Speak About The
World Social Forum
By Suhas Chakma
Asian Centre for
09 January, 2004
that dark ugly night of January 29, the Thai psyche simply refused to
absorb the hard, cold fact that we were considered a new breed of imperialist.
We thought they needed our capital - which might be true, but only up
to a point. We thought they were trying to imitate us - which might
be partially valid but not necessarily a universal fact. We thought
since they use our mobile phone service, watch our TV soap operas and
consume our instant noodles, they must really love all things Thai
where we have gone wrong. That's where the Japanese and Americans have
been wrong about us" - Suthichai Yoon, The Nation, Bangkok, 6 February
With over 52,000
people already registered, the 4th World Social Forum (WSF) being held
in Mumbai, India from 17- 21 January 2004, is all set to become another
big congregation of groups and activists that "are opposed to neo-
liberalism and domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism,
and are committed to building a society centred on the human person".
Started in Brazil in January 2001 as a counter to the World Economic
Forum, the WSF has become an annual world conference of NGOs. The WSF
does not claim to have a common political manifesto and its basis is
anti-imperialism, anti neo-liberalism, and the conviction that "another
world is possible". In such "an open meeting place",
where Hindu nationalists, the neo-Swadeshis and the left wingers may
share the same view on "capital", the debate on "neo-liberalism
and domination of the world by capital" certainly requires re-thinking.
Nationalism Vs Globalisation:
meaning national, is a term nostalgically associated with India's freedom
movement's call for only Indian products to be bought and sold in India
and to stop buying anything made with British machines or in British
factories to weaken the British industry and the Empire. Since the start
of liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1990s, Swadeshi has come
to mean opposition to opening up of Indian industries to foreign capital
domination. The rightwing Hindu nationalists and the Left parties share
the same view on opposition to foreign capital. Both the groups however
without any compunction accept the "foreign capital" of the
"citizens overseas"(1) - a term coined by the Indian government
to describe the Persons of Indian Origin who acquire Indian citizenship.
Whether it is the protection of the steel industry by the United States
or "agriculture sector" by the United States and Europe, nationalism
is often invoked. It is nationalism against globalisation.
But do the organisers
or constituents of the organisers of the 4th WSF share such views on
capital? Jharkhand, the heartland of India's indigenous peoples, has
been the epicenter of India's industrialisation since the colonial times.
Jharkand has important mineral resources, including 37 per cent of the
country's coal reserves and 40 per cent of its copper reserves. It has
also massive reserves of iron ore, mica, bauxite and limestone, chromite,
graphite, asbestos, kyanite, uranium, manganese, dolomite, tungsten
and others. Besides, the Geological Survey of India has found gold reserves
in parts of Singhbhum district.(2) At present, Jharkhand ranks number
one State in India in the production of iron ore, copper ores, mica,
kyanite, uranium and asbestos. (3)
Yet about "90 per cent of the indigenous tribal groups have been
crippled by the large-scale exploitation of natural resources, the development
of industries and mines and the commercial exploitation of the forests.
The majority of them live in semi-starvation throughout the year while
the remaining 10 per cent of the Jharkhand population are immigrants
who have come to amass wealth for themselves."(4) For poor indigenous
peoples of Jharkhand, it makes little difference whether the resources
are extracted by one Mr Tata or one Mr Gates. The right to entitlement
is fundamental for sharing the benefits of development; and many conflicts
across the world relate to the denial of such benefits, the right to
land and natural resource. Globalisation, in most cases, only accelerates
the exploitation and discriminatory processes and mechanisms already
in-built in societies or in the State apparatus.
Global South: Bad
records on rights
The United Nations
Open-Ended Working Group on the Right to Development reflects what is
Global South. The voice of the South often means what is presented by
Cuba, Nigeria, Brazil, India, China, Pakistan, Malaysia etc. South Korea
and Singapore are on the fence. Poor Laos does not have a mission in
Geneva while many Southern countries such as Nepal can hardly follow
the proceedings of the sessions.
Global South is
not uniform although neo-developed and developing countries exploit
"South-South Solidarty". While there is hue and cry about
the "Fortress Europe" for closing its borders, there is abject
silence on the mal-treatment of the migrant workers across the Middle
East and South East Asia. Consequently, United Nations International
Convention on Migrant Workers has been ratified only by migrant-workers
producing countries (5) and not the recipient or potential recipient
countries. The absence of rule of law across the Middle East and South
East Asia in comparison to Fortress Europe is starkly clear. Rather
than prosecuting the guilty personnel for torture and other abuses against
migrant workers, Ms Irene Fernandes, Director of Tenaganita, an NGO
working with migrant women was sentenced to 12 months prison by a Malaysian
court on 16 October 2003 under Section 8(A) of the Printing, Presses
and Publications Act of 1984 for allegedly "publishing false information
with malevolent intentions". The government filed the case after
the publication of a report, "Memorandum on abuses, acts of torture
and inhuman treatment towards migrant workers in detention camps"
containing allegations of ill-treatment of mainly Bangladeshi migrant
workers based on Ms Fernandez's interviews with over 300 migrant workers.
Even on economic
issues, many neo-developed countries such as India, Thailand, Malaysia
etc continue to exploit the smaller economies. In 1996, India and Nepal
signed a bilateral trade agreement. This agreement allowed Nepal-produced
goods wide access to the Indian market with drastically reduced 'local
content' requirements. Because of the alleged smuggling of non-Nepal
produced goods, Indian government reacted with anti-dumping duties.
The bordering state governments of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh also imposed
luxury taxes on Nepali products. India finally obtained strong amendments
to the treaty when it came up for renewal in early 2002. (7)
This is despite
the fact that since the start of Nepal's foreign trade with the third
countries in the 1960s, Indian business and industrial entrepreneurs
poured into Nepal to secure benefit from the provision of foreign trade
because of the high demand for foreign manufactured goods in India on
the one hand and imposition of restrictions and heavy duty on the import
of foreign goods. Therefore, in the process of industrialisation in
Nepal, the Indians came in the forefront for investment to derive the
benefits provided for the supply of foreign exchanges to import machinery
and raw materials, excise and tax exemption and foreign exchange bonus
for the export of goods manufactured in Nepal. Of the total joint venture
investors in Nepal, (8) approximately 33% are Indians.(9) The 1955 Indo-Nepal
Treaty gives advantages to the Indian nationals in comparison to others.
Many smaller countries
such as Laos and Cambodia find themselves sandwiched among the regional
economic super powers. The origin of the capital makes little difference.
Sometimes, protests against economic domination by regional economic
powers found expression through violence such as the anti-Thai riots
in Cambodia in January 2003 after an alleged remark by a Thai TV star
suggesting that Angkor Wat - Cambodia's national symbol and represented
on its flag - had been stolen from Thailand (10) or anti-Indian riots
in Nepal in December 2000 after a rumour of an alleged derogatory remark
by an Indian film star.
is no longer synonymous of "western capitalism". The complicity
of the oil companies such as Talisman Energy Inc. of Canada and Lundin
Oil AB of Sweden, for human rights violations in Sudan has been well
documented. Amid mounting pressure from rights groups, Talisman and
Lundin sold their interests in 2002. These Western-based corporations,
however, have now been replaced by the state-owned oil companies of
China's China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia's Petronas (Petrolium
Nasional Berhad) and India's Oil and Natural Gas (ONGC) Videsh Ltd.(11)
The question remains as to how and whether any pressure could be brought
to bear upon these state-owned oil companies from Asia about the corporate
responsibility against human rights violations.
The verdict of the
California state courts in the ongoing lawsuits filed against the UNOCOL
Corp. under the 200-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act for the conduct of
subsidiaries, Thailand's PTT and France's Total, in the violation of
human rights such as beating, enslavement, rape and murder by the Burmese
military personnel may set the trend in the land of the free. Internationally,
the United Nations Sub-Commission in its 55th session in August 2003
adopted the Draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations
and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights (12) as a
first incremental step towards adoption of a morally binding international
instrument for corporate responsibilities.
In the global village,
the possibility of another world must mean ensuring equal access to
education, health care and other basic human needs, respect for rule
of law and human rights, good governance and corporate responsibility
and accountability. However, the focus of the WSF must be equally on
national and multinational capitals alike, as capital knows no boundaries.
Otherwise, the struggle against "neo- liberalism and domination
of the world by capital" may turn into a self-censoring exercise
of the apologists from the neo-developed and developing countries, just
to blame only western capital.
1 Citizenship Amendment
Bill 2003 of India
5 Azerbaijan, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso,
Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala,
Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Senegal, Seychelles,
Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Uganda and Uruguay have so far ratified the MWC.
7 The squandering of a promising economy by Sujeev Shakya in State of
Nepal, edited by Kanak Mani Dixit and Shastri Ramachandran, Himal Books,
Kathmandu, July 2002.
9 Lama, Mahendra P. (2001), "Investment in South Asia: Issues,
Constraints and Opportunities", in K. K. Bhargava and Sridhar K.
Khatri (eds), South Asia 2002: Challenges and Opportunities, New Delhi:
FES and Konark Publishers.
11 Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, September 2003