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Globalisation & the Who's Who of the New Ruling Elite
By SUSAN BRYCE
In the post cold war era, a New World Order is evolving by economic, as much as political means. As the aggressive scramble for global wealth unfolds, international banks and corporations are anxious to play a direct role in shaping financial structures and “policing” economic reforms. The old institutions of ‘shadow government’ – the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, the Club of Rome and the CFR, have been usurped by a new economic elite. This article looks at several of these elite groupings and their effects on the international political and economic landscape.
With a relentless drive to control the productive assets, labour, natural resources and institutions of sovereign nations, the new economic elite no longer cower behind closed doors. Their agendas are no longer a shadowy secret. Their activities are openly reported. Their policy papers are embraced by governments. Their members are the respected ‘leaders’ of transnational corporations (TNCs). Collaboration between them occurs at the highest level. The new economic elite use esteemed groupings such as the World Economic Forum and bodies such as the World Trade Organisation to achieve their singular goal: profit maximisation through economic globalisation.
THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is arguably one of the most influential elite groupings. It is a membership-organisation which promotes interaction among leaders from government, business, academia and the arts with the vague objective of ‘improving the state of the world.’
Membership of the WEF is comprised of over 800 chief executives, some 200 government leaders, numerous high ranking officials from regional and international organisations, some 300 experts, scientists, artists and representatives of the media. Major firms from all sectors of business and industry are represented.
The World Economic Forum organises high-level meetings and summits, the largest and best-known of which is its Annual Meeting held in the ski resort of Davos in eastern Switzerland. This week-long meeting, informally known as the Davos Symposium, brings together the leaders of transnational corporations to discuss their positions and meet politicians at the highest level. World Trade Organisation issues feature often on their agenda and have informally influenced WTO policy-making through discussions regarding global issues and business contracts. At the beginning of the eighties, the WEF played a major role in launching the Uruguay Round.
The World Economic Forum is arguably a world government in waiting. It not only is a forum for the development of economic policy, but is also a political arena. In 1988 the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey, attending the annual meeting, signed the “Davos Declaration,” thereby moving their countries back from the brink of conflict, and in 1994, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat reached a draft agreement in Davos on Gaza and Jericho.
The Foundation of the WEF encourages “the creation of economic regions as pillars of the world economy.” The Foundation organises and runs regional and national meetings around the world. Such meetings include the 1994 Europe/East Asia Economic Summit in Singapore, the 1995 Southern Africa Summit, and the 1994 Middle East/North Africa Summit held in Casablanca, Morocco, which was convened in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations, and which proposed mechanisms to support the peace process in the Middle East. The World Economic Forum also organises annual national meetings in a number of countries including Germany, India, China and the United States.
CORPORATE PARTNERS OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER
It was at the 1999 WEF in Davos, that United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, announced the UN’s “compact for the new century” with transnational corporations.
During his speech to assembled delegates, Annan stated “at a global level, corporate control of the political and economic landscape is being achieved by a new partnership forged with the United Nations (UN). The business community is fast becoming one of the United Nations’ most important allies. A fundamental shift has occurred in the UN-business relationship. The United Nations has developed a profound appreciation for the role of the private sector: its expertise, its innovative spirit, its unparalleled ability to create jobs and wealth. At the same time, business and industry are recognising the many virtues of the Organisation’s work for political and social stability and for a predictable, rule-based environment for trade and investment. In a world of common challenges and common vulnerabilities, the United Nations and business are finding common ground.”
“The dialogue between the United Nations and the business community is based on the conviction that expanding markets and human security and well-being go hand in hand. That is why the Organization’s doors are open to you as never before.”
The UN Secretary General then went on to elaborate upon the ways that a ‘creative partnership’ between the UN and the private sector could flourish. “The goals of the United Nations and those of business can, indeed, be mutually supportive,” he said.
He described human rights abuses, dwindling labour standards and environmental degradation as “legitimate concerns…but restrictions on trade and impediments to investment flows are not the best means to use when tackling them… instead, we should find ways to achieve our proclaimed standards by other means.”
Discussing these “other means”, Kofi Annan advised that one way would be through the international policy arena. “You (the World Economic Forum membership) can encourage States to give us the multilateral institutions, the resources and the authority we need to do our job.”
Evidence of this new corporate alliance within the UN is growing steadily. The United Nations Development Program, with a mission of serving the world’s poor, has solicited funds from global corporations who are paying $50 000 each for UNDP patronage privileges. In return, the corporations receive special UNDP sanctioned logos. Their financial contributions are held by the UNDP sponsored Global Sustainable Development Facility, an entity which the contributors themselves manage. Sponsors benefit from the advice and support of the UNDP through a special relationship which affords corporations unprecedented access to the UNDP’s network of offices, high level governmental contracts and reputation. Some of the transnationals which have contributed to the GSDF include:
Dow Chemical (USA)
Rio Tinto PLC (Britain)
Owens Corning (USA)
Oracle Corporation (USA)
ABB Group (Sweden/Switzerland)
Cultor Coproration (Finland)
ESKOM (South Africa)
Hennes and Mauritz (Sweden)
IKEA International (Sweden)
Telia AB (Sweden)
The UN’s corporate agenda is continuing to gain momentum with the recent announcement that the UN High Commissioner on Refugees is co-chairing a new organisation – the Business Humanitarian Forum – with UNOCAL, a company with one of the worst human rights and environment records in the world. Sitting together on the Board of this new organisation, which has been endorsed by Kofi Annan, are both UNICEF – an advocate for children’s rights – and Nestle, a company which continues to violate a UN code of conduct on infant formula designed to protect children.
WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is itself another elite grouping of economic powerbrokers. The WTO covers a wide range of sectors with implications for most aspects of life. These include intellectual property rights (including bio-technology), agriculture (food), the services industry (transport) and telecommunications.
The interests of Transnational Corporations play a crucial role in WTO negotiations. While it is the 132 member countries who are responsible for decision-making across the WTO’s organisational bodies, it is the private sector that increasingly influences the policy positions of member countries. For the very large transnational corporations the WTO is an important domain of trade jurisdiction and a crucial determinant of the extent to which they are able to operate unhindered.
As feared, in every case brought before it to date, the WTO has ruled in favour of corporate interest, striking down national and sub-national legislation protecting the environment and public health at every turn. When an industry-backed governmental challenge to a ‘disadvantageous’ national or local law is brought before the WTO, the contending parties present their case in a secret hearing before a panel of three totally unaccountable trade experts – generally lawyers who have made careers of representing corporate clients on trade issues.
There is no provision for the presentation of alternative perspectives from non-governmental organisations, and documents presented to the panel, and the identification of the panelists who supported a position or conclusion, remain secret. If the offending government fails to persuade the panel of the offending law’s validity, it is legally and automatically bound to bring its law into line with the lower international standard, or be subjected to perpetual fines or trade sanctions. Theoretically, there is a process of appeal, but this is only possible if all member countries vote to stop the decision within 90 days. A procedure designed to ensure that appeals are unlikely to succeed.
BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY ADVISORY COMMITTEE
There are also organisations within organisations that are driving the forces of globalisation. One example is the influential Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which often influences the position that the richer countries adopt in the WTO. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and TNCs plays an important role in BIAC.
INTERNATIONAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) calls itself the World Business Organisation for promoting international trade, investment and the global market economy system, and rules governing the conduct of business across borders. The ICC covers 7000 member companies and associations from over 130 countries and ensures that business concerns are brought to the attention of governments in a coordinated way via its international presence. Through its Secretariat in Paris, it has access to the highest decision-makers and staff from the World Trade Organisation, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the UN. Many ICC members are TNCs whose views predominate in the ICC’s policy positions.
The ICC has privileged access to the United Nations. In 1997, a delegation of ICC members, including industry captains from Coca Cola, Unilever, McDonalds, Goldman Sachs, and Rio Tinto Zinc made a joint statement with UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan describing the “broad political and economic changes that have opened up new opportunities for dialogue and cooperation between the UN and the private sector.” The two sides committed themselves to forge a “close global partnership to ensure greater business input into the world’s economic decision making and boost the private sector in the least developed countries.”
THE INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL FINANCE
The Institute of International Finance (IIF) is a mouthpiece for the world’s largest banks and investment houses. In April 1998, it proposed the creation of a ‘Financial Watchdog’ – a so-called “Private Sector Advisory Council” – with a view to routinely supervising the activities of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In the wake of the Asian economic meltdown, the IMF was quick to response to the IIF. The Fund called for concrete “steps to strengthen private sector involvement” in crisis management in what might be interpreted as a “power sharing arrangement” between the IMF and the global banks.
The agenda is to transform the IMF – from its present status as an inter-governmental body – into a full fledged bureaucracy which more effectively serves the interests of the global banks. More importantly, the banks and speculators want access to the details of IMF negotiations with member governments which will enable them to carefully position their assaults in financial markets both prior and in the wake of an IMF bailout agreement.
The international banking community has also set up its own high level “Steering Committee on Emerging Markets Finance”, integrated by some of the world’s most powerful financiers including William Rhodes, Vice Chairman of Citibank and Sir David Walker, Chairman of Morgan Stanley. The global banks (pointing to the need for “transparency”) have called upon “the IMF to provide valuable insights [on its dealings with national governments].”
EUROPEAN ROUND TABLE
Since its creation in 1983, the European Round Table (ERT) has fostered top level cooperation between transnational corporations and governments, at both national and European levels. It consists exclusively of the Chief Executives (CEOs) of a number of TNCs based in Europe such as Philips, Bayer, Unilever and Nestle. The ERT’s powerful constituency gives it informal as well as formal access to the highest ranking decision-makers including prime ministers and the German Chancellor.
It makes its views well heard at the national and European levels by means of short and authoritative reports, position papers and face-to-face discussions. The ERT claims to have contact with the EC, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, as well as many international organisations such as the WTO. Every six months, the ERT meets Ministers of the government holding EU presidency. At the national level, each Member keeps in personal contact with decision-makers, parliament, business colleagues, industry organisations and the press. It also works with the ICC, and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD). Research into the ERT demonstrates the considerable influence on European policy and decision-making, and further, that its adopted position on the WTO is reflected in EU trade policy.
TRANSATLANTIC BUSINESS DIALOGUE
The TABD, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, describes its function as an informal process whereby European and American companies and business associations develop joint EU-US trade policy recommendations. Working together with the European Commission and US Administration, they help shape US-EU trade policy including in the WTO. It is a unique process, driven by business leaders, because of the personal involvement of CEOs working closely with the highest levels of government from the EU and US. It is not an organisation, but a framework drawing on the resources of existing companies and organisations, to deliver joint industry messages. The results are considered much more efficient than the traditional structures for government-business consultation.
The United States and EU businesses form working groups and produce reports which are then used to inform policy-makers. The Working Group on Global Issues addresses matters arising in the WTO such as, services negotiations, the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), government procurement, intellectual property, investment and competition. ITA meetings are chaired by representatives from Olivetti and Compaq.
Further consultation and lobbying occurs at a yearly conference which bring together CEOs and senior-level government representatives, including the highest level decision-makers such as the WTO Director-General and the EC Commissioner for Trade. This combination of CEOs and senior government representatives have proved to provide an unprecedented opportunity to achieve breakthroughs on challenging issues. The US and EU co-chairs of the TABD participated in the EU-US Summit in The Hague in May 1997 with US President Clinton, European Commission President Santer and Dutch Prime Minister Kok. The TABD representatives formally presented the 1997 TABD Priorities Paper which the political leaders regarded as useful building blocks and inspiration to explore further possibilities of liberalising trade and investment flows.
UNITED STATES COUNCIL FOR INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS
The United States Council for International Business (USCIB) has a membership of over 300 multinationals, law firms and business associations. It constitutes a special pressure group that promotes the interests of US TNCs to intergovernmental organisations including the OECD, the WTO, and different UN bodies, with which its international affiliates have official consultative status. It is the American affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) to the OECD. The USCIB formulates its positions in over forty committees and other working bodies composed of corporate and other experts drawn from its membership.
THE GLOBALIST AGENDA
The groupings discussed in this paper are collective policy arms of transnational corporations. As governments increasingly fear the response of world markets to their policies, they look towards the new economic elite, not their own constituents, to provide direction. This ‘direction’ – so far – has resulted in massive economic breakdown in some nations, insecurity in all nations, unprecedented hardships for millions of people, growing unemployment and dislocation in all regions, direct assaults on environmental and labor conditions, loss of wilderness and biodiversity, massive population shifts, increased ethnic and racial tensions, and other disastrous results.
Through elite economic forums, companies are finding new ways of limiting the power of states. Instead of alienating governments, important actors, and institutions – transnational corporations have co-opted them. Just as a series of regional trade groupings gave way to the World Trade Organisation, the 21st century will no doubt see a further consolidation in the power of elite economic policy and advisory groups as the corporate partners of the New World Order are unmasked.
Susan Bryce is an investigative journalist and researcher. Her interests include democracy and freedom, the technologies of political control, environmental health and global politics.
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