The Price of Progress
On Labor and Human Rights
WTO rules put the “rights” of corporations to profit over human and labor
rights. The WTO has ruled that it is illegal for a government to ban a product
based on the way it is produced, such as with child labor. It has also ruled
that governments cannot take into account “noncommercial values” such as human
rights, or the behavior of companies that do business with vicious
dictatorships such as Burma
when making purchasing decisions.
On Health, Safety and Secure Lives
The WTO’s fierce demand of ‘Trade Related Intellectual Property’ rights
(TRIPS)—patents, copyrights and trademarks—comes at the expense of health and
human lives. The WTO has protected pharmaceutical companies’ ‘right to profit’
against governments seeking to protect their people’s health by providing
lifesaving medicines in countries in areas like sub0saharan Africa,
where thousands die everyday from HIV/AIDS. In 2001, developing countries won
an important victory when they affirmed the right to produce generic drugs (or
import if they lacked production capacity), so that they could provide
essential medicines to their populations less expensively. Unfortunately in
2003, many new conditions were agreed upon to make it more difficult for
countries to produce those drugs.
Multinational companies have little regard for the safety and security of
the indigenous peoples. Where company infrastructures are built, poor villages
has been displaced. That these companies are more than rich enough to ensure
safety measures is logically faulty. In December 2002, the Philippine
government approved the full commercialization of BT corn in the Philippines, allowing this GMO variety to be
planted anywhere in the Philippines.
Immediately, Monsanto started seed production. Protests and hunger strikes from
anti-GMO groups went unheeded by the government. In one of those Bt corn
fields, planted right beside the homes of an indigenous community in Polomok, South Cotabato, the risk became real: in July 2003, as
the Bt corn shed their pollen, people around the are developed cough, breathing
difficulties, vomiting and other symptoms. The problem became so bad that they
had to evacuate their homes.
On the Environment
The WTO is being used by corporations to dismantle hard-won local and
national environmental protections, which are attacked as “barriers to trade”.
The very first WTO panel ruled that a provision of the US Clean Air Act,
requiring both domestic and foreign producers alike to produce cleaner
gasoline, was illegal. The WTO declared illegal a provision of the Endangered
Species Act that requires shrimp sold in the US be caught with an inexpensive
device allowing endangered sea turtles to escape. The WTO is attempting to
deregulate industries including logging, fishing, water utilities, and energy
distribution, which will lead to further exploitation of these natural resources.
The WTO is seeking to privatize essential public services. The WTO’s General
Agreement On Trade in Services (GATS), includes a list of about 160 threatened
services. If the Philippine government agrees to the expansion of its GATS
agreement, it would mean further opening up of various industries classified
under SERVICES to foreign companies and investors. These include
transportation, media, advertising, telecommunication, and others. It also
means services currently under public ownership and management will have to be
opened up to private investors, thus facilitating privatization of services.
Apart from water and power services which the Philippine government has already
started privatizing, these include health, education, housing, postal services,
waste disposal, etc. Filipino consumers are only too familiar with continuously
rising water and electricity rates, which is only one of many burdens arising
The Bondage of Debt
The International Monetary fund was engineered by the US after World
War II. The IMF loans huge amounts of money to nations in need and helped
stabilize the economy. But if the nation risks “defaulting” on its loan, the
IMF will give additional loan but wit strings attached. Austerity budget will be
designed for the nation which means higher prices for gasoline, food and
electricity measures. In the Philippines,
the international financial institutions (IMF, the World Bank, and the Asian
Development Bank; and by the North governments that control them) have pushed
for wanton liberalization in exchange for more borrowings. Privatization is
commonplace loan conditionality. IFI lends our country money for privatization
projects which benefit corporations, usually foreign.
It would look like that developing countries, contrary to what was stated in
the WTO Report Card III, have not been “opening their markets voluntarily”.
Fabulous Wealth in the Face of
True, low wages, poverty, and difficult working conditions are not new to
developing worlds. At no other time in human history have there been so much
wealth. And yet so many exist in dire poverty. A number of rich men, such as
Bill Gates, are actually richer that the annual income of many third world
countries. According to the UN, about 480 million men, women and children are
going hungry. Here lies the crime: there is enough food to feed the hungry!
For instance, the US
government actually pays farmers not to grow food. American farmers are capable
of producing so much food it would drive down the price of their crops; hence,
farmers’ profits would go down. So the US government helps farmers to
restrict the amount of food produced, while poor people suffer malnutrition.
Unequal distribution of wealth is the cause of our misery.
The WTO article mentions globalization as the “most effective anti-poverty
measure the world has ever seen”. The strongest proponents of globalization are
the advanced capitalist nations, the very nations which almost entirely
monopolize the world’s wealth and power among themselves, and now they have
gotten the rest of the world to adopt it through agencies such as the WTO.
Should we end our misery by feeding ourselves to the wolves?