GLOBALISATION: WTO confrontation shows growing power of NGOs
Private citizens throughout the world, banding together in millions of NGOs, are exercising an unprecedented level of influence over the decisions of governments and businesses, reports a new study by the Worldwatch Institute.
“The proliferation of these groups and the spread of their influence have been
very rapid,” said Curtis Runyan, author of Action on the Front Lines in the November/December issue of World Watch. Estimates show that up to 70 percent of the 2 million NGOs in the United States have been created in the last three
decades. The number of NGOs operating internationally – those with a significant
presence in three or more countries – has quadrupled to 20,000 in that same
As the proponents of trade liberalisation gather for the upcoming World
Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle, activists groups are planning their
own meetings and demonstrations to fight for labour, health, consumer, and
environmental standards threatened by the WTO’s current agenda.
“The biggest story in Seattle may not be the WTO and its trade negotiations, but
the influence that citizen protests around the world, co-ordinated by thousands
of NGOs, exercise over one of the most powerful yet least accountable transnational organisations,” said Runyan.
By withholding or conferring public support, activist organisations have
affected policies of the world’s most powerful institutions. Greenpeace and
other environmental and health groups in Europe have rallied consumers against
the bioagricultural industry’s efforts to introduce GM foods
onto supermarket shelves without what they claim is sufficient testing of ecological and health effects.
In the past year, major supermarket chains and baby food manufacturers have
announced that they will refuse to use GM food in their products. Faced with unrelenting criticism, Monsanto, one of the most aggressive purveyors of genetically modified crops, recently announced that it was dropping plans to develop its ‘terminator’ seed technology, which would have made it impossible for farmers to save seeds from one season to the next.
In most countries, a large share of these citizens groups provide education,
health, and social services. But the work of these groups cannot replace
essential government services. “While NGOs are increasingly stepping up to
provide unmet needs,” said Runyan, “we should not allow governments to shirk
their social and ecological responsibilities by pawning off their duties to
citizen groups and charities.”
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