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WORLD

UN to MAI?

For someone not reading about development issues every day it might not be clear why it is such an alarming development, but the United Nations Development Fund has begun to seek donations from big corporations. This plus MAI, and we are finished. You may be wondering what is MAI. It is a very under-reported matter for various reasons, number one being that newspapers are themselves owned by corporations not only with interests far outweighing those of journalism, but specifically, interests which are served by suppressing news on MAI. Nevertheless, a strong international campaign against MAI by NGOs and citizen’s groups has kept it from becoming a reality so far.

MAI is multilateral agreement on investments. You can find out more about it at http://www.citizen.org — and there are many other websites as well. If you want the “other side” you could go to http://www.oecd.org. The OECD is the author of the MAI, so there you can get MAI straight from the horse’s mouth!

MAI is an “agreement” that will overrule all other laws made by local, state and central or federal governments in any matter involving multinational corporations. As you can imagine, it makes sure the law will favour the corporation, in areas like labour laws, environmental regulations, investments, zoning, everything. What is fundamentally anti-social about the MAI is that it grants corporations a right to question laws made in a democratic manner by civil society. Suppose for example MAI decides that corporations can emit “x” amount of pollution within “y” distance of residential area, or that minimum wage is $5/hour or Rs.50/day. Then if a town or state decided upon a more stringent pollution code, or set its own “living wage”, as many towns in the US have done, a company could actually sue that town for impairing its ability to make profits.

It may surprise you, but the growing resistance to corporate power over our society is no new and radical phase of the 90s. From the word go corporations have been subject to rules set by civil society. Laws from the late 19th and early 20th century in the US state clearly that it is the local community that allows a company to do business if it follows the rules set by the community. Companies must make profit, but there are rules. Ability to make even more profit is no argument in favour of changing these rules.

MAI would change that. NAFTA and GATT have already given immense powers to corporations and there have already been cases of corporations suing governments. MAI would even make that step unnecessary because if the country wanted to do business under the new rules, it would have to sign on to the MAI in advance, and it is a 20-year agreement.

But only OECD member countries get to negotiate the MAI. No South Asian country is a member of OECD (it is by invitation only). Fortunately, the 29 countries who are members have not yet passed the MAI (it has so far failed in two rounds of negotiations). Many if not all of these countries have strong citizen’s movements which are fighting the MAI at every level.

Now enters this UNDP plan of accepting donations from corporations. It is called the “Global Sustainable Development Facility.” Many people think the UN has already sold out any hopes of a pro-people agenda, but this would just put the seal on it and leave no room even for questioning. Major transnational corporations such as Asea Brown Boveri have already signed up to fund UNDP. Now where will people appeal to when such corporations get contracts to “develop” their resources with no regard to democratic processes and people’s rights to resources and livelihood?

So this plus MAI, and we are finished…. On its own, it spells doom for community development efforts, which is why prestigious NGOs from around the world have called on the UNDP to “halt its Global Sustainable Development Facility project and in so doing preserve the credibility of its mission to serve the world’s poor.” The letter was signed by such prominent international figures as Upendra Baxi, the former Vice Chancellor of India’s premiere university, and many others.

Please find both the UNDP plan and the letter at the website of
Transnational Resource and Action Center : http://www.corpwatch.org/

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