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Alter-globalization burst onto the world scene at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle in 1999 and has appeared regularly at all subsequent conferences. The movement calls for an “alternative globalization ” freed from liberal ideology – a globalization that does not treat food, cultural products and public services as commodities. Since the launch of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre (Brazil) in 2001, presented as an alternative to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, this global network of civil society organizations working to build an alternative world (WSF Charter of Principles of 2002) has met regularly, spawning local, regional and continental forums. The WSF sees itself as pluralist, horizontal, networked, non-directive and self-managed; it refuses to issue unified formal texts or statements. Its ideas have spread widely – yet the movement seems to have lost some of its momentum.

World Social Forums, 2001-2018

Source: official websites of the various World Social Forums.

Comment: The map – constructed with a projection adapted to the subject under consideration, which puts countries of the Southern hemisphere at the top – shows the expansion of the World Social Forum (WSF) since its 2001 launch in Porto Alegre (Brazil), as an alternative to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. However, this alter-globalist network remains highly centered on Brazil.

Public debate around world trade is also represented by NGO s that see it in a broader context encompassing social issues (ending exploitation and respecting human rights in production and trade), ethical issues (e.g. the Éthique sur l’étiquette campaign in France), and environmental issues (Zero Waste) and the circular economy. These civil society organizations promote proposals around social clauses in trade agreements, product certification and labeling, and fair trade distribution networks. Working to promote alternative forms of commerce since the 1970s, they have established direct relationships between small-scale producers of the South, ensuring them guaranteed prices, and consumers of the North who are prepared to pay a premium for fairer and more diverse products from small-scale growers, ensuring the preservation of their unique expertise (the “trade-not-aid” principle). Some researchers have questioned these initiatives, however, highlighting the way they simultaneously perpetuate the power relationships characteristic of colonial situations. Finally, some NGOs – as in the case of the World Banana Forum following extended, difficult negotiations at the WTO – are successfully establishing multilateral governance structures relating to the production and trading of agricultural products (FAO). Their work is helping to disseminate new approaches to trade and trade regulation, involving civil society actors in public-private partnerships and opening up spaces to drive the transformation of international organizations.

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" Alter-globalization " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2019, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:

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