Guide Globalizing Social Justice: The Role of Non-Government Organizations in Bringing about Social Change

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They have different characteristics to the IMF riots and the global social movements involved have broadened their activities and agendas. The protests have been generalised to question the policies of these organisations, usually their neo-liberal agendas, and to criticise the processes of decision-making in the institutions which they argue demonstrate a 'democratic deficit' in that they are not transparent and accountable.

The activists in these demonstrations have also become much more centred in the developed countries rather than primarily in developing countries. There are now both common and conflicting interests between the anti-globalisation social movements and Asian countries. Asian exporters of agricultural products note, for example, that among the demonstrators are those criticising the WTO's efforts to reduce European and US agricultural protection that blocks exports from Asia-Pacific countries.


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Most publicity, however, goes to the demonstrations because of the effective public relations tactics of some NGOs and the violent activities of 'recreational' demonstrators. As the second quotation in the heading to this paper suggests, activists now use the characteristics of globalisationcheaper air travel, the Internet and global telecommunicationsto make possible the vastly increased participation in global networks.

Yet there are perhaps more important political aspects of global governance as distinct from governmentsee Glossary processes than publicised demonstrations.

A wide-ranging effort by global civil society seeks to influence the shape of global governance and particularly the activities of the economic organisations, notably the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO in other ways. These three organisations are important and can be seen as having substantial effect on the daily lives of large numbers of people as indeed do the more recent targets, the EU and the G8. They are, however, only a small part of a wide range of actors that provide a substantial level of global governance in various fields, such as finance, health, the environment, international shipping and civil aviation, posts and telecommunications and arms control.

The processes of global governance include many actorsas well as states and international non-governmental organisations, multinational corporations also contribute to global governance. It is now widely accepted that global governance mechanisms have increased in overall importance relative to that of states. The many NGOs and other bodies that make up global civil society are concerned to influence global governance institutions, particularly in the economic field, in terms both of the processes of decision-making pursued and the policies followed.

Even so, developing countries are wary about this. It is concerned that well funded lobbyists from developed countries could have undue influence prejudicial to developing country interests. Scholte argues that civic activity can no longer be understood with a territorial conception of state-society relations.

Globalizing Social Justice

Thus, we see demonstrations against one global social actor, the World Economic Forum, which supports the neo-liberal agenda, by other global social actors questioning the legitimacy of markets. In part the 'legitimacy gap' argument can be addressed by ensuring that international institutions respond effectively to the valid concerns of those falling behind, but action among member states may also be necessary. There are also democracy deficits among members of the global civil society. NGOs are commonly not fully transparent and accountable, especially not to those whom their policies affect.

More complex is the role of other components of global governance. For example, in this respect, the external effects of the pronouncements of private institutions such as credit agencies can, as they did in the Asian economic crisis, have a major, often adverse, impact. Yet they too suffer from an 'accountability' deficit, in that they lack adequate transparency and accountability. Not necessarily, but it is increasingly possible.


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  • We noted earlier that the processes of globalisationfalling costs of travel and falling costs and increased speed of communicationmade possible the rapid expansion of international NGOs claiming to represent global civil society. A major plank in their platform is what they term the democratic deficit in the global economy or in the instruments of governance, notably of economic governance.

    To a degree, their arguments could be interpreted as saying that if the institutions are not accountable to the NGOs, they are not accountable.

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    Nevertheless, their complaints have some substance. Former World Bank chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz has noted that 'The IMF likes to go about its business without outsiders asking too many questions'. American political scientist Joseph Nye argues, however, that unlike self-appointed NGOs, international institutions tend to be highly responsive to national governments and can thus claim some real, if indirect, democratic legitimacy.

    Moreover, member-state representatives do not always represent more than a particular interest area within the state since a 'whole of government' approach is commonly absent. For their part, the international institutions have been moving to improve the transparency of their operations reflecting the fact that there are gaps. Their legitimacy, based as it is on being accountable to member states, is substantial but the public recognition of that legitimacy may be deficient.

    The Role of Non-Government Organizations in Bringing about Social Change

    The pressures to introduce in the Australian Parliament a Treaties Committee to review Australia's participation in international treaties illustrated the belief that a 'democratic deficit' could emerge even within national systems. There are arguments that there should be some direct international processes to ensure more open and transparent decision-making processes at the global level and, as Duncan Kerr argued, for democratising the international sphere.

    Until that emerges, action would seem to be most appropriate at the national level with pressure being brought through domestic governments. In practice, members of global civil society already go around national governments and deal directly with major international bodies. The issue for public policy goes beyond this however. It could be argued that any such global political community as currently exists is based largely on the multilateral institutions being criticised by the global social movements. Yet, if we accept that there will be a requirement to cooperate globally more in the future than now, we need to direct attention to the points that global civil society has raised in order to gain greater domestic support for both the objectives and the institutions themselves.

    In many respects, global civil society gives a voice to those underrepresented in the global political community. Yet that global civil society it is itself still largely from the 'north'and those in the Asia-Pacific are still under represented. There is a democratic deficit in that context as well. Mostly no, but in some respects, hopefully yes. Even more than in other respects, however, generalisation is difficult.

    Globalisation is still uneven in geographic coverage, but although the economic benefits and costs are felt more intensively in the major industrialised countries, it has had major impacts in the Asia-Pacific associated with the rapid regional economic growth. While there is also a widely held concern, as articulated perhaps most in Indonesia, that globalisation will marginalise developing countries, this seems not so far to have been reflected in specific policies.

    According to one measure of globalisation, Singapore heads the list of some 50 countries classified in order of their degree of globalisation. The table at Appendix I lists the top 25, but given the discussion earlier in this paper about the mix of processes and mechanisms involved in globalisation these rankings, while indicative, need to be regarded with caution. In terms of economic globalisation, however, Asian countries have been relatively open in trade and capital flow terms and, until the Asian economic crisis, were gradually relaxing their controls on monetary flows.

    The contribution of globalisation might seem to be evidenced by the extent that Asia trades more outside the region than within. Yet, although trade in absolute terms has increased more substantially with countries outside the region, trade within the region has also grown in importance.

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    There has consequently been a concurrent growth of globalisation and of regionalisation. Economic liberalisation and increased trade integration contributed substantially to successful economic growth in the Asia-Pacific, among other things, reducing income inequality relative to the West.

    Globalisation is now also associated with the crisis, or at least with its intensity. Globalising trends certainly made it possible; as did the new forms of financial instrumenthedge funds, derivativesthat globalisation helped to facilitate. The crisis demonstrated to countries in the region their vulnerability to the global flows of short-term finance, and to the major involvement of the IMF. The IMF's conditions included financial deregulation, banking reform with extensive banking closures, abolition of monopolies and large scale privatisation programs. These are widely seen as compromising Asia-Pacific countries' national economic sovereignties, 53 a particularly sensitive issue given the region's recent colonial or semi-colonial past.

    Yet it was not only the short-term capital flows that created the crisis. State involvement in allocative functions, whatever the initial benefits, led to structural problems, while the state's regulatory functions were either neglected or compromised.

    2. An overview of the evolution of well-being and social justice worldwide

    The appropriateness of a state's regulatory processes will become even more critical as global processes intensify. This will require a considerable degree of convergence with western practices to fill what is currently an institutional deficit. It is common in Asia-Pacific to blame the external effects of globalisation for the crisis, but to a degree convergence with the globalisedwesterneconomic system continues in the regulatory field.

    Some of this was involuntary, under the pressure of the IMF, including opening existing controls to allow the entry of foreign, mainly American, firms.

    Nevertheless, there will be greater caution in liberalising in the monetary arena. China is likely to be cautious in relaxing its foreign exchange controls but it remained keen to enter WTO, as was Taiwan. Korea has sought, not very successfully, to move away from its support for the chaebol large conglomerate business enterprise system, but like a number of other Asian countries has moved to introduce financial regulatory processes more consistent with a globalised monetary system and freer exchange rates.

    Confidence in the international financial institutions was damaged by the crisis. The lesson taken from the economic crisis, that individual countries were unable to deal with it on their own, has led to calls for regional cooperation to cope more effectively with any future crisis.

    Globalization and Its Impact on Human Dignity and Human Rights • GBCS

    Whether that is an appropriate lesson is an open question, given the role of domestic policies in managing global pressures. The mix of impacts and the actual political and social consequences, as distinct from how much was inevitable under globalising pressures, makes conclusions difficult. The moves to greater regionalisation seem designed more to deal with future problems than to erect barricades against themalthough this may be only partially true of the capital controls operated by Malaysia and Vietnam.

    We noted earlier that social welfare payments have been important in developed countries in limiting the growing inequality in the face of globalisation and technological change. There has been some interest in Asia-Pacific countries, and notably in China, in developing better social safety nets. Pressures of this kind are likely to increase as globalisation and other economic impacts intensify. For the most part, however, Asia-Pacific countries have seen the regional financial and trade activities as needing to be consistent with the global rules and norms of the international institutions.

    Yet they want a bigger say within the global institutions, particularly in the IMF, and in this there has been some, if limited, progress. Although still widely debated, the answer is no; the role of the state may be changing but not that quickly.