People’s Forum Statement
Statement of the Asia-Pacific People’s Forum on Sustainable Development
25-26 November, 2001 Phnom Penh
Lessons from the Asia-Pacific on sustainable development
We, the participants of the Asia-Pacific Peoples?Forum on Sustainable Development,
strongly denounce the widespread adverse effects of globalization on the lives and
livelihoods of the Asia-Pacific peoples. Over the last nine years, the sustainable
development agenda has failed to be implemented. Instead, the globalization paradigm has
overtaken the UNCED, and the United Nations programs on women, social development,
habitat, and food security that collectively call for the integration of the 3 pillars of
sustainable development: ecological, social and economic.
We firmly believe, based on our two-day conference, that sustainable development can
never be achieved in the present context of globalization with its ‘free market’ driven
liberalization. The other over-riding, but never acknowledged, barrier to sustainable
development is militarism.
In reality they are inextricably linked. The most wealthy, powerful and war-like
countries are the drivers in both economic liberalization and militarism, and despite the
rhetoric of partnership and collective prosperity most of the Asia-Pacific developing
countries have unequal power in deciding on these key issues.
The Asia-Pacific is a huge and culturally diverse geographic region. It covers both
developed and developing countries. Therefore a diversity of approaches to sustainable
development must be respected. There is no one single answer that will address
sustainable development for this region, let alone the whole world. However, the
countries in the region have followed the same basic model of development and its
unsustainable consumption patterns.
This 몂ne size fits all?of the development paradigm that demands deregulation of markets,
the rolling back of the state, the 멻armonization?of laws, and the demands to give
transnational corporations equal, and often better or higher, legal status compared to
our local firms and industries. This has intensified since the UNCED, resulting in an
increasing ecological and social crisis.
This crisis includes: deforestation; loss of biodiversity; oil exploration; adverse
climate change; global warming and rising sea levels, especially in the Pacific;
industrial fishing practices; inappropriate land use policies; biopiracy; genetic
engineering; industrial agriculture (including destructive aquaculture); big dams and
resettlement schemes; destructive mining projects; water scarcity; deteriorating water
quality; air pollution; tourism; privatization and commodification of land, traditional
knowledge and the displacement of peoples, especially indigenous peoples; corruption;
erosion of cultural diversity; urbanization; refugees; land reclamation projects; high
external debt and debt servicing; national and international corruption; violence against
women; human rights abuses; state-sponsored violence; and deprivation of local
communities?rights to resources.
The failure to shift towards sustainable development is also caused by the weakening of
political leaders in almost all countries. In the developed countries the political
leadership has capitulated to the demands of capitalism and traded off social and
environmental concerns both domestically and internationally. Thus, at international
negotiations whether at the WTO or the UN these governments strive to widen the rights of
transnational corporations, while blocking or diluting proposals for sustainable
Many political leaders and bureaucrats realize that the present state of affairs on
environmental and development is negative and requires drastic reforms. However they go
along with the big tide of liberalization and of catering to the demands of the business
elite. Many have declared that they are unable to change the situation, and that the
forces of liberalization and globalization are too strong to counter.
If governments are serious about sustainable development they must be committed to:
striving for gender equality throughout our region and worldwide; ecological justice;
defending the rights of local communities to resources; the right to organize against
globalization without fear of arbitrary persecution; equal access to decision making on
sustainable development issues; defending the integrity of international environmental
agreements; defending the right of indigenous peoples who have insisted on maintaining
their own economic systems, and the right for a people to say 멞O?to an undesirable form
of development; the right of people to timely information and the power of intervention
in development projects; and, the right of local communities to pursue democratization,
accountability and transparency of all institutions, both public and private, at the
international and national levels.
Lessons from the Asia-Pacific on unsustainable economic policies and practices
The Asian Crisis was a wake-up call to the real nature of globalization where financial
liberalization created a very unstable international financial system ?unregulated
capital flows and speculation. The prescriptions of the IMF further aggravated the crisis.
Although there were high rates of growth this came at the price of environmental
degradation, social dislocation, urban sprawl, economic vulnerability, and intra-regional
inequality ?all of which is recognized in the ESCAP regional report on the state of the
Asia-Pacific. What is not recognized is that the particular form of development
experienced by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, and other such 멦iger?
economies is not sustainable even and especially from an economic point of view.
This financial instability spread to Russia and Latin America, it was later felt around
the world even in Wall Street. As ESCAP itself recognizes, the Crisis created a legion of
몋ransitional poor?who added to the existing poverty in the region, already home to the
largest population of the world뭩 poor, the majority of whom are women and children.
The Asian Crisis stands as an indictment against the globalization paradigm. We urge Asia-
Pacific governments to re-think economic liberalization and re-assert the right of our
peoples to choose the appropriate economic policies that lead to sustainable development.
Transnational corporations and the UN partnership process
A major weakness of UNCED was the dismantling of the notion of regulating the private
sector, especially transnational corporations. Major developed countries, including
Japan, succeeded in scuttling more than 10 years of work on the UN Code on Transnational
Corporations, the Code of Conduct on Transfer of Technology and the closure of the UN
Center on TNCs. In its place was the notion of business as a partner in sustainable
development, on par with all other ‘stakeholders’. Today, in a world that is more
unequal, with unprecedented economic and therefore political power concentrated in a
small number of TNCs, this concept of partnership and stakeholders perpetuates the myth
that there is a collective endeavor, that all players are equal and conflicts of interest
can be resolved by roundtables seeking consensus. The reality is that the principle
of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ has been systematically turned around so
that developing countries are bearing a heavier environmental, economic and social burden
in order for developed countries to continue with business as usual.
Of particular concern for us is the UN Secretary General뭩 Global Compact. Although
according to ESCAP this has been 몆erceived as an important mechanism to forge a strong
partnership with the private sector?the Global Compact is not an equal partnership, and
by privileging the world뭩 largest transnational corporations it is not representative of
the economic dynamics of the Asia-Pacific region.
Most of the Global Compact TNCs ?such as UNOCAL, Shell, Rio Tinto, Nike ?have appalling
human rights and environmental records in the Asia-Pacific. They have been highly
disruptive to local economies, often creating more poverty than employment, more
degradation than wealth, more corruption than democracy. They have also forged
undesirable partnerships with militarist forces in the region and unleashed a string of
resource conflicts, land rights disputes and cultural extinction. By tempting governments
to sustain their militarism these corporations are further profiting at the expense of
local sustainable development.
The Global Compact has largely evolved out of the UN뭩 financial problems caused by the
non-payment of contributions by the US and the cutbacks in development programs. It
underscores the inequities faced by developing countries, civil society, and non-
government and people뭩 organizations at the negotiating table. By singling out the
richest, most powerful and least transparent lobby to the exclusion of others, the UN
upsets the delicate balance required for genuine multistakeholder partnerships. It also
undermines the validity of other evolving partnerships, hinders their association with
the UN and widens the divide among the Major Group players. The Global Compact totally
exacerbates the North-South divide and may eventually threaten the outcomes of the
Johannesburg Summit itself by conceding sustainable development to an economic elite.
The Global Compact reinforces the trend of the last ten years where more and more rights
have been conferred on TNCs with no corresponding obligations. Compared to the discarded
UN Code of Conduct for TNCs that emphasized the obligations, responsibilities and
accountability of TNCs, the Global Compact renders the UN subservient and leaves it
nothing more than a facilitator for elite business interests. Therefore we strongly call
on governments to support a growing citizens campaign that demands the dissolution of the
Global Compact. Controversial partnerships between specific UN agencies and TNCs have
also sparked strong citizens groups protests. It is therefore crucial that governments
protect the integrity of the spirit and letter of the UN embodied in ‘We the peoples? by
ensuring a corporate free UN.
We call on governments to regulate corporations and to lay down obligations,
responsibilities and accountability consistent with sustainable development.
WTO and sustainable development
We condemn the process at the recent WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha. Many developing
countries had repeatedly disagreed that negotiations should be launched on ‘new issues’
(investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation).
At the heart of these new issues is an unbridled liberalization and deregulation –
especially of developing countries ?to pry open markets, access to natural resources, and
reformulate the rule law of to protect TNCs. This would further undermine the sustainable
Unfortunately intense pressure led to the adoption of the Doha Declaration which has
opened the door for the ‘new issues’ to be turned into legally-binding agreements. The
way this was done was another outstanding example of the untransparent, discriminatory,
biased and manipulative process of decision making at the WTO, that favors a few major
developed countries at the expense of the many developing countries. Indeed, compared
with previous Ministerial Conferences (for example Singapore 1996 and Seattle 1999), the
level of manipulation and deceit was even more blatant and it has brought the WTO to a
record low level in public credibility.
It is ironic and hypocritical that such untransparent and discriminatory practices are so
prevalent in an organization that claims transparency and non-discrimination as its core
We regret that many of our governments in this region submitted to the pressures of the
developed countries. However, due to the brave resistance of India, openly supported by a
few stalwart developing countries, at the final hours member states secured two years to
make a final decision on the launch of negotiations on the ‘new issues’ at the next
If governments are sincere about sustainable development, then the WSSD must reject any
further expansion of the scope, mandate and power of the WTO. Until geopolitical
inequalities of power are resolved further expansion of the WTO will only exacerbate the
present polarization. We therefore call on all governments to withdraw support for the
launch of negotiations on ‘new issues’ at the next WTO Ministerial Conference.
Proposals for action
A fundamental basis of sustainable development must be the ability of governments to
retain national sovereignty and decision making power. This must be subject to public
discussion, scrutiny and accountability at local and national legislatures and not be
ceded to undemocratic and politically biased bodies such as the WTO and the international
Nine years ago, the UNCED acknowledged that the current development model was
environmentally unsustainable and that the world economic system was unfair. That was why
the over-riding principle for Agenda 21, the Rio declaration and the Convention on
Climate Change was ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ which enshrined equity as
a central concern.
These principles must be reinvigorated at Johannesburg. The unsustainability of the WTO,
TNCs, military unilateralism, financial liberalization, unequal terms of trade, and the
social and environmental costs of the globalization paradigm are due to a profound
failure to hold ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ at the heart of
international relations. We call on all governments to re-affirm the principle of ‘common
but differentiated responsibilities’ and make them the operating principle of all
international institutions in their efforts towards sustainable development. To this end
we call for the following:
Appropriate and democratic global governance especially in the IMF, World Bank and WTO
No launch of a new round at the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2005
Reform of the international financial system
A corporate free UN
Debt cancellation and relief
Fair terms of trade through new commodity agreements or other mechanisms
The phase-out of fossil fuels and action on climate change
Technology assessment to prevent and phase out unsustainable production
The adoption of more equitable and ecological models of development
Recognition of local communities and indigenous peoples as rights-holders, not merely as
stakeholders, to have their own form of development and to defend their local economy
Gender justice and support of fundamental human rights.