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    Poverty Summit
    Global and local views on development

    from The Jobs Letter No.13 / 20 March 1995

    The World Summit for Social Development, convened by the United Nations, Copenhagen, Denmark, 6-12 March 1995

  • The United Nations Social Development Conference was billed as the conference with a mission to eradicate world poverty. Speakers at the conference maintained that poverty and unemployment threaten global security and stability, and warns that "if the UN continues to hold the trust of the people of the world, we must make their needs our priority..." In comparison to other UN Summits, world leaders stayed away from this one, or politely sent their deputies. NZ was represented by our Social Welfare Minister Peter Gresham.

  • The Summit was meant to provide directions for international co-operation and national policies around the core issues of reducing poverty, expanding productive employment, and enhancing social integration. It is the fifth in a series of seven landmark world conferences organised by the UN in the 1990's, all of them closely related.

    1990 saw the World Summit for Children in New York, 1992 the Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, 1993 the Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, and 1994 the Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. This year sees the Social Summit in Copenhagen, the Congress on Crime Prevention and the Treatment of Offenders in May, and the Conference on Women in Beijing.

  • The Summit, which cost an estimated $45 million, issued a declaration and a plan aimed rescuing more than a billion people around the world living below the poverty line and the more than a third of the world's workforce that is unemployed. The Summit Declaration, which is not legally binding, was signed by the representatives of 182 nations. It speaks of the need to cut the debt burden of developing nations, particularly in Africa, which is the world's poorest region. It also said that the programmes drawn up by the main global financial institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, should take into account the possible social consequences of radical economic reform programmes.

    "Representatives from the ILO told the Social Summit that the world is drifting into a global employment crisis and social disaster. They reported that out of global workforce of 2.8 billion, more than 800 million people were either hunting vainly for jobs or were under-employed. "

  • The Summit did not however commit hard cash to take positive steps to boost the economies of poorer countries, and many leaders of these countries are doubting that the Summit plans would have much effect. Discussions of economic reform - and the relative merits of market and non-market systems - were at the core of divisions between nations at the conference. The United States and Western European nations were also considering cutting foreign aid, rather than increasing it.

  • US Vice President Al Gore, who deputised for Bill Clinton at the conference, used the occasion to emphasise the need to change the relationship between donors and recipients of aid packages : " We in the US have also approached this Summit as an opportunity for constructive change. Abroad, as at home, we know we have to redefine the way we fight poverty and transform the relationship between donors and recipients ... to a relationship between partners." Mr Gore said that only the market system could unlock the human potential needed to create new wealth and ensure that it was broadly distributed.

  • Representatives from the ILO told the Social Summit that the world is drifting into a global employment crisis and social disaster. They reported that out of global workforce of 2.8 billion, more than 800 million people were either hunting vainly for jobs or were under-employed. The ILO said that most industrialised countries and former communist transition states were facing double-digit jobless rates. About 35 million people were unemployed in the major economies.

  • Overview : Across Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union, unemployment was climbing, and undermining support for political and economic reform. Sub-Saharan Africa has more than 60% of the urban labour force in `informal' jobs, or under employed. Latin America has also high rates of under-employment or the taking up of part-time, poorly paid jobs without social protection.

    Only East and South-East Asia - as well as Japan and a handful of European countries like Switzerland and Austria - were an exception to the trend. The ILO says that this was because these governments protected economies from problems by focussing on export-led industrial growth.

    Even for those with jobs, there is a global shift towards more "precarious" employment.

  • Even for those with jobs, there is a global shift towards more "precarious" employment. The Human Development Report for 1994, which was used as a background paper to the Social Summit, says that an increasing percentage of work available is only temporary. In 1991 in Finland, 13% of the employed were temporary workers. The figures were even higher elsewhere - 15% in Greece, 17% in Portugal, 20% in Australia, and 32% in Spain. Some people do, of course choose to work on a temporary basis, but in Spain, Greece, Portugal the Netherlands and Belgium, more than 60% of workers in temporary jobs accepted them because they could not find full-time employment.

  • Outside the Summit, hundreds of non-governmental organisations and pressure groups issued their own counter-declaration saying the summit would do little for the world's poor. The `alternative summit' urged the world leaders to close the gap between rich and poor - calling it `the most dangerous chasm in human history'. Their declaration called for full and equal rights for women, cuts in military spending, and an immediate cancellation of the debts of developing countries.

  • Robert Reid, Chairperson of NZ's Association of Non Government Organisations in Aotearoa (ANGOA) tells the Jobs Letter that although the conference had idealistic aims, it was disappointing that it didn't receive the support that it should have. Reid : "It's put the issues on the world stage ... but I think they'll probably come off the stage again fairly soon."

    Reid is critical of governments which have managed to water down many of the points that have gone into earlier drafts of the Summit statement : "There is just no commitment from richer countries to fund any more poverty alleviation programmes. The alleviation doesn't just mean aid or welfare ... it also means debt write-offs, which in some ways is one of the more useful things that could be done..."

  • ANGOA have used the Summit conference as a chance to `set the record straight' over NZ's own record of achievement on social issues. They issued a 64-page document giving their own version of Social Development in NZ, in sharp contrast to the NZ government's report presented to the Copenhagen Summit. Robert Reid says that the government excluded local NGO's from adequate input into the NZ report and would not debate the issues it covered.

  • The ANGOA report was co-authored by Auckland law lecturer Jane Kelsey and Massey Social Policy lecturer Mike O'Brien. It argues against the sweeping economic reforms of the last ten years and concludes that "successive NZ governments have abdicated their responsibilities for the well being of their citizens to the unregulated global marketplace..." Kelsey : "Our message to Copenhagen is that the NZ experiment is not a desirable export..."

    The report describes a structural adjustment programme in NZ "whose purity and zeal is unparalleled almost anywhere in the world." The report lays the blame at both the NZ `social democratic' Labour Government, and the `conservative' National government : "The political and economic structure was captured by idealogues who refused to consider a range of alternatives. The studies on which this report draws expose a legacy of poverty, unemployment, and social disintegration which pervades the lives of hundreds of thousands in Aotearoa/NZ today..."

    Setting the Record Straight - a response to the NZ Government's paper to the Social Development Summit Copenhagen March 1995, by Jane Kelsey and Mike O'Brien is available for $5 plus postage from ANGOA, P.O.Box 12-470, Wellington.

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