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History Table of Contents
1994 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1994
Globalism and Tribalism: The New World Disorder?

Globalism: Threat or Opportunity?

HON. EDWARD BROADBENT, President, International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development

As is always the case in history, in this post Cold War-era we are dealing with what are called complex and contradictory forces.

That is not new. What is new, is those particular kinds of contradictions.

The bad news in this is the re-emergence in Central and Eastern Europe, in particular, of ethnic violence that joins that ethnic violence that is already in existence in many parts of Asia and Africa.

The negative aspects of the kinds of nationalism that have emerged has, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees' figures for last year, meant that some 18 million people were forced to flee across borders. This number is added to the already existing 24 million people displaced internally within nations for related kinds of reasons. And we all know about the hundreds of thousands that have been added in the last few months in the case of Rwanda.

The good news is that the human rights disasters on the one hand, and the emergence of a strong demand for human rights and democracy all over the world, has prompted changes at the UN.

Many (UN members) now are accepting, as legitimate, that gross and systematic violation of rights justify direct intervention, up to and including military action, to protect citizens from their own governments. This I believe is a very important move.

This constellation of post-1989 events has caused a number of positive interventions by the UN. I am thinking of Cambodia, Namibia and El Salvador. But, it is also produced some failures. I think of Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia, and I think of Haiti.

Having noted the re-emergence of strong, aggressive xenophobic forms of nationalism, I do not want now in my comments to say much more about that; not because they are not important — they are very important — but, because I want to talk about something else. And that is the emergence of really a global economy,

I agree with Michael Ignatieff that what we are seeing now and talking about in terms of a global economy has been going on in some form for the past 300 years.

While it is true that nationalism has triumphed in one sense over class as the dominant political force of the century — much to the surprise of liberals, socialist and conservatives — class remains a powerful determinant of effective rights and of national and international politics associated with rights.

Witness the global economy.

Following the collapse of the Leninist states, market-oriented economies are now sweeping the planet; a cliche if there ever was one, but one that is important for us to be talking about.

Whatever cultural, religious and linguistic differences exist between New York and Bejing, Prague and Stockholm, and Seoul and Toronto, there is something that pulls them all together and it is causing a high degree of similarity to emerge in all of these regions. And that, of course, is some form of market economy. Partly related to this development is the world wide demand for human rights and democracy.

When the Dali Lama, a man who is both an Asian and a Buddhist, visited our centre in Montreal earlier this year, he said there is a global demand for human rights and democracy. And he is very right.

There is what one might call a kind of global agenda that is pushing in this direction. In part, this is for competing parties, elections and parliamentary systems. And these are important but, I believe it goes much deeper. There is a mushrooming of what might be called a global human rights movement.

In 1968, when the world had its first human rights conference organized by the UN, there were 76 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) present. Last year at Vienna, there were over 1,500 and the majority were from what are called the developing countries. They come from all cultures and all regions. Most importantly, they shared a commitment to a core set of fundamental rights.

I believe we are witnessing the emergence of an international civil society, functioning independent of state or political party affiliation. Just as the emergence of civil societies and countries in the North Atlantic were key to building national democracies, the emergence of an international civil society can be a factor in the spread of nation states based on democracy and human rights.

Let me turn, now to the clash between market economies and rights; trade movements and rights.

I think for us here in Canada, the clashes, the potential clashes are gong to become increasingly real and evident the more we deal with Asia.

Last year, we had some $15 billion in trade in terms of exports with Asia, compared to only $12 billion to Europe. A big shift is currently under way. Entrepreneurs will tell us the markets for us are China Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries I could mention, most of which, by the way, have atrocious human rights records.

So, what do we do?

As a democratic state committed to a whole family of values that we cal the democratic culture, how should we be responding to this quite different world out there that we are going to be coming increasingly in contact with in terms of trade?

I would like to say something more in the form of assertion at this point, than in the form of developed argument, about the pluses and the minuses of market economies and what is going on in the world.

On the one hand there are these very important pluses.

Market economies encourage the development of the principles of the rule of the law. They provide a kind of rational frame work for commerce that is carried over into organizational principles of the modern state, helping to remove bloated and inefficient bureaucracies that do stifle economic and other kinds of human creativity. They also expand wealth and communications, and hasten the growth of cities, from within which emergent middle and working classes make demands for democracy.

What are the negatives?

Well, markets economies create, inevitably, winners and losers. Left on their own, they increased disparities in power and income. They destroy, inherently, a sense of community that always has to be worked against. More importantly, market economies can do quite well without democracy and can be very destructive of traditional rights, without bringing new ones in their place for those affected.

Let me just cite some examples of the very negative things that are going on in terms of rights; directly related, I would argue, to the kind of economic transformation that is also taking place. I am now singling out the negatives, as I have already indicated that there are, of course, positive things going on.

In Thailand, last May, some 200 young women burned to death in a toy factory in Bangkok. Why? Because they were locked in the factory in the morning and the door remains locked all day.

In South Korea, between 1988 and 1992, some 2,000 trade unionists were arrested for trying to put into place internationally recognized labour rights. As we speak there are some 250 political prisoners in South Korea.

China. I could take half the morning in listing well-documented abuses in terms of rights, including torture, the use of prison labour, including workers and young women being locked up. Eighty young women burned to death in the past year in circumstances totally identical to those in Thailand.

Malaysia, for 20 years that government has refused the right to organize workers in their electronics sector, some 180,000 of whom are women, making up 85% of the workforce. The Prime Minister recently described anyone trying to organize an independent Trade Union movement as a traitor to his country.

Indonesia, a whole series of systematic violations of the whole range of political, civil, social and economic rights.

I could give you Haiti...there are terrible things going on in Haiti, as we all know.

There are literally millions of human beings, particularly women and children, experiencing the degrading effects of economic transformation — not because they live in poor countries — but because they are living in poor countries undergoing a particular form of economic transformation. And they lack the freedom to speak out, to organize, to exercise genuine political choice.

We frequently hear, not only here in Canada, but everywhere in the North Atlantic World, of political dissidents. What we do not know about are the literally thousands of people all over the world who are trying to organize political, civil, and social rights and some degree of economic justice within their countries.

I am thinking of the thousands of trade unionist each year, who are arrested and imprisoned for attempting to exercise rights supposed to be guaranteed by the Declaration of Human Rights; not to mention the two important human rights covenants that should be seen with it.

Last year alone there were 4,500 recorded arrests and imprisonments of people trying to organize unions. These millions, I am saying, and they are effected, are denied their rights as workers and citizens with the passive or active collaboration of domestic and international corporations.

Multi-national corporations from OECD now do abroad what human rights laws and practices forbid them to do at home.

Democratic nations I believe must be in the forefront of ensuring that global trade practices do not thrive on human rights abuses.

We have all talked about the remarkable case of Oscar Schindler. The important thing about Oscar Schindler was that he was a business man, who was not only prepared to risk profits — he risked his very life to save some Jews. The reality was that he was the exception to the rule.

To get the standards I think are necessary in the case of International corporate behaviour, what is required is good and enforceable international law.

Therefore, we need enforceable international standards to make sure that trade and human rights are linked agendas in the modern world. Such linkage I believe should be part of every agenda, in regional and global trade discussions and agreements; not just for Canada, as a democratic country, but for other democratic countries.

However inadequate, the NAFTA side agreements on labour standards and the environment not only accept the fact that linkage between economic life and right is a reality for ordinary people, but ought, in principle, to be recognized in international law.

What should be done, more specifically?

Core rights. I believe that our government, which we all know is undergoing a foreign policy review should have an interest in completing the liberal agenda globally. I use liberal in the generic, historic sense of that term.

Canada and other democracies should call for a world trade organization...replacing GATT, and for a WTO working party on human rights and trade, to parallel the one already created to deal with the environment.

What rights? We should for practical purposes, prepare a list, a short list that should be attached to all trade agreements. It should be based on the International Bill of Rights and be consistent with the ILO conventions.

I have a short list, a preferred list of four. Freedom of Speech, freedom of association, the right to an independent union, and in terms of gender, equal pay for equal work. Why these rights, one might ask?

Well, I believe they mirror and complete the other liberal rights to property and free capital, that are already intrinsic to contemporary trade agreements.

Without these rights, trade arrangements simply intensify existing inequalities by strengthening the hand of capital. With these rights, workers would be able as free citizens to work peacefully, to change exploitative wage rates and dangerous environmental conditions. With these rights, tolerant civil societies could develop.

There will be much, to put it euphemistically, open resistance to these proposals, particularly from Asian governments and most of the corporate world.

We saw it illustrated just a couple of weeks ago, at the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting in Bangkok. The communique produced by the governments, mentioned only one human rights matter pertinent to their region when, not surprisingly, they observed that labour rights constitute a form of protection.

Those are precisely the arguments that were used in North America and Europe when labour rights first emerged as human rights demands in our part of the world.

Democratic governments should confront this bogus argument quite openly. They should not only remind the ASEAN governments of their own human rights commitments, which they have made under international law, but also point out that ASEAN non-governmental organizations do not agree with the anti-rights positions of the ASEAN governments.

In fact, not by coincidence, they were meeting in Bangkok the same time the ASEAN governments were meeting. And being Asians and being dynamic and vibrant, and interested in human rights, they responded to their governments' communique by calling for, "The consideration of human rights provisions in any trade agreements, so long as such violations persist" in their regions."

So ASEAN NGOs are for inclusion of rights provisions within international trade agreements.

When the Berlin wall came tumbling down in 1989, democratic leaders — almost without exception — appropriately described this in some sense as a victory for the West.

But when our leaders were doing this, they also were virtually unanimous in pointing out the connection, on the one hand, between democracy and market economies as the desirable wave of the future.

They promoted this linkage in their foreign policy statements for some time. Since then, however, the rhetoric has tended to once again become compartmentalized. Trade is said to be one matter, democracy and rights another.

I believe it is time to re-establish the link. Democracies must promote both and be seen to be doing so. They can not promote abroad the liberal rights most pertinent to the life experience of the rich and the powerful, and ignore those liberal rights, most pertinent to the power and interest of the majority.

Trade agreements now being used to control hazardous waste and protect the environment in other ways are very important. The question that I raise is that if we can protect trees, if we can protect water, if we can protect intellectual property in trade agreements, isn't it time we protected people with the same agreements? What holds for a tree, holds, I believe, in spades, for human beings.

If we don't move in the direction of linking these liberal rights pertinent to the life experience of the majority with the other liberal rights, then to use the term that was applied to another ideological system not that long ago — Capitalism with a human face would be a contradiction in terms.