5:51 AM Aug 29, 1994


New York, 28 August (TWN/Martin Khor) After the first week of the fortnight-long meeting of the Preparatory Committee (Prepcom) for the World Summit for Social Development, participants are still searching for a well-defined role for the Summit.

Official delegates and NGO representatives alike have not worked up much enthusiasm for the two proposed "outcomes" of the Summit: a draft programme of action and a draft declaration prepared by the Secretariat.

This is the second Prepcom meeting for the Social Summit, which has the as its three major themes overcoming of poverty, unemployment and social disintegration. A third meeting of the Prepcom is scheduled for next January, while the Summit will be held in Copenhagen in March.

During the first four days of debate last week, it became clear that most of the industrialised countries were unhappy with the draft action programme.

The United States, in particular, voiced concern that it was too long, and suggested it should be reduced to a few clear points. In a statement, the US proposed that the "basics" should consist of elimination of malnutrition; primary health care for all; safe water and sanitation and basic literacy for all; and universal access to family planning.

At a dialogue session with NGOs, US delegates said they were not happy with the draft action programme and preferred a short document with a shortlist of useful concrete and specific actions which heads of state could sign on to at the Summit.

NGOs responded that although they too were not enthusiastic about the Secretariat's first draft, they were afraid that the US approach to a revision of the draft would cut out the structural and institutional aspects of the three major problems, and merely reiterate conclusions of previous UN conferences for the need to provide basic facilities.

When it became clear that the US, European countries and Australia were working in concert to cut down the action programme as well as the draft declaration, over twenty NGOs issued a statement "Twelve points to save the Social Summit" appealing that the Summit must not be allowed to fail.

The NGOs, which included the influential Development Caucus, the Women's Caucus, Third World Network, Eurostep, the World Council of Churches and other leading international NGOs from the North and the South, said that "unless the structural causes of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion are adequately defined and properly addressed, the Summit would be judged a failure."

Among the points which the NGOs believed the Summit should address included:

* Recognising that present structural adjustment policies have deepened poverty and inequality, failed to create employment and thus deepened social disintegration, the Summit should lead to a fundamental revision of the content of these policies so that they do not exacerbate the forces that deprive the poor from enjoying their basic rights;

* International financial institutions should be made more accountable to the United Nations in terms of the social impact of their policies;

* The operations of the World Trade Organisation and the new trade regime should be examined by UN expert bodies on economic and social rights, and there should be a social audit to gauge their impact on human welfare. There should be no patenting of life forms.

* The full costs of the Uruguay Round must be assessed and compensation for nations and sectors within nations experiencing net losses must be made to ensure social development is not hindered; * The Summit should promote debt reduction initiatives that go beyond existing options, including the writing off of multilateral debt, especially in Africa.

* As the major economic actors are unaccountable, the Summit should establish international monitoring mechanisms and a code of conduct for operations of the transnational corporations.

* The UN aid target of 0.7% of GNP should be achieved by all OECD countries, and at least 50% of ODA should be allocated to social areas, including guaranteed provision of basic needs in health care, education, shelter, water, sanitation.

* The action programme should commit governments to provide frameworks to enable civil society to contribute to social development. It should respect the unique culture of people and integrate indigenous and traditional practices into social development.

The Group of 77 and China have issued their own versions of the draft declaration and action programme. These versions have adopted the Secretariat documents as the basic texts, and made revisions (mainly deletions of sentences and paragraphs) to them.

Late on Friday afternoon, the Secretariat issued a first revised draft action programme. The revised text is considerably shorter, having 173 paragraphs (and with these paragraphs generally shortened), compared with the 219 paragraphs of the original.

The concern raised earlier by NGO participants that the revised draft would result in a shedding of the structural and social aspects of the three themes of poverty, unemployment and social disintegration appears to have been well founded.

In a number of key areas, the revised text has taken on an approach that is more directly free market and growth oriented, in the process reducing or eliminating the social dimension that had acted as a balance in the original draft.

For instance, the original draft has a para 7 dealing with how unequal access to resources, technology and knowledge has led to "unequal growth and socio-economic inequalities". This reference is dropped in the revised text.

The original draft also says that "economic growth is essential but not sufficient to ensure socailed development, and strategies should focus on "societies" rather than "economies." It adds that to reduce poverty and unemployment and enhance social integration requires ensuring the economic growth integrates social considerations. The revised version merely states that "social development requires economic growth and is a condition for sustainable growth."

Para 8 in the original text states that "new technologies have the potential to improve peoples' lives" but balances this in para 9 by acknowledging that "technological change may contribute to worsening conditions within nations and has made many problems international in scope." In the revised version, the sentence in para 8 has been slightly changed to "The access to technologies, including new technologies, has the potential to significantly improve people's lives" but the balancing sentence of para 9 has been eliminated.

The original text in para l5 states that "In spite of the progress recorded in the Uruguay Round, not all countries will benefit equally from its provisions...Hence, from the perspective of social development, the agenda for trade policy reform remains unfinished." These finely balanced clauses have been removed from the revised document.

On structural adjustment, the emphasis of the original text has been changed significantly. The original sentences state: "The cost of structural adjustment must be considered in relation to the costs of not adjusting. Nevertheless, considerable experience with structural adjustment indicates the need to subject the logic of these programmes to broader public debate." This is later followed by the suggestion that "Structural adjustment programmes must be tailored to the economic and social conditions of individual countries."

In the revised text, these have been revised to the following, with a resulting change of nuance: "The cost of structural adjustment, which is a long term process to be tailored to the economic and social conditions of each country, must be considered in relation to the cost of inaction." Moreover, other action proposals on this subject have been watered down.

From Monday, delegates will break into working groups to negotiate the action programme on the basis of the revised text. A revised version of the declaration will also be produced during the week, for further negotiation.

As the Prepcom meeting enters its second week, delegates and NGOs are grappling with an identity problem: The draft action programme (and even more so the revised version) does not contain anything substantially new or significant, and thus it has failed to generate any sense of conviction or enthusiasm that the Summit could make a breakthrough or even a difference in the acknowledged need to fight the global social and economic crisis.

The document has little to say about key issues such as the need to revise structural adjustment policies imposed on the World Bank and IMF which many studies have shown are detrimental to social development; the gradual encroachment of the Bretton Woods institutions into the social and economic policy-making and operational roles of the UN and its agencies; and the development and cultural impacts of the Uruguay Round and the new WTO.

Unless it deals with these issues, the Social Summit will face the danger of merely issuing a statement summarising past declarations and describing what is already obvious at the superficial level.