United Nations

In Geneva, globalization debate dominates Copenhagen Plus Five

GENEVA - The topic of globalization dominated the discussion at the "Copenhagen Plus Five" UN General Assembly Special Session, held here in June to assess progress in fighting poverty and achieving social integration since the 1995 World Summit on Social Development.

In statements by government ministers and in the text of the Session's final document, the processes of globalization were recognized as having both good and bad effects. The consensus was that the international community must work to ensure that the benefits of globalization and economic development are spread to all countries and regions, while the bad effects are reduced.

"Globalization and continuing rapid technological advances offer unprecedented opportunities for social and economic development," states the Session's final outcome document. "At the same time, they continue to present serious challenges, including widespread financial crises, insecurity, poverty, exclusion and inequality within and among societies.

"Considerable obstacles to further integration and full participation in the global economy remain for developing countries, in particular the least developed countries, as well as for some countries with economies in transition," the document continues. "Unless the benefits of social and economic development are extended to all countries, a growing number of people in all countries and even entire regions will remain marginalized from the global economy."

Held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva 26 June-1 July 2000, the session was entitled "World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) and Beyond: Achieving Social Development for All in a Globalizing World." Representatives of more than 180 countries attended, including at least 26 Heads of State and Government. More than 2,000 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were also present.

In addition to globalization, the most difficult issues concerned human rights, debt relief, governance and the international financial regime. Negotiations went past the scheduled end of the conference, which had been set for Friday, 30 June, and continued into Saturday before participants reached consensus on the final text.

On the whole, the final text generally upholds and/or reaffirms the commitments made at the 1995 Social Summit in Copenhagen, which endorsed a sweeping Declaration and Program of Action aimed at attacking world poverty, joblessness and social disintegration through a "people-centered" approach to social and economic development that stressed the need to empower women and marginalized groups and called on wealthy countries to devote more resources to the needy, both at home and abroad.

"The Copenhagen Declaration and Program of Action will remain the basic framework for social development in the years to come," said the Session's final document. "We therefore reiterate our determination and duty to eradicate poverty, promote full and productive employment, foster social integration and create an enabling environment for social development.

"The maintenance of peace and security within and among nations, democracy, the rule of law, the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, effective, transparent and accountable governance, gender equality, full respect for fundamental principles and rights at work and the rights of migrant workers are some of the essential elements for the realization of social and people-centered sustainable development," the document continued.

The Session did break some new ground, however, especially in setting target dates for achieving certain goals. The final document calls for halving the number of persons living in extreme poverty by 2015 and for the achievement of free and universal primary education by 2015.

The document also urged that greater steps be taken to ease the debt burdens of developing countries. "We recognize that excessive debt-servicing has severely constrained the capacity of many developing countries, as well as countries with economies in transition, to promote social development," said the outcome document. "We also recognize the efforts being made by indebted developing countries to fulfill their debt-servicing commitment despite the high social cost incurred. We reaffirm our pledge to find effective, equitable, development-oriented and durable solutions to the external debt and debt-servicing burdens of developing countries."

Roberto Bissio, Secretary of Social Watch, a coalition of NGOs in 60 countries that monitors the implementation of the Copenhagen and Beijing agreements, said the references to debt were very significant. "This is something completely new in such an international document, and it can be understood as legitimizing some kind of moratorium on debt."

In many of the Session's discussions, the challenges of globalization could be seen as a main thread. National representatives charged repeatedly that the benefits of globalized economic progress were increasingly unequally distributed, that the world's poorer countries were falling farther and farther behind industrialized countries, and that official development assistance and debt-relief programs had to be expanded.

"We are concerned that developing countries have not been able to share in the benefits of globalization on an equal footing with developed countries," said F. Chitauro, Zimbabwe's Minister of Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare.

Other countries acknowledged globalization's potential benefits. "[G]lobalization has also brought about an amazing transformation for the better," said Prasong Rananand, Thailand's Minister of Labor and Social Welfare. "There has never been a better time for the peoples of the world to reach out to and help one another. These helping hands are neither partisan nor biased towards a certain race or color. The governing authority, the people, civil society and the non-state actor are drawn together. Each is under much closer scrutiny than before. The decentralization of power and authority as well as improved systems of checks and balances have contributed greatly to the development of a more accountable and transparent form of governance."

More than 3,000 representatives of civil society gathered at the Session's parallel NGO forum, which was called simply "Geneva 2000." NGOs sponsored more than 200 workshops, panel discussions and performances to highlight their concerns.

"As with other recent international fora, the Geneva event was notable for the striking convergence of thinking among government representatives and members of civil society," said Matthew Weinberg, the Bahá'í International Community's representative to the Session. "That the problems of humanity are interconnected and can only be resolved through processes of consultation, respect for basic human freedoms, the advancement of women, universal education, and an integrated approach to human development was accepted by virtually all in attendance."