TCS Daily

Song of the Idle Rich

By Alan Oxley - July 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Among the more noticeable developments since the failed Seattle World Trade Organization meeting has been the significant increase in activity by the NGOs that have consistently opposed the WTO and the idea of development through free trade. Even more noticeable has been the emergence of NGOs claiming to speak as third world voices.

Both Western and "third world" NGOs actively agitated last year at Cancun to stall the WTO. They -- and a number of developing country governments -- claimed success. Expect to hear more from these groups as negotiators at the WTO try this month in Geneva to repair the damage at Cancun and get the Doha Round back on the rails.

Independent Washington-based economic analyst Greg Rushford, in the widely-read Rushford Report has revealed that these "third world" NGOs have received significant funding from US foundations. No wonder they are singing their tune.

The position of the leading Western-based NGOs -- Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam and Friends of the Earth has always been clear. They put ecology and adherence to industrialized-country standards for labor and human rights ahead of growth in developing countries. They formed the "EcoEquity Coalition" at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 to push this position, and largely failed.

Their anti-growth values are supported only by minorities in their own countries. So Western NGOs are campaigning to have them adopted in international organizations. If they succeed and skew the WTO towards to these values, it is poor countries who will pay.

Hard green rhetoric is cheap politics to European Governments and thereby has some appeal. After all, altering the WTO has not much effect on them since they have already opened their economies. It is only in agriculture where their protection is significant that is getting less and less important as time passes. Pressing the labor and environmental cause in international forums provides an excuse for not doing so at home.

The source of funding of the Western NGOs has always been clear -- North American foundations, organized labor and (paradoxically in Europe and Canada), official aid agencies. Rushford has found that all of the major "third world" groups -- Martin Khor's Third World Network headquartered in Penang, Vandana Shiva's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi, Waldon Bellow's Focus on the Global South in Bangkok and Yash Tandon's SEATINI in Zimbabwe -- receive significant funding from US Foundations.

Khor and Shiva are recipients -- along with Global Trade Watch run by Lori Wallach for Ralph Nader's Public Citizen -- of largesse from the Foundation of Deep Ecology. Rushford has identified since 1998 $260,000 to Wallach's group, $165,000 to Shiva's and a whopping $600,000 to Khor's group. It is little wonder their agendas are almost indistinguishable from their Western friends.

The Foundation for Deep Ecology was established by California millionaire Douglas Tompkins. He was the founder of North Face outdoor equipment company and co-founder of Esprit clothing chain. He sold his share of Esprit to his wife for $150 million and gifted the Foundation for Deep Ecology $17 million. The Foundation funds to the tune of one million dollars a year the International Forum on Globalization, based in San Francisco.

The purpose of the Forum is clear from its website: "Economic globalization needs to be reversed if ecological sustainability is to be achieved," Rushford reports. Rushford also sees hypocrisy: recipients of this money, earned in the global rag trade, use it to rail against Third World sweatshops. Wallach campaigned against the US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (it is not a model of free trade, but it gives some preferential access to African countries to the US market) as too free trade. She dubbed it Africa's NAFTA.

Rushford made direct approaches to Khor, Shiva, Wallach and Tandon to reveal their sources of funding. Khor and Shiva would not return calls. Wallach's group challenged Rushford to find out for himself. Tandon engaged in hyperbole. The website of his group, SEATINI, says he is funded by African Governments. It does not mention the $109,000 Rushford found SEATINI is receiving from the Ford Foundation. Rushford found Bellow more open. He receives funding from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Development Foundation. He is appropriately anti-free trade. The Ford Foundation -- also a regular supporter of anti-sweatshop campaigns -- is also funding a Global Trade Watch campaign to target US State Governments about the WTO.

These activists are exerting some influence over diplomats in African countries and their international trade policy. Rushford regards this influence as undue and significant in the failure of the Doha Round negotiations at Cancun last year. These groups were certainly voluble and we now have the strange situation where representatives of African countries, dependent on using the advantage of low wage labor costs to export into rich country markets, are now mouthing the "fair trade" slogans of the NGOs.

They argue fair trade means rich countries cut trade barriers, not poor countries. They seem unconcerned that they are also giving gravitas to the position of the Western NGOs that poor countries should also have higher (and more expensive labor standards). These are recipes for continuing poverty in developing countries. The cashed-up foundations are calling the tune. It is the song of the idle rich.

Alan Oxley is host of the Asia Pacific page of Techcentralstation and a former Ambassador of Australia to the GATT (the predecessor of the WTO).


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