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Can existing institutions address globalisation and poverty?

By Trevor Rogers - posted Monday, 15 October 2001

There are valiant attempts to promote the United Nations and other international bodies as the hope of the poor against the onslaught of globalisation. We have been provided with a set of such views by Janet Hunt, from the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, James Ensor, from Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, and John Braithwaite from the Australian National University (On Line Opinion, September 2001). They provide many pertinent observations, and I sympathise with their approaches, but ultimately these articles simply reinforce the need for a totally new, independent institution.

Hunt summarises as follows:

"The main point I want to make about aid, NGOs, and long-term development is that to regulate globalisation, and transform it to a globalisation which fosters human development, we need to have a countervailing force. That force is the UN human rights system and the development agreements made in the UN system ... These present an alternative framework for globalisation which NGOs and aid should be supporting and promoting. … not all aid currently contributes to these goals, and NGOs must support those elements of aid which do, but critique those which contribute to the neo-liberal economic approach."


I agree with this, more or less, except the UN is not the required countervailing force.

"To conclude," says Hunt, "to regulate globalisation … we can use various elements of the UN system which are already there. We do not have to invent something new."

To this, I couldn't agree less. The problem is the actual delivery of human rights services.

Hunt appears to restrict the roles for human rights NGOs to:

  • advocacy, and promoting respect for human rights,
  • modelling approaches to leverage action and support,
  • research on what aid is actually doing,
  • assisting the development and monitoring of codes for corporate behaviour in developing countries, and
  • acting as watch dogs.

In her article at least Hunt apparently does not anticipate NGOs as deliverers of any real service, much less human rights support services, or having any clout in the commercial world.


Hunt supports more of the UN, IMF, World Bank and other forms of government aid - "but the emphasis must be on how aid dollars are used", and on "what part the aid is playing in supporting the neo-liberal agenda".

The UN is not - and cannot be - the countervailing force that Hunt advocates, even though much of the aid provided by the UN and NGOs is impressive. The dominant states of the UN are those that benefit most from globalisation and they will insist that the "neo liberal agenda" Hunt decries is central to any aid.

Hunt herself provides some ammunition against the World Bank and the IMF. The IMF has recently cut off loans to Zimbabwe, including a loan intended to help tackle its poverty problems, because it fell into arrears in February. This may marginally upset some government leaders in Zimbabwe, but it doesn't help the poor who live there.

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About the Author

Trevor J. Rogers is Trustee of the Global Obligations Establishment Trust.

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