-by Ingrid Næss-Holm, Changemaker Norway
What is economic justice? What is economic globalisation? And how does the economic globalisation influence the economic justice?
Economic justice. It is hard to make a definition, but I think it is about all people, regardless of where we`re from, having the same opportunities. What we know for sure is that there is no economic justice if some are poor, if some don`t have enough food to eat every day, if some can`t afford to send their children to school and if health services are so expensive that they can`t be afforded.
Globalisation is an often misused word. People put so many different meanings into it and we end up talking about different things. I have been asked to talk about economic globalisation, which is usually what is referred to when the word globalisation is being used.
Economic globalisation is not a new thing. In the end of the 19th century, trade between countries was already high. But what you see today is something quite different. It covers more, it is faster and different. The economic globalisation of today is known for it`s economic integration, privatisation, free trade and a free flow of investments. What this concretely means or leads to I will come back to.
So what challenges do we find in our world today to economic justice? I will mainly point at two areas.
Internal vs. external problems
One focus area could be internal, domestic problems such as corruption and bad governance. But I think it is important not for us to put the main focus on those areas. As citizens in our part of the world we should focus on the areas we are partly responsible for and that we have a chance of changing. It is important because even if we see the consequences far away, it is in our part of the world that a lot of the problems are actually created. This is about structures that maintain the poverty and injustice. I will continue by going into a couple of examples of these globalised structures.
First of all there is the present trade system. The trade system of today is a system which the rich countries gain from, while the poor countries loose. We can also see that it is the rich countries that are setting the agenda and pushing things through.
The World Trade Organisation, the WTO, is a global trade organisation with it`s 151 members. I will claim that this is one of the most powerful organisations because of the possibilities it has of sanctioning those who break the rules.
It is easy to think that trade is about goods, about selling and buying things. But it is actually about life. The WTO covers many different areas, also areas that I think shouldn`t be decided by a trade organisation, but rather the UN. There are many areas I could go into, such as agriculture or the privatisation of services. I could also talk about the lack of real democracy and transparency in the organisation. But I will focus on one area.
There is an agreement called TRIPS in the WTO. It stands for Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. It is a long name, and it covers many different aspects. This is one of the problems. Because as it covers copyright concerning art and books, it also covers patent rules. Books and medicines are different things and need different rules.
One of the examples of how these global rules affect the daily lives in poor countries is about how countries can not provide medicines for their inhabitants that are infected with HIV. And often people can not afford to buy those expensive medicines themselves either. The TRIPS agreement gives advantages to the big companies while they prevent people from getting medicine they need to survive. I don`t say that I am against patents as such. But the WTO imposes very strict patent rules to the member countries and takes it too far.
Third world debt
In addition to trade I would like to point at the issue of third world debt. When we take a close look at it the resources are going the wrong way; that is from the south to the north, and not the opposite as we would think that it is doing. Norway, and I guess a few other western countries, have a tendency of being very proud of all the aid that is given. But if we look at the numbers, we see that what is being paid back in third world debt is many times higher than what the same countries receive in foreign aid money. The flow of resources is going in the wrong direction.
The debt-problem is of course about money. But it is also about power. Because when a country owes money that it can not pay, the creditor, that is the country that gave the loan, has a big opportunity to demand things from the the indebted country.
What is not always highlighted is that the creditor countries are often to blame. The creditors should have taken responsibility for what countries they were giving loans to. Even if they knew that the money would go to dictators or to hopeless projects, they were still pushing loans on those countries. That is why these loans are called illegitimate, and should be cancelled on a matter of principle. Illegitimate loans are loans that should never have been given and that therefore shouldn`t be paid back.
On this area, there are also big actors, such as the World Bank and the IMF that need to be pushed to take a different stand in this area.
In my organisation, Changemaker, we have a slogan that says: “Action without knowledge is foolishness, but knowledge without action is cowardness!”. Knowledge and action have to walk hand in hand. So when we know that something is wrong, when we know that injustice has been committed to one of our fellow brothers or sisters we should speak up. This should not only be used on the personal or local level, but the church should speak up about the injustice that is being committed also to people far away. Not the least when we know that most of the structures that are causing this injustice is created in our part of the world, by our politicians and by institutions our people have a chance to influence.
What can the church do?
The church plays a very important role in this work. Many places the church is highly acknowledged and can create a political awareness among people that would usually not be engaged in this kind of work. The church can also create a very powerful pressuregroup towards governments and businesses.
The church has a tremendous opportunity to be a door-opener. One example I want to give was in december 2005 right before the WTO-meeting in Hong Kong. Changemaker had a campaign about patents and how the patent-rules in WTO, the TRIPS-agreement, is advantegous to rich countries and harmful to poor countries and poor people, which I mentioned earlier. We wanted the Norwegian delegates to adopt our views on this and speak our case there. We had a big campaign that lasted for a few months, visualising the problem so that it would be easier for people to grasp and more fun to get involved in. We gained mediacoverage and collected signatures in various ways. But we needed one last lobby-meeting before they were to leave. But the week before the meeting they were extremely busy and almost impossible to reach. That was when we contacted the bishop in Oslo. He contacted one of the ministers that were going to go and got a meeting, probably because he was considered an important person. We went with him on that meeting, and after his five minute introduction, their ears were all ours. And when the Norwegian delegates went to the meeting, they actually highlighted this issue.
When it comes to the debt issue the church has already been a very important actor. Some of you might have heard of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, or been involved in it yourself. It was an international campaign that was working for cancellation of third world debt. Globally 24,1 million signatures were collected, in Norway 100 000. This could never have been done without the church network. It was through the church network that most of these were gathered and that was the main reason for the topic to be put on the agenda. I think that this topic is a perfect topic to work with for churches. This is because it is not only a legal or economic question, but a highly moral one because of the illegitimacy of the loans. The church has an important role here!
When we turn on the television, speak to friends that are refugees or in other ways see the tremendous global injustice, it is easy to loose all hope. But that won`t change anything. We think that making an effort is the only way to change what is wrong, and if we stand together it is a lot easier. I want to end my introduction with our slogan. In Changemaker we say: “Of course we can change the world!” Some people think this is naïve. But we know it is possible because the injustice in made by people and can therefore be changed by people.