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Incoherence Persists Among International Agencies

Gustavo Capdevila / IPS

GENEVA, Feb 25 (IPS) - An independent commission of experts suggests that the criticisms against the current globalisation process would be sharply reduced if there were full employment, though warned that to achieve such a lofty objective requires international institutions to act with coherence.

When it comes to globalisation issues, there are contradictions amongst the various agencies of the multilateral system specialising in trade and finance with respect to those specialising in social affairs, says the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation.

The targets of anti-globalisation criticism are often the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and some of the key agencies of the United Nations.

"People say, if a solution can be found for the jobs issue, my views of globalisation would be different," states Juan Somavia, director general of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The report released this week by the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation, created two years ago by the ILO, argues that the idea of "decent work" should be a priority on the policy agenda because "that is what people are demanding."

The Commission's report underscores the global demand that decent work be made into a universal goal. It is probably the most widespread demand in all societies, according to Somavia.

The concept of decent work promoted by the ILO entails productive employment, sufficient wages, respect for rights and freedom to organise, as well as adequate social protections and safe working conditions.

Any politician today knows that he or she cannot expect to compete in elections without offering something in the field of employment, and that is something insinuated in the report "A Fair Globalisation: Creating Opportunities for All", said Somavia.

"My personal conviction is that unless we deal with globalisation in general, and particularly the social dimension," the world will be faced with serious problems, said the ILO chief.

In his first meetings with the other heads of U.N. agencies, Somavia argued that the entire U.N. system needed to conduct a study of globalisation from different perspectives, "and including the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank)."

But his idea did not prosper, so the ILO decided two years ago to set up a commission of 19 experts from diverse backgrounds, including government, parliaments, businesses and multinationals, labour unions, universities and civil society, co-chaired by presidents Tarja Halonen, of Finland, and Benjamin Mkapa, of Tanzania.

The group drew up a critical report that questions the current path of globalisation and concludes that it must be changed so that globalisation's benefits are shared by all peoples of the world.

The Commission recognises that it "offers no miraculous or simple solutions," but that progress can be made on a wide range of issues within a reasonably short amount of time.

On this point, the experts criticise the role played by the multilateral system, which in some aspects has performed unsatisfactorily in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and accountability, said Somavia.

The report scolds international institutions for failing to maintain a balance between economic issues and social and environmental concerns.

Somavia mentioned the lack of coherence amongst the institutions as evidenced by the contradictions in policies coming from different sectors of the multilateral system. These gaps prove that they must be more capable "of responding to the democratic demands of people."

People's concerns are focused on employment, he said. As such, the Commission urges international institutions to work together to develop an integrated policy focus for growth, investment and job creation around the world.

Co-chair Halonen said that the Commission's conversations with the IMF and World Bank give hope that those two institutions would be willing to recognise greater autonomy for countries in outlining their own development policies.

The Commission has issued criticisms against the multilateral system, but also urges it to function with greater coherence, said the Finnish president.

International organisations, like the WTO and ILO, must respect the values and objectives of other institutions. "It is really elementary that these organisations have coherent policies and that there is cooperation," she said.

The Commission realises that in practice, the responsibilities for international financial, trade, development and social policies were assigned to different institutions, but that appropriate mechanisms for coordination amongst them were never created.

The report also makes note of the power asymmetries between institutions specialising in trade and finance and those that focus on social and development issues.

Somavia suggested as he presented the report Tuesday in London that the international institutions must work together to guide globalisation to benefit the world's people, and as long as they fail to do so, they are failing in their mandates.


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