UN report labels WTO a 'veritable nightmare' for poor countries:
A UN-commissioned study on "globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment
of all human rights," released last week at the 52nd session of the UN
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, lambasted
the WTO for its "grossly unfair" handling of the multilateral trading
system. The report, written by two special rapporteurs nominated by the UN
Commission on Human Rights, describes the WTO as a "veritable nightmare" for
large parts of the world, particularly citizens of developing countries.
Problems cited are an unbalanced and inequitable approach to trade
liberalization, nontransparent procedures and inattention to the human
rights implications of trade policy. The report concludes that "what is
required is nothing less than a radical review of the whole system of trade
liberalization and a critical consideration of the extent to which it is
genuinely equitable and geared towards shared benefits for rich and poor
countries alike."  On August 17, the Sub-Commission unanimously adopted an
NGO resolution that calls into question the impact of WTO's Agreement on
Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) on the human
rights of people and communities, including farmers and indigenous people
worldwide. For an electronic copy of this document visit:


62. From the preceding analysis, it is fairly evident that the phenomenon of globalization, the processes and institutional frameworks through which it is propagated, and its multifaceted nature have numerous implications for the promotion and protection of all human rights. This implies that there is a need for a critical reconceptualization of the policies and instruments of international trade, investment and finance. Such reconceptualization must cease treating human rights issues as peripheral to their formulation and operation. In other words, there is a dire need for human rights - with a particular emphasis on questions relating to equality and non-discrimination - to be brought directly into the debate and the policy considerations of those who formulate the policies and operate the institutions that are at the forefront of the drive for the increased globalization of contemporary society.


63. There is a growing clamour - particularly from the main beneficiaries of globalization - that rules need to be established to govern the international economy, with a specific focus on questions such as copyright violations, trade sanctions, and protections for increased foreign investment. It is this desire that led to the articulation of the Washington Consensus and structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) by the Bretton Woods organizations, the attempt to forge ahead with a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) in the OECD, and ultimately to the creation of WTO. Unsurprisingly, most such demands emanate from those who are already benefiting to a considerable degree from the current inequities in the global economy. (158) However, what is required is a more balanced approach, which ensures that human rights principles are integrated into the rule-making processes from the outset. The primacy of human rights law over all other regimes of international law is a basic and fundamental principle that should not be departed from. In seeking to achieve this objective critical challenges must be made to the dominant neoliberal economic framework of analysis, and in particular to the measures of austerity and punitive conditionality that have been the modus operandi of the existing system. Further reviews of existing debt relief and poverty eradication measures must also be undertaken from a human rights perspective.


64. There can be little doubt that the involvement of women in the elaboration of the regimes governing international trade, investment and finance has been rather abysmal. Indeed, women continue to be a grossly under-represented group within institutions such as WTO and the IMF, and even the World Bank. Furthermore, the attempts to conduct gender-related analyses of the activities of such organizations have been few and far between - especially from within. Consequently, there is a very great need to "engender" the institutional frameworks within which the processes of globalization are being elaborated. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to conduct gender-specific analyses of the impact of globalization in its trade, investment and financial aspects.

65. Quite clearly, the rules of international trade, investment and finance require urgent reform. At the same time, if this study has shown nothing else, it is that the institutions that currently make the rules that govern the processes of globalization as we know them also require reform. (159) Such reform must deal with issues concerning participation and involvement, transparency in decision-making, negotiations, dispute settlement, and trade and investment policy reviews. Issues of leadership, recruitment and inclusiveness must likewise be addressed. The running question that needs to be asked in such a review is: To what extent do existing practices correspond to the basic tenets of human rights law? (160) Furthermore, mechanisms for conducting critical in-house and external evaluations and complaint investigations (ombudspersons) should be established. Central to these processes of reform must be the numerous non-State and civil society voices that have been at the forefront in articulating the grievances of humanity towards the unbridled spread of a global system of economic ordering that has produced few benefits for the majority of humankind.


66. In the same way that the Sub-Commission has embarked upon a process of formulating a draft code of conduct for TNCs, it is time that an attempt was made to formulate guidelines that elaborate the basic human rights obligations of the main actors within the context of globalization. These guidelines would be applied not only to the various regimes of international trade, investment and finance, but also to the institutional arrangements within which these regimes are housed. These include the Bretton Woods organizations, WTO and regional organizations such as the OECD, the Asian and African Development Banks (both known as ADB), and the host of other agencies that have been created to deal with the promotion and regulation of international and regional trade, investment and finance. Part of this process can include the elaboration of a framework within which these actors can begin to conduct human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) in order to be able to assess the human rights implications of their activities before they execute them.


67. Despite the fairly active engagement of a number of United Nations bodies and specialized agencies with the issue of globalization, much more can still be done. In the first instance, those organizations which appear not to have been as deeply involved in the issue (and particularly with its human rights implications), such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), should begin to address the issue in a more critical and far-reaching manner. Furthermore, there should also be more cross-agency dialogue, both within the United Nations system and across institutional boundaries with the MLIs and WTO. The basic premise for such dialogue must be the elaboration of the fundamental human rights principles that underpin their activities in the arenas of international trade, investment and finance.


68. Given that the parameters of the subject of globalization remain very wide, and that even within the context of this preliminary report there are numerous issues that require deeper consideration, it is recommended that the Special Rapporteurs remain seized of the subject and prepare a final report for submission to the Sub-Commission and the Commission at their next sessions.

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Last update:  17 Oct 2000