lunedì 9 febbraio 2009

Notes from presentation on the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal and strategies to dismantle TNCs held at the World Social Forum, Belem, January 2009

Francesco Martone - Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal

Let me start my presentation by quickly saying that I am not going to talk about Transnational Companies here, but rather propose that we change our approach, focussing on the issue that to me is more relevant in this WSF, notably how to reclaim, recostruct, give meaning to, a new public space.

In this sense, the point should be stressed that the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal work is a process, an event and a tool for further action. The PPT, notably in its most recent articulations (Capitulo Colombia and TNCs), has - in fact - been an important tool to visualize struggles, protect communities and to explore and identify shortcoming and challenges of the current international legal regime. The May 2008 Lima sentence, in fact, resulted in the articulation of a two-pronged approach, one related to the behavior of TNCs and the other on the ways and means to rebuild a role for the State, and public sphere.

Capitalizing on the PPT process would hence mean that the issue under discussion in this workshop, notably Transnational Companies, be tackled in an innovative way.
The issue here is that of asking ourselves the question of whether we are really interested in making sure that TNCs operate well, within a specific context dictated by neoliberal assumptions and rules, or rather whether our work on TNCs is - by default - a political action aimed at articulate a new concept of public politics, by somehow “reclaiming the commons”.

Hence the three questions that should guide our analysis are:

a. how do we reclaim the centrality of rights in the broader sense of the term (including new generation human rights)? How do we assess what we have lost in terms of rights in the neoliberal decades, and what can we salvage to reconstruct a rights-based system?

b. what are the gaps and opportunities in the current debate on global crises? Would we define an exit strategy from the crisis that in a way replicates the same assumptions, or would we rather invent a new model?

c. how to reclaim public space? What is a public space and how do we keep TNCs out of this?

These three questions provide also guidance to critically assess the current mainstream solutions proposed to the crisis, be them a new role for the State, or what was described as the New New Deal, whereas public resources are increasingly used to rescue and bail out financial institutions with no ensuing public benefit, but rather an exacerbation of the crisis itself. The case of the bailout of UK banks and the restriction to access to credit is a case in point.

In a way we can notice that also in tackling the crisis, the State’s original attributions have substantially changed and transformed themselves . State and governments still consider the private interest of the few as equal to the common public interest, thereby revitalizing an exit strategy to the crisis that is based on a new version of corporate welfare.

In this sense, public space is meant as an opportunity to spread and socialize risks, through the use of public funds for bailouts. Furthermore, the urgency to reactivate economy and consumption, in line with the dominant growth, GNP-based paradygm will result in further support to the private sector and TNCs through tax breaks, subsidies and support for neokeynesian-style public expenditure in infrastructures, etc.

In this context, strictly dealing with TNCs might lead us away from the current point of discussion, notable the need to address systemic issues related to the market, resource extraction and use and the intersection between the activities of the private sector and solutions currently proposed to the global crises.

This would mean that it might be worthwhile exploring the possibility of taking advantage of the current discussion on the new financial order, with a view to address some systemic issues, while keeping the space open for more targeted work directly confronting TNCs operations.

For instance, linking up with CSOs and social movements working on the financial crisis, we could address the role of the World Bank and ICSID within the broader discussion leading to the announced UN Conference on the Reform of IFIs and within the UN Task Force on Financial Crisis.. At the same time some of the PPT Lima recommendations can well fit in, for instance those related to the establishment of a Tribunal on Ecological and Economic Crimes and/or the call for the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Illegittimate and Ecological Debt. The latter can also provide a useful opportunity for alliances with the Ecological Debt networks that are currently advocating for a UN protocol on Ecological Debt.

Parallel to that we could articulate work in support of communities affected by specific TNC activities. This means that the strategy could entail - on the one hand -use of legal instruments and litigation, and on the other the development of a more “political” platform. Litigation can be an important tool to reclaim community rights, seek justice and restitution of the ecological and social debt. The follow-up to the TPP Capitulo Colombia offers an interesting example of this two-pronged strategy.

As far as a possible political platform is concerned, this would aim at creating the pillars and conceptual framework for “reclaiming” a new public space. There is no blueprint for this exercise, but rather some concepts that require going much beyond the traditional pattern of liberal State. In order to do so, we can resort to the concept of “commons”, a concept that cannot be defined per se, but rather by exclusion (i.e. the commons are inalienable and not subject to market regimes, hence unavailable to the private sector) and by process (i.e. the commons cannot be managed by State alone, but rather by a new combination of citizen control and participation that hybridates the traditional State structure).

A final element of discussion is related to the other global crisis, notably the climate crisis. As a matter of fact, the risk exists that the neoliberal paradygm would be revamped as a win-win solution to the climate crisis, shifting the discussion on a relatively intact field. Neoliberalism has proven its failures in terms of development and financial crisis prevention, but could still be appealing to many as a provider of win-win market-based solutions to climate change. Some observers have already described the Climate Change debate as a new “Washington Consensus” . In this context we can already notice how the private sector (oil, mining, infrastructure, forestry, carbon traders) are already playing a key role.

The new frontier of privatization and TNC expansion, therefore, seems to be that of atmospheric rights, through carbon trading, that in a way provides an indirect subsidy to TNCs to continue operating in their business as usual, plundering resources and accumulating a huge ecological and social debt for the rest of Humankind.

As far as Latin America is concerned, the link between TNC investments in biofuel, or in Clean Development Mechanisms or in large scale hydro, shows that clean energy can be a good Trojan horse for resource privatizazion and compression of fundamental rights.

Climate Justice therefore provides new lymph to the discussion on a new public space, of how to reclaim the commons, restitute ecological and social debt needs to be articulated. A priority that would enable building new and innovative alliances with a broader segment of social movement in the Global North and Global South.