Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

27 Nov, 2011

Time for those at the top to start listening to those at the bottom

Originally Published: 27 November 2011

On 21 November, the Paris-based Organisation of Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) released a report called “Perspectives on Global Development: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World.”

In essence, the report sought to prove that while economic growth in developing countries and emerging-market economies has been strong, it has also been marked by “growing inequality, limited possibilities for participation in society, high youth unemployment and persistent informality in the labour market, all of which undermine social cohesion.”

Nice to see that the membership club of the so-called “developed economies”  finally waking up to the social dimensions of economic growth. Had its head not been stuck in the mud for the last 10 years, it would have known that the hundreds of civil society groups which caucus annually for global and regional social forums have been warning about exactly this for a long, long time.

In fact, the reason why they are called “social forums” is because they are intended to contest all the lofty policies and proclamations coming from the “economic forums” such as those held in the posh Swiss ski resort of Davos.

By producing a belated report on “social cohesion in a shifting world,” the OECD has implicitly admitted that perhaps it would be a good time for the people at the top to start listening more to the people at the bottom – those who get affected most both socially and economically by the flawed policies and perspectives of those who think they know it all.

The report “calls on governments to rethink social and economic policies to ensure that all citizens have voice, by fostering civic participation and strengthening democratic institutions.”

However, the report has a serious credibility problem. It only focuses on social issues in “developing countries and emerging-market economies.” That’s us, the wretched countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Unless another report from a Paris-based group tells us what our problems are and how we should fix them, we will just remain stuck in the same old rut.

The fact that many of the so-called developed OECD member countries are themselves facing serious social and economic problems is glossed over. Now that they, too, are in the same rut, perhaps it is they who should be listening to us.

Next time, it would be an eminently good idea if an OECD representative attends a social forum, such as the one on South Asia which was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, between Nov 18-22, right atop the same date that the OECD was releasing its “social cohesion” report.

No time? Never mind. Just download a copy of the Dhaka Statement from the website http://www.wsfsouthasiabd.org/ and check out the united views of 437 Bangladeshi and 181 foreign civil society groups which attended the forum.

While the OECD report calls for “new resources (to) be invested in social development through better health care, education, social protection and other services,” the Dhaka Statement says that would be eminently more possible if the world, especially the OECD countries, cut military expenditures and freed up more funds for real development.

It says, “We firmly oppose arms race, nuclear weapons and military build up in South Asia in particular and everywhere in the world. The resources spent on arms are taking away a part of national budgets that should be used for the large number of people who are suffering from hunger and starvation.

“They could also be used for producing life saving medicine, renewable energy or other future oriented technologies. The main victims of militarization, even before a war begins, and armed conflicts are women and children. Aggressive imperialist interventions are often masked by justifications relating to human rights as we have seen in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. They, however, are aiming at consolidating and perpetuating the control over world resources and the access to markets.”

No such statement can be found in the OECD report. In fact, you won’t find such a statement even in the reports issued by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, which is based in Bangkok and, unlike the OECD, has a mandate to consider both economic and social issues.

As the climate change conference in Durban is now under way, the Dhaka statement has more warnings, thus:

“We observe with great concern that the current debate on the dangers of global climate change is turned into so called “solutions” furthering bio-fuels, genetically modified organisms and mechanisms of the carbon marketing. It is the same transnational corporations, international financial institutions and their support structures that have caused and are still not willing to reduce greenhouse gases who now want to profit from “green capitalism”.

“We oppose the commoditization of lands and forests, the corporatisation of agriculture and the wide scale appropriation of arable land by transnational financial institutions. We defend food sovereignty of rural populations, their ownership of sustainable practices and knowledge, and true alternatives to face the climate crisis developed together by social movements and concerned communities.”

The statement also “affirms our support to the recent “Occupy Wall Street” movements which highlights in many crucial places the unethical practices of finance capital. Their motivation to maximize profit at all costs is the main reason for worldwide financial and economic crises and leads to massive unemployment and social inequities.”

It adds, “The paradox lies in the fact that the limitless greed of a super rich tiny minority is the cause of great misery and sufferings for vast numbers of common people. We call for international solidarity with this dynamic movement which emphasizes representing 99% people’s interest as against 1% profiteers and raises the demands of equal distribution of global wealth and fairer allocation of resources.”

Of course, the OECD will pooh-pool all such talk. After all, what do the poor know, especially in the developing countries and emerging-market economies?

But as the Rise of the Lilliputians is well under way, it’s time to press the advantage. At the recent ASEAN caucus in Bali, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called on Asia to play a more prominent role on global issues. In that vein, here’s some advice to him from a born and brought up Asian: Make sure you earn your salary by blocking all efforts to attack Iran.

The millions of global poor cannot afford any more wars. Do your job, or have the grace to quit the moment it starts.