital: why capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else, 2000):
"One of the greatest challenges to the human mind is to comprehend those things which we know exist but cannot see...the great practitioners of capitalism were able to reveal and extract capital by devising new ways to represent the invisible potential locked up in the assets we accumulate. The absence of this process in the poorer regions of the world -- where five sixths of humanity lives -- is not the consequence of some Western monopolistic conspiracy. It is rather that Westerners take this mechanism so completely for granted that they have lost all awareness of its existence...It is an implicit legal infrastructure hidden deep within their property systems, of which ownership is but the tip of the iceberg...Its origins are obscure and its significance buried in the economic subconscious of Western capitalist nations." (International Herald Tribune, 5 January 2001 http://www.iht.com/articles/6349.html)
Deliberate "monopolistic conspiracy" or not, it is the blithe indifference to other ways of knowing and organizing that is a major cultural concern. From UN bodies there are also contrasting statements such as:
It is probable that, as a consequence of the Global Compact, multinationals will call upon the Secretary-General (through their newfound privileged access) to ensure that such views are in future suppressed -- in fulfillment of his commitment to improve the business environment. He has already established a track record on this through his early emasculation of the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations. "It seems highly unlikely, despite the Secretary-General's assurances, that the transnationals would change their modus operandi because the UN is now in dire need of their cash. Indeed, if there are any changes to be made, it seems more likely that it is the world body that will find its lofty principles annexed by the corporate agenda." Efforts are currently being made to undermine the effectiveness of the UN's Commission on Human Rights for related reasons.
It is intriguing that the Global Compact's nine core values, as selected personally by the Secretary-General, do not include anything related to truthfulness or honesty. In the case of multinationals, the UN is not dealing with bodies or people who have any reason to be honest in principle. For them, honesty and trustworthiness are what it is necessary to project as an image with appropriate spin to customers and peers. Their competitive advantage is not achieved through treating these as core values. It might be said that multinationals are in fact specialists in deniability and cover-up, for understandable reasons of competitive advantage.
The Secretary-General will of course be aware of that since diplomacy has been defined as the ability to lie for one's country (Ambrose Bierce: http://www.csi.uottawa.ca/~dduchier/devilsd.htm). The UN is not renowned for its truthfulness or transparency - nor are its Member States in their reporting to the UN. That is one reason why the contribution of NGOs has been valued. But if truthfulness is not a core value, what value is there in multinationals reporting compliance with the other values - other than as a cynical exercise in public relations? And how to evaluate any statements made by the UN on the matter?
It is useful to engage in the following thought experiment. How would the elites of multinational corporations, with unlimited media skills and resources, seek to design a media campaign to reposition the multinational corporation - starting in 1990? What would it be important to establish, with the support of academic and institution opinion makers" as being the "only way" forward? How could the weaknesses of the intergovernmental system be best exploited to this end?
It is easy to understand the public relations logic for multinational corporations of endeavouring to wrap themselves in the values of the United Nations - a process that is now being referred to as "bluewashing":
"Transnational corporations have a long history of what many have referred to as 'greenwashing', whereby they wrap their destructive activities in the rhetoric of helping the environment, in order to gain public relations victories with consumers, government officials and others." (TRAC, 1999).
The UNDP has explicitly recognized that when a company uses a UN logo, "a mutual transfer inevitably takes place" through co-branding. NGOs have expressed dismay at the prospect of image transfer occurring between some exploitative multinationals and the UN. The UN's own Guidelines do not take into account the modern advertising practice of branding, by which a corporation sells its image as much as its manufactured products. One of the early adherents to the Global Compact is a pioneer of the branding technique.
It will be intriguing to see what legal recourse the UN has against business entities using its logo within the framework of the Compact partnership arrangement -- when its logo is used in ways of which it disapproves. One can think of some intriguing objects on which advertisers might choose to place the UN logo, including toiletries.
The UN system can be usefully understood as a façade onto which the naïve and gullible are encouraged to project their hopeful illusions. Constant reference to "we the peoples" permits much to be achieved whilst this projection holds. But, in public relations terms, an image can be tarnished rapidly and the UN has some challenging associations to overcome: a former Nazi as a 2-term Secretary-General, major massacres under UN supervision, widespread programme failure, funding scandals, undignified public squabbling over key positions (and notably in the WTO), in addition to the many performance-related details unearthed by the Heritage Foundation (http://www.heritage.org/).
There is an extreme irony in the unusual use (at least in UN parlance) of the term "compact" to describe the partnership arrangement with business. It carries various associations of pressing, or fitting, closely together - a new departure for the UN in relation to the nongovernmental world. But more intriguing is its more common use to denote a small case containing face-powder, typically carried in a handbag. Is the UN effectively recognizing, if only subconsciously, its need for a cosmetic foundation to disguise the "blackheads" and "cracks" in its portrayal of globalization as the "only" way forward? Or is it an unconscious need to render itself into an attractive partner in its flirtation with multinational business? Organizational psychoanalysts would have much to say about the mirror that is often set within a compact. Or, more curiously, is the traditional flat circular form of a compact an unconscious acknowledgment of the UN's "flat earth" approach to any richer understanding of "global" - an antiquated approach with edges off which the marginalized can fall and with an underside populated by undesirables (and "rejectionists")?
For purposes of discussion, it might be useful to distinguish as a "Mafia" the people who orchestrate the conceptual framework that triggers the socio-economic chaos in developing countries, in the transition economies and - most recently - in the Asian financial crisis. It is they who provide the rationale for a totally uncritical view of globalization and a simplistic Global Compact. In a more enlightened world they would be brought before an international court for incitement to economic crimes against humanity. The future will judge them very harshly.
The conceptual mafia, like its better known analogue, is named by the cities and regions which different "families" and "dons" control. There is the Chicago Mafia, the New York Mafia, the Boston Mafia, the Washington Mafia, as well as those of San Francisco, Oxford, London, Paris, Brussels, etc.
By analogy they might be described as deriving their power and resources from activities such as conceptual "prostitution" (intercourse, or "dialogue", for cash) in academic "brothels". The process was partly described by Arthur Koestler in The Call Girls: a tragi-comedy (1973) -- his fictionalized description of the Alpbach Forum series that he organized over a number of years with the participation of such academics. Other fruitful activities of the conceptual Mafia include: "drugs" (whether conceptual stimulants, tranquilizers, or psychedelics), "gambling" (with other peoples values, to ensure a cut - although the games are fixed so that the "house" usually wins), and of course "money laundering" (through which their ill-gotten gains are transformed into acceptable tokens of value)..
They do exceptionally well at circumventing anything that society prohibits or frowns upon. They protect and exploit their territory through intimidation of the less powerful, but notably of supposedly impartial figures of authority. They often have sidelines in conceptual "blackmail", "hostage taking", and contract "killing" (through which careers may be terminated or severely damaged) using "hit men". Being very "family oriented", their gangs periodically engage in turf wars with other families - and are especially sensitive to invasion of their own territory. Prestige, honour and respect are significant core values -- although truth is always a matter of interpretation. Periodically representatives of families meet at international gatherings to articulate and regulate their differences over territory - and apportion any newly discovered territory. As with their Cosa Nostra analogue, the existence of any such covert organization of knowledge is denied or reframed - under a sort of "omerta" code which, if broken, immediately jeopardizes their professional survival.
Within the UN system, the pattern was set in its early years when it was common knowledge that many Secretariat officials were agents for the intelligence services of their respective countries. Other well-organized networks present included secret societies, such as the Freemasons and Opus Dei (ironically both "NGOs") - of which membership was naturally deniable. In more recent years, with the development of New Age thinking, various other "NGO" networks have acquired influence within the Secretariat - although apparently undocumented. Many of these would claim to be totally well-intentioned, however self-righteous, or however conspiratorially they act - or how much they render non-transparent the decision-making process. The public relations challenge for the UN would be to be able to demonstrate conclusively that it had not itself become the Cosa Nostra of some such group or coalition of groups.
To what extent have multinational corporations been effectively able to buy themselves a seat at the table? It is reasonably probable that the rationale for the Global Compact originated within one or more such networks within the Secretariat. Are there effectively "cross-linking memberships" between multinational CEOs and those unofficial groups within the Secretariat which conspiracy theorists would be happy to name?
There has been discussion of reform of the United Nations for decades. Some of the most cited people in this process have actually been those who were most instrumental in reinforcing the practices and mindsets now criticized as flawed. Following their retirement, they were given contracts to recommend reforms (a classical "double-dipping" opportunity). This is a process somewhat akin to asking foxes to redesign a chicken coop by which they have been well-nourished throughout their working lives.
In practice the only evident reform has been in direct response to harsh criticisms from the General Accounting Office of the USA and sustained by the UN's ideological opponents in that country. Who else could have dared to formulate them without losing privileges derived from the dysfunctional situation? In stark contrast with the UN's cultivated self-image, many of these criticisms were well-founded, notably with regard to mismanagement, incompetent appointees, rampant nepotism, and significant corruption. Accompanied by budgetary constraints, these "reforms" have primarily taken the form of cutbacks and endless "restructuring".
The Global Compact has therefore been heralded as one of the few tangible manifestations of a new style of strategic initiative. Given the manner in which it has emerged, the question is what exactly this new style has come to mean.
The challenge for the UN is that so many have associated their hopes for a better future with it. In public relations terms, it has in many respects been ideally positioned as carrier of this aspiration for a better world. The UN has been seen as offering a highly attractive opportunity for pragmatic idealists who have sought to work there. In many respects the UN has been considered above criticism. It is this goodwill that is in imminent danger of being completely squandered by the Global Compact process.
This uncritical attitude was exploited by many to conceal to their personal advantage the level of mismanagement, cynicism and nepotism that the institution tolerated. Worse still, unfortunately, there are those behind the scenes who have sought to exploit this naïve and uncritical image in pursuit of undeclared collective agendas. But, since so much of UN communications is classified, or prematurely shredded with deliberation, it is only many decades hence that some of the brutal truths will become known - other than through corridor gossip and rumour. Since staff sign non-disclosure agreements, few people are able to publicize the real dynamics of the UN, and if they forgo their pension rights to do so, they are then subject to various forms of sanction. In this respect an early study by Shirley Hazzard (1973) is an exception, although many of the points made were confirmed decades later by investigations instigated by the GAO or reports of the Joint Inspection Unit. Few of those in a position to know have any motivation to jeopardize their advantages by publicizing the true state of affairs.
Since truth is not one of the universal "core values" articulated by the Secretary-General, one can understand that it may only be used "economically" to sustain an underlying lie. It is therefore only possible to hypothesize how a lie regarding the reality of the UN might be sustained within successive layers of partial truth. These levels would to some extent be reflected in the security classification of documents (if they exist) -- for example NATO has four such levels Cosmic Top Secret (CTS), Secret (NS), Confidential (NC), and Restricted (NR). Some intergovernmental bodies, such as the European Commission, are currently tightening security provisions under a guise of loosening them following consultation with "civil society" (http://www.statewatch.org/secreteurope.html). In an era of suposedly increasing transparency, how does the UN justify the levels of secrecy it uses and the vast amount of material that remains classified?
Presumably the nature of the UN system is differently understood at each level:
Level 1: Sustained by public relations techniques and glossy speeches, would be the visible outer shell of the UN as sustainer of universal values and a focus of simplistic civics courses (including student briefings at the UN). The main vehicle for this level is press releases, posters and other media materials. Celebrity ambassadors may cultivate this level of perception. The UN has a heavy investment in maintaining this perception of its image. Presumably the UN manages its relationships with many NGOs through its DPI briefings at this level.
Level 3: Underlying Level 2 would be the realities of horse trading between member states and competing UN agencies and departments to control the agenda on the basis of objective criteria - as part of the "realities" of the democratic process that scholars are happy to acknowledge
Level 4: Beneath Level 3 would the cynical reality of inter-personal and inter-sectoral bickering, infighting and power struggles -- normal for any bureaucracy but long ignored by scholars of international relations focused on the documented legal realities of international organizations. It was this layer that was brought into the open by the USA criticism of the Secretariat. Some aspects of it would be linked to collusion in deliberate mismanagement of funds, possibly appropriately rewarded for services rendered by outside contractors; other aspects would include nepotism, misuse of travel budgets, etc. From this level on, all initiatives would be governed by plausible deniability.
Level 5: Beneath Level 4 lies a layer of undeclared political agendas and secret deals through which initiatives get facilitated or quashed for unpublicized reasons (presented to lower levels through reasonable rationalizations). The demise of the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations was probably orchestrated at this level, as with the "conversion" of UNCTAD into a facilitator of transnational corporate action in developing countries. It is probably also at this level that many highly dedicated individuals strive to make the system work, above and beyond the call of their contractual obligations and their understanding of the system's dysfunctionality. It is at this level, through discretionary interpretation of any rules applicable at lower levels, that access is facilitated or denied - a challenge faced by "NGOs", including the UN's new business partners. Documents relating to this level are strictly classified and therefore beyond the scope of any academic study or comment.
Level 6: Beneath Level 5 is probably a layer on which conspiracy theorists would avidly feast - justifying aspects of the anti-UN paranoia in the USA. It would be at this level that the new style of UN corporatism would have been decided and articulated - possibly inspired by the ideology of secret groups. At this level the structural elements and statements of the organization are treated as "plastic" to be moulded as vehicles for secret agendas. Operators at this level would move freely around the system -- being relabelled with convenient paperwork to maintain a semblance of credibility.
How many such levels could be usefully hypothesized is another matter. Some of the secret networks apparently operating amongst UN personnel subscribe to belief systems that provide for "initiation" into 7 or more -- up to 33 "degrees" in the case of some branches of freemasonry (active in government, business and academe). How do such memberships affect articulation of agendas, priorities and UN reform processes -- especially when external spiritual authorities of various kinds are involved? As the UK has discovered from investigations into the involvement of freemasonry in its judicial system, the lack of transparency on these matters contributes directly to the erosion of the credibility of the system. Simple denials are not enough -- and fall into the same pattern as recent misleading government denials over health-related issues. Lack of transparency also provides considerable ammunition for the many active conspiracy theorists on the web (for example, one search on the web for: united nations freemason*, resulted in 1,870 hits). Has the UN ever produced any statement directed to the clarification of the situation resulting from undeclared memberships of personnel in what are effectively secret NGOs? Has there been any academic research on this matter by scholars of international relations interested in UN reform? Why not?
The elusive hidden nature of any such "conceptual tumour on the global brain" has perhaps been best articulated from a Christian perspective in C S Lewis' much-cited That Hideous Strength (John Love, 1945) -- to whose current relevance many web documents continue to attest (http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft0003/articles/lewis.html). It is a bizarre irony that the core body aiming for complete control of humanity in Lewis' tale is NICE (the "National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments") at a time when NIC (the US National Intelligence Council) has just brought out a study on Global Trends 2015: a dialogue about the future with nongovernmental experts (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/globaltrends2015/index.html) -- essential reading for anyone endeavouring to understand the strategic threats perceived by the USA and the nature of the responses envisaged, presumably through some degree of control of UN strategy.
Of course it is too simplistic to demonize those endeavouring to act at these "inner" levels or to label those in the "outer" levels as naive dupes. But those involved protect themselves behind a long-standing pattern of arrogance which justifies the many suspicions that are articulated about the Global Compact. Lewis' theme might now be better be explored under the title That Hideous Arrogance. Many of those involved may see themselves to be inspired by the highest ideals -- according to their own lights and illusions, as reinforced by their own enlightened network. The malignant "conceptual tumour" may in fact be a benign "circle of wisdom". It may take the form of a little known "Group of Friends of the Secretary-General" configured to support him on particular issues (http://www.ccpdc.org/pubs/krasno/krfr.htm) -- and undoubtedly on that of the Global Compact. Members may well see themselves to be struggling against peers at the same level with far more dubious strategies and agendas. And again, this eternal struggle between universal ideals and narrow interests may occur within each individual - including the Secretary-General.
John Ruggie exemplifies the problem when he states to the NGO community: "Certain criticism by activist groups I wont't dignify with a response; they're the one's that question Kofi Annan's motivations. The Secretary-General is doing what he is doing because he believes it is the right thing." (13 October 2000). In a period when the motivations of "CEOs" of governments -- even those permanently represented on the Security Council (or the G8 group) -- are subject to judicial inquiries within their own countries, it would only be fair to check with relatives of the people massacred in Srbrenica about the appropriateness of questioning the Secretary-General's motivations in supporting any new safe havens. Others may also feel some obligation to do so -- especially in the light of the unsuspected involvement of one of his predecessors in the Balkan region during the Nazi era.
After all, in the world of business ethics with which the UN is now partnering American-style, is it not absolutely acceptable standard practice to pay commissions (or "finder's fees") to those who facilitate lucrative business deals? How do "CEOs" of countries acquire such wealth on the basis of small official salaries -- as in the case of President Estrada of Philippines (January 2001)? If parliamentarians are required (eg in the UK) to declare their potentially conflicting business interests, as well as possible conflicting membership of NGOs (eg involvement in Amnesty by a UK law lord with responsibility for the Pinochet extradition), is it not appropriate to inquire of the Secretary-General's personal involvement in businesses and -- however ironic -- "NGOs" of whatever form (including some well-known secret societies)? In the light of the religious interests driving the new understanding of "globalization" (discussed below), might it not be appropriate to be clear on the religious faith of the Secretary-General and his entourage (as is the case with the US Presidency and US negotiators in the Middle East crisis)? How would it affect perception of the Secretary-General's judgement to know whether he was an active member of a secret society or committed to belief in an imminent Apocalypse?
NGOs have argued that the UN should act with "full transparency at the conceptual, planning and implementation stages" of the Compact. But the surreptitious manner in which the Global Compact has been negotiated and introduced, and the many joint ventures with multinationals already underway or planned, are all symptomatic of a culture of secrecy which will seemingly mark and mar the image of the United Nations from now on. For example, the UN Secretary-General provided the opening message to a secret gathering that established the Business Humanitarian Forum in 1999, and involved the UNHCR.
This secrecy is implicitly recognized by the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA) which is an NGO partner in the Global Compact. In a report on an OECD Conference on Partnerships in the New Economy (June 2000), it notes the "silent revolution" being carried out at the UN and articulated in a joint report by the UN, OECD, IMF and the World Bank (A Better World for All).
Secrecy is consistent with the defensive attitude of multinationals to even the semblance of public scrutiny, as pointed out by a former staff member of the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations):
"They shun any serious discussion of critical issues: their global market dominance, price fixing practices in small countries, wage cuts and job losses in Third World countries, huge commercial debt repayments, and other 'negative' matters. A peak of absurdity was reached at the final preparations for the Earth Summit when there was heavy lobbying to remove the term 'transnational corporations' from the draft text of Agenda 21" (http://www.oneworld.org/ni/issue246/green.htm)
With regard to secrecy, one NGO, the Rural Advancement Foundation International, makes a valuable distinction between being "at" rather than "under" the table (before going on to discuss "table manners"):
"All this is not to suggest that global enterprises could not in some way, be "at the table". The Global Compact, unfortunately, places them "under the table" where their antics and influence would be difficult to observe. We want them where we can see them. We also need to hear what they have to say. Not because global companies will ever be good global citizens - that's naïve and impossible - but because their power is real and to ignore and not address it is to encourage its growth and increase its threat to the world's poor and powerless. "At the table", some corporate tendencies can be controlled. The public spotlight will have a focal point and will force companies to behave better and act more cautiously. Senior company managers have conceded - sometimes with genuine misgivings - that business controls policy in Clinton's Washington, Blair's London, as well as in Canada, Australia, and Japan. This is no surprise." (http://earthhopenetwork.net/alerts_9-00_1.htm#gc)
There is a curious irony to the fact that the UN system has for so long been reluctant to focus on issues other than the economic. It has only recently been forced to recognize certain social dimensions in practice - and to seek to provide a "human face" to many of the programmes it has often disastrously supported. In this new phase it would appear that it is now finding ways to hold to its original economic principles through being "economical" with the truth - at a time when many might expect both transparency and an effort to be what might be termed "ecological with the truth". It is perhaps no coincidence that the Secretary-General chose to present the Global Compact at a World Economic Forum where it would be normal to be "economical" with social concerns experienced by others. The European experience with the "mad cow" disaster -- and other health-related issues -- should have reinforced the need for a more "ecological" approach. As Flora Lewis (Mad Cows, Funny Plants, Uranium Dust and Such) points out
"They are all possible health dangers about which the public feels improperly informed, perhaps deliberately misled. This is a cumulative problem...This is another aspect of the globalization development, a new requirement because of the new patterns of trade, communications and even defense. The feeling that you can't trust what you are told, and can't find out for yourself, is an important element of the unease and discontent afflicting affluent societies and provoking protests that which have no constructive proposals." (International Herald Tribune, 19 January 2001, http://www.iht.com/articles/7992.html).
Might not the precautionary principle be applicable in the case of globalization? Like BSE, the delay between "infection" and manifestation of fatal symptoms may also be measured in years. The remarks of the German health and agriculture ministers on their (forced) retirement in January 2001 as a result of their handling of the BSE crisis in Germany might well be a reminder of the UN's challenges to come over business domination of globalization:
Fischer: "The real cause of the crisis is to be found in the industrialized farming economy...Financial interests dominate and are put above consumer interests"
Funke: "I have been forced to acknowledge that the farming policies I consider to be appropriate were no longer supported by a majority in the coalition"
The perception that through the Global Compact the UN will "sell its soul to the devil" has been widely carried by the specialized media as a cautionary message to the UN. But it might well be asked whether it has any soul left to sell. Multinationals will be rather sensitive to this. Many have become cautious of associating their programmes with UN sponsorship precisely because to some circles this appears as a guarantee of weakness and ineffectiveness -- a "kiss of death" in public relations terms. It may also become a sign of lack of integrity. The UN would then find itself quickly abandoned by its newfound friends.
Where would one look to find evidence of the integrity of the United Nations? How would one hope to recognize it -- when integrity at one level is undermined by untrustworthiness at another, legally reinforced by non-disclosure agreements (which the Secretary-General has also signed)? How would one distinguish what appears to be evidence for integrity from skillful media spin by its Office of Public Information - or by those who have access to other media channels? How do levels of the UN system cloak themselves in integrity in order to advance poorly understood agendas?
Following years of promises by UN agencies for: "food for all", "education for all", "jobs for all", "literacy for all", "health for all", "water for all", "justice for all", "peace for all", etc -- how should one rate the Secretary-General's claim that globalization is the "only" hope through which the condition of the world's poor can be improved? In the light of its track record - notably on "safe havens" -- whom would you be wise to believe or trust at the UN, especially if your life or livelihood depended on it -- or those of your children?
In January 1995 the Management Development and Governance Division of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published a discussion paper on Public Sector Management, Governance, and Sustainable Development. It affirms that the "good management of human affairs by governments, through public sector organizations and in collaboration with organizations of civil society, is a sine qua non of sustainable human development." A detailed critique of this document stressed the degree to which UNDP engaged in definitional game-playing with respect to civil society and NGOs:
"In practice insightful analysis and laudable principles are elaborated at one point, only to be effectively reframed with a far more narrow and questionable interpretation at another. Whilst this may be good politics and good public relations, it does not invite confidence. Is it deliberate on the part of some, a manifestation of sloppy thinking, or a consequence of committee report writing? It is precisely this tendency which has alienated so many from political processes in general, and from UN processes in particular."
The UNDP document may have contributed to the articulation of the new strategy. This practice continues with respect to the Global Compact, as illustrated by the following:.
"Private sector": Since this term is commonly used by business to refer to corporate profit-making, in contrast with government activity, the UN has been encouraged to employ this terminology, in discussion of the Global Compact. But it is then used interchangeably with "business community" notably in its recent: Guidelines for Cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Community. This however raises the issue as to whether NGOs are understood to be part of the private sector or not, and whether they are to be usefully distinguished in any way, other than in their unbusiness-like, unwillingness to make a profit. This confusion has led some academics to speak of bodies like NGOs as being part of a "third sector" - which some might still choose to see as "private".
"Global business associations": This term used by Kell and Ruggie (1999), writing on behalf of the UN, presumably refers to bodies such as ICC and international trade associations, as well as opinion forming bodies. In UN terminology these are NGOs. However it is not clear what kinds of business organizations are included or excluded from this term.
"isms": According to the Secretary-General "in the global market, people do not yet have that confidence [that certain minimum standards will prevail]. Until they do have it, the global economy will be fragile and vulnerable - vulnerable to backlash from all the "isms" of our post-cold-war world: protectionism, populism, nationalism, ethnic chauvinism, fanaticism and terrorism. What all those "isms" have in common is that they exploit the insecurity and misery of people who feel threatened or victimized by the global market. The more wretched and insecure they are, the more those "isms" will continue to gain ground. What we have to do is find a way of embedding the global market in a network of shared values." (http://www.un.org/partners/business/davos.htm). Some will no doubt interpret the subtext to mean that it is "NGOs" who are most associated with "isms" in the Secretary-General's newfound perspective within a reformed UN.
The above definitions tend to be deliberately manipulated in key texts to confuse understanding of the issues. For example:
"Civil society actors are increasingly targeting TNCs and the trading system as leverage by means of which to pursue broader social and environment concerns" (Kell and Ruggie, 1999).
A very small percentage of civil society actors are acting in this way. The number of those sharing those concerns may however be targeting TNCs increasingly.
"Individual corporations have lent their support and have assisted in the construction of the [Global Compact] website, as have leading NGO's in the areas covered by the Compact" (Kell and Ruggie, 1999).
Few NGOs hold the view that they are being led by other NGOs. To believe this is the case is to completely misunderstand, or misrepresent, the nature of civil society. The authors should have used the construction "some major NGOs in the areas covered by the Compact."
"The role of international NGOs in the international arena has only recently attracted serious attention and is not yet well understood." (Kell and Ruggie, 1999)
The question here is whose attention is to be considered "serious" (as opposed to the reverse) and who is having difficulty doing the understanding. Blithely the authors continue:
"NGOs have long been active in international affairs, including at the United Nations" (Kell and Ruggie, 1999)
Is this an implication that the UN did not previously accord serious attention to them? This would be a very interesting admission on the part of UN authors, given the many supposedly serious statements by the Secretary-General and other officials concerning NGOs over many decades -- and most recently during the millennium celebrations. And is it the UN that has been having difficulty understanding them - despite the fact that their existence and relationship to the UN is enshrined in Article 71 of its Charter and was recognized by its predecessor? Or maybe it is scholars of international relations?
It is amazing that the authors then go on to imply that "widespread acknowledgment of their growing political influence" only arose with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in 1997. They carefully omit any reference to the dramatically successful campaign at that time by NGOs against OECD's Multilateral Agreement on Investment (1997-98) that was a precursor of the campaigns against subsequent initiatives by OECD and WTO (http://www.oxfam.org.uk/policy/papers/mai_update/mai_update.htm). Far more than the public relations around any prize, this initiative really sharpened awareness concerning the power of "NGOs" -- not because of their positive value (presumably still lacking widespread acknowledgment with the UN), but because of their obstructive power.
However this is consistent with the blinkered interests of international relations scholars from which the UN derives most of its policy insights. It is true however that every school of thought has the right to "discover America" as it expands its horizons -- but it may have long been inhabited by "Indians" and previously visited by "Vikings".
"At the other end, a growing number of NGOs including the most transnational, such as Amnesty International ...have entered strategic partnerships with TNCs..." (Kell and Ruggie, 1999)
Despite its profiling of international organizations (Yearbook of International Organizations) over many years, it is unclear to the Union of International Associations that any studies exist to determine unambiguously the criteria for "transnational" -- and which organizations correspond to that criteria. The UN has certainly never been able to determine this in any unambiguous manner. What data establishes the proportion entering into strategic partnerships with TNCs? Unfortunately the authors are structuring their argument to create the impression that partnerships with TNCs are (or should be) acceptable to NGOs in general. Will this be made a requirement by the UN following its Global Compact initiative?
"Indeed, most transnational NGOs take positions against TNCs and trade not because they inherently oppose their legitimacy or functional efficacy. They do so primarily because it promises to leverage their own specific interests and concerns" (Kell and Ruggie, 1999)
This is a very clever construction. It implies that genuinely international NGOs oppose TNCs in order to advance their "selfish" interests, rather than because the NGOs have legitimate and specific reasons to consider that TNCs act, or tend to act, totally contrary to the interests of many ordinary citizens. In two sentences it endeavours both to exonerate TNCs of any abusive practices and to label NGOs as self-interested.
"The smaller and/or more radical single issue ngo's [sic] believe the United Nations has entered into a Faustian bargain at best. But the larger and more transnationalized NGOs [sic] have concluded that a strategy of "constructive engagement" will yield better results than confrontation, and they are cooperating with the United Nations" (Kell and Ruggie, 1999).
Again the implication that amongst the vast universe of NGOs, all those which are small and/or radical, or focused on a single issue, have some interest in the UN and have reached Faustian conclusions. Whereas all those which are more transnationalized (whatever that means) are cooperating (whatever that means) with the UN. Namely the most important groups ("NGOs") agree with the UN, even if the least important ("ngos") do not. Would this view also apply to the perspective of small businesses? Could improving the international business environment for multinational corporations be understood as a "single-issue" preoccupation, subject to the same criticism -- or is it necessarily to be understood as somehow "transnationalized"?
Every time something of value is detected by the UN in "civil society", it now tends to be removed from the negatively prefixed category of "NGO" that it invented -- and increasingly, any civil society actor critical of UN policies is labelled as an "NGO". In December 2000, for example, the new UN Vienna Civil Society Award was given to "organizations" which many would otherwise describe as "NGOs".
"The international community should have a keen interest in promoting representative business associations" (Kell and Ruggie, 1999).
NGOs have many decades of experience of the "promotion of representativeness" at the UN and the political exceptions that were conveniently made - and are made to an even higher degree now. Here it must be assumed that this is code for "promoting the ICC" as part of the Global Compact deal with the UN. The question is what exactly ICC is supposed to be representative of, especially at the "micro-level" cited by the authors, when it is primarily a vehicle for multinational business?
But, as noted earlier, there are also definitional problems between the UN and ICC.
"If labor unions and so-called civil society nongovernmental organizations are seen as full partners in the Global Compact, its nature will certainly be different from the concept that a group of CEOs -- all of them ICC members -- welcomed wholehearedtly when they pledged their support in July 1999." (International Herald Tribune, 25 January 2001)
This is an interesting statement from the secretary-general of the ICC, which many (including the UN) consider to be an "NGO". But maybe it is not a civil society "nongovernmental organization" -- and certainly not of the "so-called" variety. Perhaps, like the Club of Rome before it, the ICC sees itself as a "non-nongovernmental organization". The ICC strongly expressed the view that the relevant level of collaboration between multinational corporations and NGOs was strictly at the "grassroots level" (IHT, 25 January 2001). This is a view pioneered by UNDP -- which has long endeavoured to ensure that international NGOs are bypassed in favour of collaboration at the field level. Of course this does raise some issues with regard to collaboration between UNDP and ICC. A curious feature of this argument from the ICC is that it stresses the value of its own role in speaking "on behalf of" corporations around the world and would presumably have arguments against contacts, without its mediation, between corporations and the UN (especially at the grassroots level). But then, together with UNDP, it questions the value of any contact with NGOs (of which it is one), except at the grassroots level.
If indeed the best minds of the image management industry, at the command of multinational corporations, are endeavouring subtly to reframe global society to create a congenial business environment for themselves, what is the set of complementary elements that might contribute to this strategy?
Such a covert strategy is most successful when it is essentially self-organizing, so that the different aspects reinforce one another -- without any need of the parts to be overly aware of the whole.
The religious flavour of the global strategy of multinationals may have been first identified by Kirkpatrick Sale (New Internationalist, August 1993: http://www.oneworld.org/ni/issue246/giants.htm) who interprets the 'gospel of globalism' as the essential values underlying the frenzied drive towards a new world economy. Images of the Earth from space in the early 1990s developed resonances between the "globe" so viewed and the kind of spirtual wholeness to which religions have always pointed. The globe became a metaphor for a form of integrative unity to which humanity has always claimed to apsire. This resonance was used as a vehicle for those purveying highly simplistic insights through globalization: "global traveller", "global exchanges", etc.
The religious dimension becomes more explicit in the strategy through the well-funded campaign by the Protestant religious right (the natural allies of US-based multinational enterprises) in their support of George W Bush as a born again Christian. He presents his presidential strategy as: "to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity." Bush's adviser, Marvin Olasky (see http://www.bushfiles.com/bushfiles/olasky.html), presents it as "compassionate conservatism" which is "neither an easy slogan nor one immune from vehement attack":
"It is a full-fledged program with a carefully considered philosophy. It will face in the twenty-first century not easy acceptance but dug-in opposition. It will have to cross a river of suspicion concerning the role of religion in American society. It will have to get past numerous ideological machine-gun nests. Only political courage will enable compassionate conservatism to carry the day and transform America." (Compassionate Conservatism, 2000)
Strange that military metaphors should be considered important to carry a spiritually driven programme (on this point see Judge, 1998) -- back to the crusades. The strength of the campaign derives partly from the proprietary cooptation of certain values by some religions as their "only" true guardians -- values which can only be furthered through their support. Few would quarrel with the values. Many would quarrel with their proprietary appropriation by particular religious coalitions. The link to a selected form of "NGO" is evident in Antonio de Nicolas' review of Olasky's book where he notes that:
"The leaders of compassionate conservatism also know that government cannot instill those beliefs. What government can do is create conditions for them to flourish. So, it can give inspiration, and money, to America's "armies of compassion", namely, private churches, religious groups, charitable institutions to take care of the "mental health" and social problems of the American people. This project is not only social but also religious welfare. It not only promotes economic but also religious rehabilitation....Any criticism of this program is useless for it is being implemented already all across the country. However, all those interested in their own communities should be made aware of it so that they develop their own programs of protection, health and welfare for their own people. Ironically, most of the offenders, at least where I am writing, belong to Calvin's descendants, or splinters of Calvin's churches. I cannot fathom the rationalization of giving more of the same beliefs to a population that became delinquent because of those beliefs (according to the logic implied in this book)."
De Nicolas indicates that, for Olasky, there is no conflict in this program between the separation of Church and State, for there is a big difference, between "freedom of religion" and "freedom from religion" -- only the latter being guaranteed by principles of human rights. It is therefore legitimate to subsidize selected (in this case Protestant) religious groups and make believers out of the indigent and the needy -- even if conversion is needed in the process -- as a necessary preliminary to economic welfare of any kind (cf the "Rice Christian" phenomenon). The example makes clear the subtle weave of complementary features of the strategy that make it appear to be the "only logical" solution that others may question only at their peril (both to their welfare and to their soul). It is now being extended to "academic life" and "public life" (see for example: http://www.pewtrusts.com/Frame.cfm?Framesource=programs/rel/relindex.cfm)
The approach has long been pioneered by evangelizing missionary groups who have a very well-articulated strategy to evangelize the world in the coming years -- irrespective of any prior adherence to non-Christian faiths. One framing of this strategy is under the term the "Great Commission" deriving from the Biblical reference: 'Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded You' (Matthew 28:19,20). Thus the Great Commission Roundtable (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/2000/03/roundtable.htm) was formed in 1999 to coordinate the efforts of the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization (http://www.gospelcom.net/lcwe/index.html), the AD2000 Movement and the World Evangelical Fellowship. There is a Catholic equivalent under the name Evangelization 2000 (http://www.ministryalliance.com/CathEvang/e2000.htm)
It is therefore clear how "rejectionist" can indeed be understood with the religious connotations of "unbeliever". Ironically, now that belief in one form of globalization has become effectively an act of faith, maybe the term Ruggie (as a key propagator of this one true faith) unconsciously needed, to categorize anti-globalization protesters, was simply "Protestant". This appropriately complements the implicit notion of "infallibility" associated with those using the UN Secretary-General to promote globalization as the only true new world faith.
The UN is effectively struggling, according to an outmoded pattern, to position itself as the spiritual centre of this faith. In doing so it is to some degree recapitulating institutional history. Observers should therefore watch for the emergence of "Savanarolas" and the contemporary equivalent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (known prior to 1965 as the Holy Office, and prior to 1908 as the Congregation of the Inquisition, established in 1542) -- all with the objective of eliminating some form of "Protestantism", and dedicated to the "saving of souls from damnation". Following his "conversion" to the gospel of globalism, the Secretary-General has clearly forgotten (only half a century after its promulgation) that Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically allows for different religious beliefs.
Consistent with this religious framework, this new faith requires a new form of demonization and identification of evil -- covertly rebonding Church and State in the process. Thus Norman Lear argues (Clinton Is a Victim of America's 3d Great Religious Awakening):
"The third awakening takes its political mission even more seriously and aims it more directly at its enemies...The third great awakeners converted the Republican Party from a political organization dedicated to effecting policy, as parties traditionally did, into one that was also dedicated to eradicating sin, which is an entirely new function...The transformation of the Republican Party into a religious instrument is probably the biggest American political story of our time and one of the biggest cultural ones, too...If Mr Clinton was the symbol of secular evil, his impeachment and trial would help rescue the nation. Punishing him would be purgative, literally and figuratively...Impeachment was to be the Armageddon." (International Hererald Tribune, 19 January 2001 http://www.iht.com/articles/7993.html)
A concrete manifestation of these intentions is the proposed Office of Faith-based Action to be set up in the White House which would facilitate initiatives by religious charities (IHT, 29 January 2001). A representative of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State declared:
"George Bush believes religious conversion is the answer to every problem. He has every right to believe that, but he doesn't have the right to use taxpayer money to convert others." (IHT, 29 January 2001)
This specific and deeply radical experiment in social rearrangement, represents the emergent American underpinning to the globalization strategy of the future -- which the UN now sees as the "only" hope. It remains unclear whether there is then any possible future distinction between "universal values" and "American values" in globalized society -- in which the objective of American foreign policy is "the patient, diligent assertion of American values" (Madeleine Albright, January 2001). Aside from universalization of consumption patterns, valued as a characteristic of the American way of life, it is unclear what this might mean in terms of the universalization of the American value of the right to citizen weaponry -- now to be reinforced by the new Presidency. Globalization, as many have remarked, is the worldwide projection of the American (business) way of life. For example, on globalization Hamid Mowlana writes (The Communications Paradox):
"Globalization is but another word for the impending triumph of American culture: entertainment, fashion, and the American way of life, all combined in one package" (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 1995 http://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/special/netcult.htm)
The UN has now become the vehicle for this propaganda -- with its Office of Public Information possibly taking on some of the earlier functions of a Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith as "Protector of the Faith". The new UN strategy will be a natural global extension of the increasingly blatant insight reported by William Pfaff in an article entitled It's Government by and for U.S. Corporations and Their Values, in which he states:
"The sober Calvin Coolidge's observation that "the chief business of the American people is business" is incontrovertible. What is new about the situation today is that a seemingly irreversible mutation in the American system has occurred. At some point, quantitative change does becomes qualitative change... This is part of the enlarging domination of American life by business corporations and their values, which are those of material aggrandizement, a phenomenon accompanied and promoted by the circuses and gladiatorial contests provided by the most important US industry of all, entertainment, which now showcases elections and even wars as entertainments. This is a curious outcome for the United States, whose most powerful cultural source was Calvinist dissident religion, whose members hated display and luxury, practiced severe and unremitting discipline and considered man wholly sinful, able to be saved only by arbitrary grace." (International Herald Tribune 18 January 2001 http://www.iht.com/articles/7845.html)
Given the religious values dimension, in World Bank terms, and under pressure from the USA, the UN may well subject future assistance and partnership to an intriguing new form of "conditionality": to be "assisted" -- a person has to have already been "saved". A charitable organization may need to be faith-based to establish the legitimacy of its care and have access to funding. The strategy might be usefully caricatured as "delivering crumbs to the marginalized from the moral high ground".
The ground for this may have already been set. Those provoked to suspicion by the agendas of some parties could legitimately question the existence of cynical hidden agendas associated with what might otherwise be seen as a pattern-breaking fruitful inter-faith initiative both within the World Bank and with external inter-faith bodies -- with the direct support of its president (http://www.onecountry.org/e113/WFDD_Summary.htm). It is somewhat ironic that Bank economists should consult religious organizations about poverty -- given the pioneering efforts by many religions to demonstrate how lives could be honourably lived in poverty. However it is a mystery how "economists" can attribute significance to values denied and denigrated by their discipline and absent from the World Bank's mandate -- especially when they use the arguments of classical economics to vigorously deny the relevance of arguments formulated by alternative economists, notably on the occasion of meetings of the TOES Group (The Other Economic Summit: