“Responsible globalisation”? Sure, but only through “irresponsible” demands.

The “Forum for a responsibe globalisation” is a four days event to be held in Lyon, 25 to 28 October this year. The event is organised by Scientific Foundation of Lyon, “established in 1918 by industry leaders of the region” and currently with a board of directors from major companies such as Banque Palatine, Bayer CropScience, Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, Groupe Seb, Institut Français du Pétrole, Sanofi-Aventis, Siparex, Total, and representatives of public organisations, higher education and research institutions. Surely, a “public interest” institution, as decreeted in 1919.

In the web site we learn that

Our diversity is our asset.

and that

The Forum for a Responsible Globalisation is the key event of dialogue for everyone who is concerned by the global stakes of this century and who believes that they can act to make a difference, each in their own way, each in their own local area.

As the site url reminds us, this is an attempt to put together the preoccupations of business (as arising from the world economic form) and of “civil society” (as emerging from the world social forum), a coupling of preoccupations such as competitiveness and sustainability, economic growth and biodiversity, financing and faireness. What an enterprise! One of course predicated on an ideological belief, that is the fact that capital’s boundless accumulation is compatible with the demands for justice, dignity, autonomy and freedom expressed by diverse movements.

Take some of the peculiar coupling used in the themes. For example, theme one has a section called: “Textile-garment sector: uniting competition, equity and sustainable development” . . . Now what does this mean? It means uniting economic competition (in which your relation to the “other” is based on a ongoing “game” in which you and the “other” are continuously threatening eachother means of livelihoods) with equity (which in this context would mean to give all players “equal” opportunity to cut eachother throat), with sustainable development (which in this context would mean to address the unsustainable practices — from the point of view of communities and the environment — of capital’s economic development only to the extent this is subordinated to the sustainability of capital’s boundless accumulation and its system of competition, with the result of increasing the scale of unsustainable practices from the perspective of communities and environment).

Take this other workshop: “Financing business creation: access to credit for all”. Wow! What a radical demand. The communism of interest payment and the utopia of any bank manager! Instead of problematising the question of democratising the modes in which we access social resources, the utter growing inequality in distribution of wealth and income, and posing commons on the table, the coupling of world economic and social forum would deliver us universal debt-slavery! Hence, commons for all, tax rent positions, reduce our dependence on disciplinary markets for livelihoods so as to limit the role of economic competition on every dimension of our lives. . .only upon these and similar demands we can move towards a “responsible globalisation” . . . but surely, these would be considered “irrepsonsible” from the point of view of capital.

It is in this light that Peter Waterman open letter to Chico Whittaker pasted below is important. It is time to “come out” and draw the line between our values and their values, the world we want, and the world they want. Boundless accumulation and its inherent dispossessions, enclosures, unjustices, wars, and environmental destructions ARE NOT compatible with the value practices we want “another world” be grounded on.


Dear Chico:

I wanted to personally congratulate you for the Alternative Nobel Prize you have just received, and consider this as an award also for the World Social Forum you have contributed so much to, and to the Catholic peace and justice tradition you represent. More strength to you and to them.

I have, however, been aware for a couple of months of your coming participation in the Forum for a Resposible Globalisation (see below).

This is one of dozens of ’social partnership’ projects intended to reduce our autonomous project for global social emancipation into a dependent partner of corporations and inter/state bodies for ‘capitalism with a human face’.

This is quite explicit in the extract below, which uses the de-politicising term ’stakeholders’. These implicitly equal ’stakeholders’ are intended to implement neither peace nor justice - nor global social emancipation - but new modes of control over..us!

‘Social partnership’ actually means ‘capitalist partnership’, this time on a global scale. And we know, from past experience with national or regional ’social partnerships’, particularly in Western Europe during the long boom, that this actually meant the trade unions playing junior partners to capital and state in the development of capitalism (and imperialism and the cold war).

The price of that partnership was the loss of working-class autonomy and the incapacity of trade unionism inter/nationally to even defend working people from the depradations of neo-liberal capitalist globalisation.

A reproduction of this model, on a global scale, would make of our ‘global civil society in construction’ a dependent, if not a merely decorative, part of a project dominated now not by capital and state but primarily by capital.

You are listed as a contributor to a session on corporate social responsibility - a project increasingly exposed as either ineffective or, if effective, primarily as a public relations exercise by corporations.

I would like to urge you to withdraw publicly from Their Forum. Your presence there can only further the illusion that it has something to do with Our Forum. A public and argued withdrawal on your part would have one hundred times more effect than anything you could possibly say there.

In developing their own autonomy, Latin American feminists declared the necessity for ‘a moment of excision’ from the patriarchal left. They later have had to struggle to overcome an ‘NGOisation’ that threatened to reduce them to junior partners of inter/state strategies. Only thus have they become eventually able to make their own autonomous contributions to the global justice and solidarity movement. (I note, incidentally, that women - half of humanity - are not even given token recognition here as a significant collective social actor - reason enough for a withdrawal?).

Our new movement requires a similar moment of excision from dialogues with the hegemons - particularly those organised by them in spaces they have created and dominate. I would suggest that such an excision is necessary not only for the new ethic represented by the WSF but also for those of the Alternative Nobel Prize and for the Catholic justice and peace tradition.

I write this as a comrade in a joint struggle, out of respect for what you have achieved, and in the hope and expectation of a continuing dialogue.


Peter Waterman*

*Co-editor, ‘World Social Forum: Challenging Empires’ (New Delhi, 2004), author, ‘Los nuevos tejidos nerviosos del internacionalismo y la solidaridad’ (Lima, 2006)

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