What the UN Must Do

In this new globalising era, the United Nations has a vital role to play in filling the vacuum of global governance. The UN, with its near-universal membership and scope and the shared values embodied in its Charter, can play a central role in developing a life sustaining economic system.

a) Strengthen the UN: If the world's peoples and leaders are truly willing to construct a global community with equity, justice and diversity, they first need to make the UN stronger, more efficient and more participatory as the centre of global governance. The UN has to have adequate resources to do its important global tasks. Non-payment of dues, especially by wealthiest countries, is not acceptable and should result in loss of voting rights immediately. Any member state must not attempt to dominate or direct the UN by its own will to pursue its narrow national interest. The proposal to transform the UN General Assembly into a popularly elected world parliament also needs to be considered.

b) Monitor and Regulate Globalisation: The UN must monitor and regulate fair trade, FDI flows, volatile financial markets and advocate for the HIPC debt elimination scheme, facilitate technology transfers between technology rich and technology poor nations, oppose TRIPS, encourage member states to strengthen labour laws and consider its role in global governance.

The UN Centre on Transnational Corporations had many shortcomings. It was one place in the UN system monitoring the actions of TNCs and struggling to formulate a code of conduct for TNCs that would give the people of the world some standards against which to assess the performance of these giant entities. This prospect, limited in its scope as it was, proved to be anathema to TNCs, and they worked relentlessly both directly and through major industrialized governments to undermine and eventually dismantle the Centre. The Centre, which was shut down in 1992, should be restored immediately.

To develop a legally binding framework regulating the actions of transnational corporations, respecting the international labour, human rights, and environmental standards set by the United Nations and its relevant Specialized Agencies. The regulatory mechanism should include the active participation of workers and communities directly affected by TNC operations in order to prevent the abuse of regulatory mechanisms and to subordinate TNCs to democratic civil authority and community based modelling of socio-economic systems.

c) Implementing World Summit on Social Development Commitments: The UN has to work not only in words but also in deeds. The UN General Assembly Special Session for the five-year review of the World Summit for Social Development, which is to be held in Geneva in June 2000, and the Millennium Summit should adopt an "International Anti-Poverty Pact", which was proposed by the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW). The Pact should involve both developed and developing countries, as well as international financial institutions. The Pact would involve commitments to 'inputs' (resources), as well as to the 'outcomes' (targets). The targets could include the International Development Targets agreed by OECD as well as the Secretary- General's Millennium proposals such as halving the proportion of the world's people (currently 22%) living on less than one dollar a day, halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water (currently 20%), narrowing the gender gap in primary and secondary education (by 2005), achieving universal primary education, and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, by 2015. The resources could include an internationally coordinated system of national taxes on foreign exchange transactions (Tobin tax), ODA, debt cancellation, and reduction of military spending. Anti- corruption legislation and land reform, where appropriate, could also be effective ways of national resource mobilization. In this regard, world's leaders should consider the creation of a Global Anti-Poverty Fund or a World solidarity Fund.

d) Upgrade ECOSOC: The UN system, in particular, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) should be upgraded if the UN is to play an important roles in the areas of trade, finance, debt, ODA, peacekeeping and regulation of TNCs. It is essential that ECOSOC either strengthens the size, role and effectiveness of its Bureau or develops some other mechanism, which enables prompt, focused and vigorous action to be taken without calling full Council meeting of more than 50 members. ECOSOC needs also to engage more closely with regional groupings that have developed outside the UN system. The Bretton Woods Institutions and the WTO should be overseen by ECOSOC and should report regularly to this body.

e) Reform the Security Council: The Security Council is currently undemocratically convened, reflecting the interests of the wealthier countries of 1945 and not the political realities of the new millennium. The veto has a virtual characteristic in that many initiatives are not raised due to anticipation of the veto. If maintained the veto should be restricted to Chapter 7 issues. If maintained the Permanent seats, should be allocated on a regional basis, with regions deciding on a rotational basis, their representative.

f) Promote Disarmament: The current global economy is dominated by the Military Industrial Complex. One quarter of current global military spending is what is needed to meet all human and environmental needs. The Security Council should implement its role as outlined in Article 26 in formulating the establishment of a system for the regulation of armament. As currently comprised the Permanent 5 members reap over 80% of the profits in the global arms trade. Secretary General Annan's proposal for convening a major conference to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers should be adopted.

g) Strengthen UNCTAD: World's leaders should not limit UNCTAD's role too narrowly. UNCTAD could help to make the world trade system more participatory and fairer and should oversee the WTO.

h) Promote Financing for Development: The UN should establish a new debt arbitration process, possibly through Financing for Development. This new Debt Arbitration Body could be incorporated into ECOSOC. The UN also has a key role in monitoring, in cooperation with civil society, how funds released by debt cancellation are actually spent by governments; the UNICEF 20 by 20 formula is a possible model. (The first 20% for restoring health services and the next 20% for restoring education). The UN, in particular the Financing for Development process should start to study the introduction of a currency transaction tax immediately and make an international agreement. Another area of study should be the UNILETS (United Nations International Local Employment and Trading System). In addition, a multilateral framework on competition policy, or a world anti-monopoly authority, should be established with regard to anti-competition conduct of TNCs. Social responsible investing should be promoted.

i) Consider the Tobin Tax: The Tobin tax, as a first step toward stopping short-term speculation, could be used to generate revenue by the UN to finance programmes in development, environment and peace keeping as well as its regulatory activities of TNCs. A Tobin tax would also generate substantial revenue that could be used for social development. The annual value of foreign-exchange transactions is over $450 trillion, and a tax of 0.1% is expected to create $150 billion to $225 billion global revenue, far surpassing the total ODA of OECD countries ($48 billion in 1997), assuming that the level of transactions would fall by 50-67% in face of the tax. The revenue could be collected nationally and distributed between the national and international level as ODA. Local exchange, trade and currency practices should be developed further and examined for international application. The abolition of debts and the eradication of interest are essential components in pursuing sustainable human development.

j) Reform the International Financial Institutions: The UN needs to monitor these institutions to ensure that all international decision-making processes are as fully open and accountable as possible. Lending should be conditional on the building of technological human infrastructure and determined by local participants.

There is also a need for introducing an ombudsman mechanism within the WTO, World Bank and IMF to investigate cases of alleged bias and injustice in their operations. In particular, the UN should convene a conference similar to the Bretton Woods conference of 1944 to discuss what sort of new financial architecture is needed for our rapidly globalising world. The adoption of the time standard of money and abolition of interest rates are both ideas worthy of consideration.

k) Encourage Local Participation: The UN should foster democratic civic participation in every locality, paying particular attention to rural areas and poor urban areas. Essential to local democracy is the people owning, controlling and operating their means of communication. The UN could facilitate and foster the distribution of low-power transmitters and photo-voltaic power sources to the hundreds of thousands of rural localities and urban neighbourhoods; training in radio production, operations, and repair, and development of governmental support regimes - usually just non-interference, from national or commercial sources. The UN should ensure access by local producers to internet for locally relevant information and for exchange of experience with similar communities worldwide. Telephone service enabling internet should also be made available cheaply to the local public. The UN should establish a number of mobile radio units to record or directly transmit the observations and experience of local people in diverse regions and communities for broadcast on their local radio outlets.

l) Respect the Collective Right of Indigenous Peoples, Expatriates and Minority Groups to Participate:

The UN should facilitate the participation of the native people who at one time have been systematically excluded. Further the UN must recognise that those who have left their place of birth and live as expatriates or minority groups and have gained further experience in developed countries, are vital resources to their country of origin in the development process. This can enhance reconciliation and effective cooperation. The UN must acknowledge the right of all three groupings within the current system where member states are often hostile to such rights.