1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Special Events (2000 - 2009)

Improving Knowledge on Social Development in International Organizations: Second Annual Retreat, Prangins

Date: 29 - 30 May 2002

One way to improve the flow of information among United Nations officials with an interest in social development research is to bring them together from time to time in an informal setting, where substantive questions of world development can be discussed outside the context of formal inter-agency meetings. This was the second annual retreat organized by UNRISD toward this goal. Over the longer term, these retreats should contribute to an improvement in the coherence of the United Nations position on social development and reinforce the collective capacity of the UN system to influence the global economic and social agenda.

The theme for discussion at this second retreat of high-level officials was Globalization and Inequality. The following four papers, commissioned by UNRISD, provided the background for the discussions.

· Approaches to globalization and equity within the international system: The conceptual framework
Since the United Nations system is an important source of information on global trends, as well as a key forum for discussion of globalization, it is essential to review work on globalization and equity within UN agencies. Studies prepared by the Regional Economic Commissions should receive careful attention, because there are sharp differences between regional and global perspectives on the nature of change, as well as differences among regional organizations themselves. The review should also evaluate studies on this topic prepared within the Bretton Woods institutions. Roy Culpeper, President of the North-South Institute in Ottawa, prepared this study.

· The statistical underpinnings for analysis of globalization and equity within the international system
Evaluation of conceptual and methodological issues should be complemented with an analysis of the availability and use of data. What kinds of indicators are utilized by various international agencies to give a picture of trends in economic globalization and equity? Where do statistics come from, and how do they differ from one source to another? What basic information is missing altogether? Are United Nations agencies, or the Bretton Woods institutions, simply collecting data in a routine fashion, as though nothing really new is going on in the world? Albert Berry, of the Center for International Studies of the University of Toronto, wrote this paper.

· Analysing inequality: Changing patterns of resource distribution
In part, analysis of changing patterns of resource distribution at the international level involves reviewing the direction and volume of capital flows, patterns of trade in goods and services, trends in debt servicing and payment of royalties under the prevailing intellectual property rights regime. Enormous resource shifts have occurred in these areas over the past few decades, implying severe losses for many Third World countries.

Inequalities in the current global economy are also being generated through shifts in skilled labour, the spread of deadly disease, and the availability of new technologies. Migration is contributing to stark imbalances in the geographical distribution of technical and professional workers in fields like medicine and computer sciences. HIV/AIDS is drastically undermining equality of opportunity in Africa. The information technology revolution is widening gaps between those who can gain effective access to the benefits of technological change and those who cannot.

At the same time, corporate concentration is proceeding at a breathtaking pace, and this reinforces possibilities for reaping oligopolistic or monopolistic profits. One of the remarkable contradictions of globalization is the rapid reinforcement of monopoly power during a period so apparently dedicated to the promotion of open markets with “level playing fields”. What are the implications of corporate mergers for equity in the global economy? John Quiggin, of the Australian National University, undertook the analysis of these changes and their implications for equality/inequality.

· The politics of economic globalization
Decision-making authority on global economic questions is exercised not only—and sometimes not even primarily—within parliaments and governments. The liberalization of global markets has occurred in tandem with new forms of technocratic governance, which link finance and trade authorities in one country with their counterparts in others—increasingly to the detriment of intra-governmental consultative processes. This is reinforced by pervasive conditionality, associated with loans, grants and foreign aid, and by the development of international institutions (like the World Trade Organization) that have the authority to impose sanctions. The power of the strongest economies is further reinforced through formation of groups like the G–7 (or G–8). At the same time, corporate interests are represented through organizations like the International Chamber of Commerce, as well as through home governments.

Who gains and who loses from the extension of open global markets? How do different proponents and opponents organize? Who sets the rules of engagement? Jan Aart Scholte, of the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, University of Warwick, prepared this study.

Information about the first annual retreat will be found under the Related Information link on the right.