Trade

How Does Your Company Measure Up?

How Does Your Company Measure Up?

After 10 years of intensive international work, the Globalizing the Principles Network released "Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance," the work of a diverse global coalition of religious organizations and advocacy groups. "The Global Bench Marks will help us concentrate on key issues with our global partners," said Barbara Hayes of the U.K.-based Ecumenical Council on Corporate Responsibility. The top benchmarks include:

  • A new relationship between corporations, communities, and ecosystems
  • Sustainable systems of production and equitable systems for distribution
  • Participation of community stakeholders in the decision-making processes of companies
  • Preservation and protection of the environment for present and future generations
  • Respect for the dignity of every person and for workers' right to organize
  • Strong codes of conduct and independent monitoring for corporations and suppliers
  • Development of a human rights policy based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Commitment to the principle that every worker has the right of access to health care, including AIDS treatment

    Source: "Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance" at www.bench-marks.org.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2003
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Can You Hear Me Now?

As if there weren't enough reasons to get rid of your cell phone, a new study from the Worldwatch Institute reports that coltan—the mineral that keeps cell phones and other electronic equipment functioning—fuels violent conflict in developing countries. Global trade expansion gives warring groups easy access to markets, providing repressive governments and rebels alike with billions of dollars every year. "Most consumers don't know that a number of common purchases bear the invisible imprint of violence," says Worldwatch senior researcher Michael Renner. What's fueling the resource wars?

Diamonds. The Angolan rebel group UNITA made $4 billion to $4.2 billion in revenue from illegal diamonds between 1992 and 2001; during the 1990s, the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone made $25 million to $125 million per year.

Timber. The repressive governments of Liberia, Cambodia, and Burma made millions each year on timber during the 1990s—$100 million to $187 million, $220 million to 390 million, and $112 million, respectively.

Coltan. The Rwandan government reaped $250 million in 1999-2000 by selling coltan from mines in the Congo.

Oil. The long-standing conflicts in Angola, Colombia, and Nigeria are financed in part by oil revenues.

Source: The Anatomy of Resource Wars (Worldwatch Institute, 2002).

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2003
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'Dirty Wars,' 21st-Century Style

In the 1980s, when governments waged dirty wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua that they claimed would make the world safe for democracy, the churches said no. Today, churches in the Americas are organizing once again for justice. This time, their target is the big lie of the new millennium: The contention that "free trade" agreements and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will strengthen democracy and help the poor.

In fact, such agreements benefit the economic elite by dramatically strengthening their hand against democratic governments. "Free trade" makes large corporations free to move jobs at the drop of a hat, playing countries against one another in a race to the bottom in wages, environmental standards, and labor laws. Wall Street investment is free to skittishly stampede in and out of countries, producing crippling financial crises. If environmental or health laws threaten profits, companies are free to sue governments for massive sums in closed-door tribunals. And powerful countries such as the United States are free to negotiate preferential trade terms for themselves—wherein, for example, poor countries must eliminate farm subsidies and open their markets to heavily subsidized U.S. farm goods.

The issue has never been more timely: The proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, modeled on NAFTA, is being rushed through negotiations this year, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is on the table for 2005. In the face of this blatant corporate power grab, a groundswell of church groups in Latin America, like their counterparts to the north, are joining with other parts of civil society to speak out and strategize.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2003
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Free Trade for Whom?

Protesters anywhere have a legitimate case to make, as long as it’s not made with violence. But I can tell you that the issues that they’re raising in terms of the global economy, how countries treat each other, the gap between the rich and the poor, those are very much the issues that will be dealt with in Quebec." —Paul Martin, Canadian finance minister

Hundreds of thousands will benefit from this trade agreement, but millions more will not. And those who are the losers will be forced into regional and inter-generational poverty with governments largely removed as actors on their behalf." —Gerry Barr, Canadian Council for International Cooperation

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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Hemispheric NAFTA-Shocks

On the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect, the Zapatista movement began—a rebellion, they said, against the forces of globalization on behalf of the rights of indigenous Mexicans. Seven years later, as Zapatistas continued their struggle by peacefully marching this spring from Chiapas to Mexico City, trade ministers from 34 North and South American countries headed to Quebec City to hammer out a NAFTA of the Western hemisphere: The Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).

Though 500 corporate representatives were invited to attend the FTAA conference, civil society's invitations were apparently lost in the mail, leaving critics to assert that the FTAA is fundamentally undemocratic and that its goals of privatization and deregulation will pad corporate wallets at the expense of workers, the poor, and the environment. Opponents cite sweatshop conditions, heavy pollution, and the migration of U.S. jobs to the South as evidence that the NAFTA-fication of the Americas will enrich a few and open borders to exploitation and injustice.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
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Cuppa Joy?

John Sage is low-key in approach and evangelistic in mission: Save the world through coffee. Can't be done, you say? Well, while it's true that the path to good java is paved with dangerous cul de sacs, there might be a way…the "Pura Vida" way.

Pura Vida Coffee is the brainchild of dotcommer John Sage and Vineyard pastor Chris Dearnley. "I had some money and lots of business experience," says Sage, "and Chris had the ideas and the ministry." Two great things that go great together.

Since 1998 Pura Vida has been turning over 100 percent of its net profits to ministries in Costa Rica that provide clothes and food to street kids, housing for recovering addicts, and job-training for adults. On the flip side, they sell delicious beans grown in Costa Rica on small, family-owned farms that promote organic fertilizers and recycle coffee byproducts. Suppliers pay fair wages, meet Ministry of Labor standards, and provide free housing for harvesters. Bulk and fund-raising discounts are available. www.puravidacoffee.com or 1-888-577-4JOY.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
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A Blank Check for China?

The current debate about trade with China is a perfect illustration of the double standards (and double talk) that permeate U.S. foreign policy. The Clinton administration wants to end the annual review of China’s trade status, arguing that increased business relations will improve human rights in the communist nation.

The administration, of course, makes exactly the opposite argument when it comes to Cuba, for which the U.S. government has nothing but contempt and economic sanctions, at least as long as Castro is in power and Cuban expatriates carry such weight in Florida politics (and presidential primaries).

But China is a special case, not the least because of its sheer size. The business community drools over the prospect of all those new customers. One only has to imagine the captains of industry humming their mantra—"a billion Cokes a day"—to see why U.S. business consortiums are lobbying so hard to opening China’s door to international commerce.

China currently enjoys "normal trade relations" (which used to be called "most favored nation" status) with the United States. But each year, that status comes up for congressional renewal. In one of those lovely quirks of timing, the annual review coincides with the anniversary of the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square, thus providing the opportunity for an annual discussion and debate centered (usually) on human rights and not just dollars-and-cents.

Human rights, unfortunately, isn’t what makes the world go ‘round. As AFL-CIO head John Sweeney said, "It is insane that under the rules governing worldwide trade today you can take action against a company for pirating a Madonna videotape, but you can take no action against a company for employing children, or using forced labor, or violating workers’ fundamental rights, or poisoning the environment."

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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Seattle: Changing the Rules

From the pulpit, I looked out over the standing room only crowd and could feel the electric excitement in Seattle’s St. James Cathedral. It was Sunday night, just before the week of scheduled protests that would rock the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting and the world. We were all gathered for a religious service organized by Jubilee 2000, the grassroots campaign to cancel the debt of the world’s poorest countries. Just before I preached, a text was read from Leviticus 25, which proclaims the biblical jubilee—a periodic economic redistribution in which slaves are set free, land is returned, and debts are forgiven. Jubilee is a call for a regular "leveling" of things, given the human tendency toward over-accumulation by some while others lose ground. The Bible doesn’t propose any blueprint for an economic system, but rather insists that all human economic arrangements be subject to the demands of God’s justice, that great gaps be avoided or rectified, and the poor are not left behind. As I listened to the prophetic scripture being read, I marveled at how it was being used that night—as a relevant contribution to a public discussion on the rules of global trade!

However, the official discussion planned in Seattle was never meant to be public. A quiet and private WTO meeting of a very elite group had been scheduled to determine the rules of the global economy. But the events of the next several days would shout a message heard around the globe—that the talk about how to conduct international trade would no longer be a private conversation. Instead of a small, behind-the-scenes meeting to determine the rules of global trade, a very noisy public debate ensued, asking who makes those rules, who benefits, and who suffers.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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