6 March 2001
Globalization and the Future of the United Nations
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Part 6 of: "Globalization": the UN's "Safe Haven" for the World's Marginalized (2001)
Globalization: the UN's "safe haven" for the
What is so appalling is the amazing arrogance of John Ruggie, speaking on behalf
of the Secretary-General, concerning what some people have decided with great
secrecy in the SG's Office is the "only" way forward for the
world's poor - or was this done with the connivance of some Member States?
They have done this despite views to the contrary by many, who are pejoratively
labeled "rejectionists" -- namely "non-believers". They
have completely ignored many coherently argued studies in support of alternative
ways forward. Examples include Hazel Henderson (1999) in work commissioned by
the New Economics Foundation to launch their ambitious programme Reshaping the
Global Economy -- work researched in association with Focus on the Global South.
The UNDP has responded vigorously to criticism of its Global Sustainable Development
Facility (GSDF) by claiming the lives of the world's two billion poor people
can "only" be improved with the help of multinationals. However, a
week before the launch of the Global Compact, the UNDP's Human Development
Report acknowledged that globalization had been a boon for only 20 percent
of the world population -- and a problem for many of the rest. It had ensured
the enrichment of transnational corporations (many of which avoid payment of
taxes) -- often at the expense of an increasingly impoverished developing world.
If the UN's version of globalization is the only way forward for the world's
marginalized, to what extent does it carry the connotation of being, in the
understanding of some, the Final Solution. Such tasteless allusions merit being
explored further because, like it or not, it is the high resource strategies
of multinationals and those that support them which are effectively turning
the planet as a whole into a "gas chamber". The climatic challenges
of global warming are merely precursors.
The UN has partnered with bodies who have never exhibited the slightest sensitivity
to the world's poor - other than as a potential market for many dubious products
necessity. And, incredibly naively, it believes it can encourage such corporations
to behave in ways that are contrary to their bottom-line needs for survival
-- and the enrichment of their shareholders. This is all done without taking
account of the policy shambles thrust upon developing countries and transition
economies over the years by the schools of thought from which the Secretary-General
got this bright idea. And the UN ignored the recent failures in judgement and
policy in relation to several massacres approaching in magnitude that of the
The core of the "Big Lie", seemingly promoted by the Secretary-General,
lies in defining globalization in a way that satisfies the agendas of multinational
corporations and then stigmatizing all those who have alternative views of the
process as rejectionist. Contrary to this deliberately polarized perspective,
it is quite possible that there are several (if not many) views of globalization
that may be much healthier for the world's poor than that embodied in the Global
Compact - as supplied by thinkers who have a dubious track record of achievements
over several "development decades". It is also possible that the way
forward lies in a complementarity of two or more such perspectives that the
UN has made no effort whatsoever to explore or to report on. It is intellectually
dishonest in the extreme to construct an argument to imply that unless people
believe in the UN's view of globalization then they do not believe in any form
of globalization. History is replete with examples of the consequences of this
ploy as a basis for wars of religion.
Corporatizing the United Nations
There have been many stages in the process of "privatizing international
governance", some of them less than obvious and largely unreported.
An interesting early example, notable at the height of anti-transnational rhetoric,
was the absence of any question about one multinational that had a privileged
position in the UN Secretariat and in every Specialized Agency, namely a well-known
travel agency. The travel budget of UN personnel has always been high - and
notable for an aversion to "economy" tickets -- but it was never clear
how that multinational travel agency acquired and maintained that position.
This will prove an interesting precedent for multinationals with newfound access
under the Global Compact. For example, following the old business adage (relating
to IBM), will anyone in the UN's Inter-Agency Procurement Services Office (IAPSO)
ever get fired in the future for giving preference to suppliers that have adhered
to the Global Compact?
An early attempt to ensure the presence of multinational corporations in UN
processes occurred at the World Food Conference (Rome, 1974) when the US delegation
insisted that the solution to world hunger was agribusiness. The Industry Cooperative
Programme (ICP) was created with corporate employees and offices made available
to them in FAO -- providing facilities for lobbyists for agribusiness. The degree
of corporate influence on FAO decision-making (including technical assistance
and field programmes) was only terminated with the expulsion of the ICP in 1978
-- although it was immediately transformed, with the same staff, into the ICD
(Industry Council for Development) and housed within the confines of UNDP in
With the rise in computer technology, it was interesting to observe which computer
systems and software, supplied by multinationals to the UN system, got installed
where and under what circumstances. One consequence was the early incompatibility
between systems in different departments and agencies. This would clearly have
been a sensible move by colluding suppliers concerned by the effectiveness of
the UN in curtailing the activities of multinationals in the pre-Compact period.
It successfully delayed computer efficacy within the UN by a decade.
Following the Cold War, there has been a major funding crisis for intergovernmental
organizations whose programmes had probably been one of the major beneficiaries
of that conflict. There was no "peace dividend" as far as they were
concerned. On the contrary they had effectively been part of the war zone and
once the conflict was over funds were withdrawn or withheld. Ironically, given
its peacekeeping mandate, the glory days of UN system budgets were a result
of a "war dividend".
The message to them gradually has now become "seek your value and legitimacy
in some other way". UN officials are embracing partnerships with multinationals
in part out of frustration with the considerable failure of development efforts
over the past several decades and in part because they think they have no choice.
Partnership with corporations was framed as a prime opportunity: "marry
wealth to survive" - a lesson learnt from the strategic marriages imposed
on the inheritors of impoverished kingdoms throughout history. The unsavoury
attributes of a strategic spouse can be ignored if the dowery is significant
-- and mild flirtations on the side with more attractive partners are always
an option (NGOs beware!), if they are not taken too seriously. The rationalization
followed. Betraying previous partnerships and loyalties would be seen as a small
price to pay in the fight for survival - as history has always demonstrated.
Corporatization of the UN effectively commenced at the Earth Summit in 1992
when the UN refused to circulate the recommendations of its Centre on Transnational
Corporations concerning protection of weaker countries from predatory corporations
through their appropriate regulation. The UN decided instead to adopt the proposals
of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development that recommended corporate
self-regulation. The Centre was dissolved in 1993. In February 1992, UNDP had
already signed an agreement with ICC to provide the latter with "financial
and practical support for ICC efforts to strengthen the private sector"
There is a continuing temptation to UN bodies to offer privileged access to
CEOs of multinational corporations at UN conferences. The sequel to the 1974
World Food Conference, namely the FAO's World Food Summit in 1996, saw efforts
by FAO to invite corporate CEO's to the Summit as special guests of the Director-General.
In return for million dollar contributions FAO was considering having CEO's
at the same table as Prime Ministers and Presidents, but also assuring them
of direct influence over any policies and programmes related to their businesses
that came out of the Summit. Plans for the 1999 Seattle meeting of WTO envisaged
sponsorship of delegates of some countries by corporations. Both schemes were
dropped, but it is clear that the impulse survives.
In June 1997 the President of the UN General Assembly announced that corporations
would be given a formal role in UN decision-making (http://www.globalpolicy.org/reform/korten.htm).
Early in 1998 it was revealed that UNCTAD was working with ICC to assist developing
countries to "formulate competition and consumer protection law" and
facilitate trade -- assisting big business to overcome the resistance of weaker
developing countries.. The Secretary-General launched the Business Humanitarian
Forum at a secret meeting in January 1999, explaining that the business community
was fast becoming one of the UN's most important allies. Several months later
UNDP was discovered, on the basis of a leaked memo, to be offering to multinational
corporations privileged access to its offices and contacts worldwide in exchange
for a fee of $50,000.
As a consequence, the secretary-general of the ICC was able to state that:
"The way the United Nations regards international business has changed
fundamentally. This shift towards a stance more favourable to business is being
nurtured from the very top." (International Herald Tribune, 6 February
1998). Following a meeting between UN and ICC executives on 9 February 1998,
anticipating the Global Compact, a joint declaration was issued whereby the
two parties committed to "forge a close global partnership to secure greater
business input into the world's economic decision-making and boost the private
sector in the least developed countries."
Preserving the United Nations
The United Nations has long been extremely short of funds, to the point of
threatening to be unable to pay monthly salaries to civil servants. The reluctance
of US Republicans to authorize payment of arrears, and the probably perpetuation
of these challenges under the Bush Presidency, means that creative ways must
be sought to maintain a semblance of UN operations and credibility.
The Secretary-General will undoubtedly seek further guidance from his American
colleagues in their effort to control the UN through the backdoor. A major step
would be the full recognition that UNDP has long been discretely operating as
the United Nations Developers' Programme and should no longer be concerned at
the possibility of its covert behaviour being 'outed' by critics holding it
to outdated standards requiring any genuine concern for "developees"
-- beyond that required for public relations purposes.
It is worth recalling Margaret Thatcher's response to Harold Macmillan's early
objection that her privatization proposals in the UK were tantamount to 'selling
the family silver.' She declared that she was indeed selling the family silver,
but that she was 'selling it back to the family'. History has identified the
"family" that benefitted most from this process -- and the operational
consequences for services such as the railways. The multinationals are finally
being recognized as the UN's true family -- to whom the Secretary-General is
selling UN values.
In the spirit of this new UN strategy, of which the Global Compact initiative
is only a current example, the following might be envisaged as a means of maintaining
the UN's income stream in the future:
- Sponsorship of executive offices: Following the tradition, long-established
for chairs in American universities, sponsorship could be sought for individual
posts within the UN system. Thus the Director of Peacekeeping Operations could
become the Mario Pistaccio Directorship of Peackeeping Operations.
With over 30,000 staff, many with titles, this leaves much scope for sponsorship
at different budgetary levels. There is no reason not to envisage sponsorship
for a limited period (say a year), so that the new sponsorship could be sought
for later periods.
- Sponsorship of centers and buildings: The same principle could be
applied to the many units within the UN Secretariat and its many Specialized
Agencies. So there could be both a Nestlé Centre on Infant Care
and a British American Tobacco Programme for Child Health at WHO, or
the Monsanto Seed Research Centre at FAO -- notably with the involvement
of the multinational corporations of the Global Compact. If any UN centre
or office merits a separate building, the well-established trend -- ensuring
payment for an academic building by a sponsor in exchange for naming it after
the sponsor -- could be pursued. This could be extended to the offices in
any secretariat, as well as to meeting rooms, restaurants and cafeteria. Preference
should be given to corporations with a demonstrated interest in the theme.
- Sponsorship of commissions: Again the same principle could be applied
to the multiplicity of UN political commissions, or even working groups. For
example the Akzo Nobel Disarmament, Peace-keeping and Security Questions
or Glaxo-Wellcome Codex Alimentarius Commission.
- Sponsorship of resolutions or conventions: This principle could be
extended to individual Resolutions of the UN and its associated bodies. Rather
than simply having a resolution referenced by its number, it could also be
referenced by the name of a person or corporation who paid for that privilege
(eg the ILO Nike Child Labour Convetion). Many national laws and amendments
are already known by those presenting them, so there is no reason to resist
financially rewarding strategies that ensure payment for that privilege. Clearly,
as with TV advertising, rates should be determined by the importance of the
resolution. This could be extended to major global strategies of the UN.
- Sponsorship of publications: Given the number and cost of UN publications,
there is no reason not to seek sponsorship for individual documents that would
then bear the name of the sponsor (duly to be reflected in international indexing
systems). UNDP has already explored CISCO sponsorship of its NetAid web information
- Sponsorship of delegates: There is an obvious case for inviting government
delegates to UN conferences under sponsorship by specific corporations. Different
degrees of sponsorship could be envisaged according to the visibility given
by the delegate to the sponsor (badging, cap with logo, jackets, etc) -- as
practiced by some corporations in which employees wear themed clothing, notably
at exhibitions. Sponsorship of delegates by corporations was initially envisaged
as a possibility for the Seattle WTO event.
Sale or rental of services:
- Speaking fees: Now that officials of the UN are in high demand in
contexts in which high speaking fees are normally requested and paid (such
as the Davos Symposium), the UN system could envisage significant income from
ensuring such payments whenever its representation is requested at an international
event. Higher payment for longer speeches might prove to be a healthy measure
for conference efficiency.
- Auctioning naming rights: As with any scarce resource, such as broadcasting
frequencies, the price of sponsorship (and naming) could be auctioned to the
highest bidder, possibly after its significance had become apparent.
- Rental of mailing lists: The UN system has a multiplicity of select
mailing lists which are a highly valuable commodity that could be made available
for a suitable fee. UNDP has already experimented with the sale of its contact
list to multinational corporations seeking to do business in developing countries.
- Rental of conference facilities: Many of the UN's main meeting rooms
stand empty for significant periods. Such spaces could be rented (as is already
done by UNESCO), notably to multinational corporations seeking to promote
their adherence to the UN's "core values". They could also be rented
to student bodies to demonstrate fruitful alternatives to UN conference dynamics
and resolution generation.
- Rental of office facilities: In the case of a multinational travel
agency, the UN system has already demonstrated flexibility in providing office
space to multinational corporations, as it has done for some NGOs (notably
in the UNESCO Secretariat). There is no reason why this should not be extended
more systematically to multinational corporations (as "NGOs") on
an appropriate rental basis. Corporations might be persuaded to invest in
prestigious office space extensions that could be shared with civil servants.
If necessary this could be handled through NGO front (trade) associations
-- a practice well-developed in Washington DC.
- Sale of "access": The UN could solve its problem in relation
to "NGOs" (whether non-profit or for-profit) by selling right of
access to such "consultative" bodies at different rates corresponding
to the degree of access -- ranging from access to briefings, through right
to circulate documents or speak with a UN official, to luncheon with the UN
Secretary-General (as developed by the presidents of the USA). Some heads
of state have skillfully developed procedures for offering an "audience"
(with photographs). This would appropriately filter demand into forms that
could be handled practically. Rates could be adjusted in terms of the demand
on such facilities.
- Purchase of a place on a delegation: Various national governments
have developed the practice of including "non-governmental" experts
on a delegation to a major negotiating conference. The presence of CEOs on
trade delegations accompanying presidential visits has become increasingly
acceptable. The UN could usefully explore ways to ensure the presence of its
Global Compact partners in negotiating teams -- whether its own or those of
Member States. This would provide any such corporation with considerable advantages
in obtaining contracts as a follow-up to disasters or regional wars.
- Endorsements and Placement advertising: There is an extensive range
of possibilities for the UN to sell its image through endorsements of products,
notably those of its Global Compact partners, according to well-established
practices that the UN is now espousing. The UN's activities and public information
program offer numerous opportunities for placing advertising hoardings, or
other public relations gimmicks (such as in the folders of conference delegates),
that could be a major source of income. The UN shops and information centres
could focus on products of Global Compact partners -- a UN-Levi Strauss
range of jeans. UNICEF has already explored some possibilities with its greetings
cards. Speakers (whether officials or delegates) could give positive exposure
to the activities of sponsoring corporations in their addresses to plenary
- Payment for resolutions: More radical approaches to the generation
of financial resources by the UN could be envisaged by following the practices
of certain national parliaments in which lobbyists pay for themes to be introduced
into debates (termed "cash for questions" in the UK Houses of Parliament).
This could be creatively extended to ensure that resolutions are voted along
the lines selected by a sponsor. Even more radical would be to allow visitors
to the UN's various websites to pay online for the presentation of a "draft
resolution", and more for having it "voted" - a form of international
e-democracy. (Muslims have long taken the lead in this by allowing individuals
to formulate fatwas on the web in support of their religious principles).
- Sale of indulgences: To avoid condemnatory UN resolutions, it would
be useful to explore the possibility of payment to exonerate corporate or
other offenders (especially Global Compact partners). The Catholic Church
has developed this practice over centuries. The explorations of UNCTAD on
the possibilities of tradable permits for carbon emissions could be adapted
to this end.
- Record expunction: UN documentation survives accumulate records that
may contain information embarrassing to corporations or other parties, even
if their release is delayed by classification procedures. For a fee, such
records could be removed from the system -- "bluewashing" for a
- Creative adaptation of statistics: As a major producer of statistics
on which Member States have some right of "oversight" and veto,
any such "adjustments" by an embarrassed party could in future be
made for a fee.
- Sale of information: As the recipient of large amounts of information
of potential commercial value, there are clearly many possibilities for packaging
and sale of such information to select clients. Multinational corporations,
especially Global Compact partners, might be offered privileged access --
as already tentatively explored by UNDP.
- Sale of influence: One of the principal assets of the UN is its status
as an impartial mediator between governments. This could be developed into
a highly saleable service to facilitate certain decisions. This practice has
been widely developed, even within states that are permanent members of the
Security Council. For example, it is now expected that the head of any country
(including royalty) should promote the economic interests of that country
when on a foreign visit. Such practices could be incorporated, for a fee,
into the operations of UNDP -- as they have already endeavoured to do in response
to the needs of multinational corporations. The practice could be extended
down to the level of civil servants within the various UN secretariats in
order to ensure secretariat support for any external proposal -- again a well-known
practice significant in the treatment of the projects of developers in many
UN Member States. It might be adapted to supplement the income of civil servants.
- Secondment of personnel: In order to improve dissemination of corporate
culture and values, civil servants could be seconded to multinational corporations
for a fee. This would allow corporations to build up contacts within UN secretariats
to cultivate sympathy for their future development projects.
- Purchase of commissions: Even in the 19th century, it
was possible for positions in the army, or other establishment institutions,
to be purchased. There is anecdotal evidence that this practice still holds
with respect to certain academic posts. It effectively operates with respect
to the attribution of ambassadorial posts, notably in the case of the USA.
A variant of this is in operation within, the UN system when a country effectively
lobbies for a post, as in the case of the director-generalship of a major
specialized agency. There is therefore no reason not to envisage the sale
of commissions within the international civil service and notably within the
UN system. Individuals, groups, corporations or countries could bid for given
positions within the secretariats or other bodies. The position might then
be held by the purchaser for a specified period, as with any contract, before
it was once again opened to tender. Occupants would benefit from the many
perks associated with employment in intergovernmental agencies, possibly extending
to pension benefits. Corporations would benefit by being able to position
employees for a period within a secretariat in order to be sensitized to the
relevant issues and procedures before returning to their corporation to take
advantage of that knowledge. This "revolving door" approach has
been well-developed in the USA, between corporate and government offices.
Such people have been distinguished as having "two-hatted" expertise
(not to be confused with "conflict of interest").
- Provision of legal facilities: The UN and its personnel benefit from
a range of major legal advantages (under several multilateral treaties) that
are unavailable to multinational corporations or their personnel. Consideration
could be given to means of extending these facilities to Global Compact partners
for a fee.
This practice is highly developed amongst multinational corporations either
in the form of direct donations or as a voluntary deduction on employee salaries
(as notably developed by United Way). It might be adapted to direct support
of the United Nations. The initiative of Ted Turner to donate $1 billion to
the UN, as Time-Warner shares, is an indication of the possibility -- acknowledged
by the UN through the creation of its United Nations Fund for International
to handle receipt of such funds.
- Programmes: There is a strong case for placing many UN programmes
and projects out to tender to Global Compact partners, eliminating all but
a core of UN civil servants to manage the process for oversight committees
and evaluators. UNESCO is already exploring the possibility of 'externalizing'
its operations. The UN Office of Public Information might be outsourced to
CNN - which is already running ads for individual Specialized Agencies.
- Peacekeeping: Presumably even the peacekeeping operations could be
outsourced to multinationals (see Outsourcing War by David Shearer.
Foreign Policy, Fall 1998, pp. 68-81) such as Executive Services (which
employs and trains military personnel in the same manner as the British Army
employs Gurkhas). Calls have already been made by the UN for a new partnership
with the arms industry (http://www.indg.org/UN1.htm).
The ICRC already recognizes a trend for multinational corporations to "privatize"
conflicts, through use of mercenaries, and especially through the prosecution
of wars by multinational corporations. Given that the UN has limited capacity
to distinguish between multinational corporations and international criminal
organizations, in terms of its Charter provisions, it is possible that the
UN could explore ways of using other forms of "enforcement" of its
resolutions. This approach has already been explored by one permanent member
of the Security Council in the furtherance of its national interests.
- Agencies: There seems to be no reason not to explore the possibility
of placing management of individual Specialized Agencies (such as UNESCO),
or smaller units, in the hands of corporations specializing in international
office management services. Tenders could be put out on a periodic basis.
A distinction would need to be made between situations where an existing secretariat
is managed under such an arrangement, and where the programmes were undertaken
entirely without the need for any civil servants (possibly from the offices
of the corporation that made the best bid). Aspects of such agency privatization
are already being explored at the national level in various countries. Periodic
ministerial conferences could review the contract and choose whether to renew
the tender procedure.
- Countries: It has been frequently remarked that many multinational
corporations now manage budgets far in excess of those of many countries.
Where these countries are faced with economic crises, the IMF offers assistance
conditional on programmes of governance that the country is not necessarily
capable of maintaining. It is possible that, for a fee, the UN could assist
the country to take advantage of management services that could be provided
by one or more corporations. This might have the added advantage of clarifying
the existing policy influence of some corporations in that country anyway.
The country also might choose to be represented at international negotiations,
or in UN bodies, by agents of such corporations acting on its behalf.
As a longer term project to place the UN system on a sounder basis, there is
a case for exploring the feasibility of integrating the thematic preoccupations
of its secretariats into theme parks -- thus reframing secretariat activities
as "edutainment" of public opinion. With the experience of Disney
Worlds, the major media companies could certainly offer some interesting designs
for public experience of the UN in operation.
Many more variants will become possible with the transition to virtual organization
and programme management in an increasingly web-based society of which the UN
has as yet little awareness. If the UN's view of globalization is genuinely
designed to respond to the needs of the world's poor through action by multinational
corporations, it would be logical (given the increasing democratic deficit)
to explore the transition away from governance based on voter-democracy to governance
based on shareholder-democracy. How might the UN then ensure that the poor then
become shareholders in such corporations (according to the philosophy of Margaret
Any competent marketing agency could flesh out and extend such proposals in
the light of well-developed models used by corporations in the USA. Which of
these elements is incorporated into the actual strategy implemented, it will
be interesting to observe. It is unfortunate that neither the UN nor the academic
community has devoted resources to identifying acceptable boundaries for such
initiatives under varying conditions. Cynicism aside, many of them could serve
as the basis for thinking through creative possibilities for the future. However
the covert nature of the current UN strategy makes any such investigation totally