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Asian Activists Tell Al Gore: Your Corporations Are Causing Our Problems

by Kalinga Seneviratne

on Clinton / Gore trip to Asia
(IPS) KUALA LUMPUR -- While Vice President Al Gore called for greater political reforms in Malaysia, activists say a more serious problem is the impact of globalization on people's individual and economic rights.

In a dinner speech that infuriated government officials, Gore last Monday backed the nascent reform movement in Malaysia and called its leaders and supporters "the brave people of Malaysia."

He said democracy, not authoritarian rule, can help countries weather economic storms and spark growth.

"Citizens who gain democracy also gain the opportunity and the obligation to root out corruption and cronyism; to support fair regulations that protect consumers and business; to press for sustainable development that protects the environment; to gain access to education and health care; to uphold impartial justice and rule of law," Gore added.

However, local activists and representatives from non-government organizations here and outside Malaysia claim that it is the process of globalization that is marginalising millions of people in the Asia Pacific region and taking away their basic human rights on a massive scale.

And they say industrialized countries like the United States are to blame for this.

Peasant farmers and factory workers increasingly pushed into poverty
The Asia-Pacific People's Assembly (APPA), which convened prior to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the capital, warned that the emergence of corporations as holders of political and economic power has had devastating effects on human rights across the region.

"These new centers of power, which includes transnational corporations, multi-lateral financial institutions and state institutions, have both resulted in the deprivation of basic human rights as well as providing new opportunities for increased activities by governing elites to pursue their own interests," said the APPA statement.

"Decisions on the economy of countries are more and more determined by transnational corporations," said Malaysian activist Irene Fernandez, who's also involved in the "reformasi" movement.

Though she represents those "brave people of Malaysia" whom Gore spoke very warmly about, Fernandez is keen to emphasize that their campaign is not merely a battle against the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"We're resisting globalization. We struggle for equality and people's rights. The struggle in the region in each country is to reaffirm our democratic rights," she says.

It is for these reasons that a political crisis has developed in many countries across the region and intensified popular uprisings from all sectors, she argues.

One of the hallmarks of the push for globalization in the region is increasing landlessness in rural areas, the activists say. Peasants are pushed into poverty as a result of the loss of their farming land and food source to industrial development, tourists resorts, golf courses, and housing projects.

Furthermore, the drive to find the cheapest production base undermines workers' rights and labor conditions across the region.

"Because of APEC's policy of privatization, de-regulation and trade liberalization, most workers in Asia Pacific have literally lost their jobs," notes Nanette Miranda, secretary general of the Movement of Women Workers in the Philippines.

Hilmar Farid of the Institute of Policy Research and Advocacy in Indonesia says the globalization process is not only affecting the livelihood of people, but also the way they organize workers.

"Deregulation of labor has made existing unions irrelevant. It is important to strengthen regulatory frameworks. Governments have to provide protection and guarantees to the unions," he adds.

The Philippine government's policy of encouraging transnational investments at any cost has driven peasant families from their land, says Teresita Vistro of the National Alliance of Women's Organizations of the Philippines. Peasant farming lands are converted to growing export crops, destroying families.

"Peasant families have no skills. They only know farming. When they are forced to go into the cities they don't know any work, so prostitution becomes an option," she points out.

Labor migration, prostitution and trafficking of women, are all closely related in Indonesia, argues Tina Suprihatin of the Coalition of Community Organizations of Migrant Workers.

"We have asked our government to make migrant workers as part of the agenda (of APEC), because migrant workers benefit both countries. But the government doesn't feel the need for it, because they see the migrant workers as a commodity," she says.

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Albion Monitor November 23, 1998 (

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