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.
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.
- The term globalization refers to a set of multidimensional processes (economic, cultural, political, financial, social, etc.) that are reconfiguring the global arena. These processes do not exclusively involve a generalized scale shift toward the global because they do not necessarily converge, do not impact all individuals, and do not impact everyone in the same way. Contemporary globalization means more than just an increase in trade and exchanges, an internationalization of economies and an upsurge in connectivity: it is radically transforming the spatial organization of economic, political, social and cultural relationships.
- Culture is what distinguishes human existence from the natural state, that is to say it denotes the processes through which humans use and develop their intellectual capacities. According to Clifford Geertz (1973), culture is a system of significations commonly shared by the members of a social community, who use them in their interactions. Cultures are therefore not immutable but change according to social practices, incorporating processes of both inclusion and exclusion. Culturalism is a concept which considers that supposed collective beliefs and membership of a particular culture predetermine social behavior.
- public services
- An activity in the general interest carried out by a public or private body and overseen by the government. Public services serve a wide range of purposes, from the traditional sovereign functions (police, defense, justice, public finance, diplomacy) to the non-market state sector (education, health, social protection, culture and sport, etc.) and the industrial and commercial sectors (transport, energy, water, telecommunications, etc.). Public services are grounded in fundamental principles: equality of access and treatment for users, continuity, accessibility, neutrality and transparency of services, and their adaptability to evolutions of the general interest. The notions of services in the general interest and universal services, used in European and some international institutions, have – not without controversy – redefined the perimeters of state action in reaction to the liberalization of some of these sectors.
- Use of this expression became more widespread following its inclusion in Article 71 of the United Nations Charter. NGOs do not have an international legal status and the acronym is used in different contexts to refer to very different kinds of actors. It generally designates associations formed by individuals over the long term in relation to not-for-profit goals, often linked to values and beliefs (ideological, humanist, ecological, religious, etc.) rather than financial interests. Active on a wide range of issues at both the local and global levels, NGOs now number tens of thousands, but vary greatly in the scale of their budgets, staff and development.
- human rights
- These are the fundamentally inalienable and universal rights and duties of human beings, which are indefeasible and universal. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these were limited to “natural rights” (basic freedoms considered to be allied to human nature) but human rights have now been expanded to include civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights on the basis of human freedom and dignity. Human rights have been enshrined in the constitutions of most democratic regimes. They are also subject to many protective provisions at both regional and international levels.
- civil society
- At the national level, civil society refers to a social body that is separate from the state and greater than the individuals and groups of which it is formed (social classes, socio-professional categories, generations, etc.). The notion of a global civil society emerged in the 1970s (John Burton, World Society) and refers to social relations formed in the international arena and beyond the control of states, when citizens of all countries take concerted action to demand regulations that may be supranational or infranational. However, the term conceals a great diversity. The notion of world society emerged among geographers in the 1990s and refers to the more all-encompassing process of creating a social space at the planetary level.
- Inspired by management and entrepreneurship, the expression global governance refers to the formal and informal institutions, mechanisms and processes through which international relations between states, citizens, markets and international and non-governmental organizations are established and structured. The global governance system aims to articulate collective interests, to establish rights and duties, to arbitrate disputes and to determine the appropriate regulatory mechanisms for the issues and actors in question. Governance takes various forms: global multilateral governance, club-based governance (restricted to members, e.g. G7/8/20), polycentric governance (juxtaposition of regulatory and management mechanisms operating at various levels), and so on.
- The term regulation refers to all the processes and mechanisms that enable a system to function in a normal, regular fashion. At the international level, it refers to the set of processes, mechanisms and institutions that act to correct imbalances that might threaten the global order and to ensure that actors behave predictably, thereby ensuring stability. It is closely linked to the notions of governance and global public goods.
- public-private partnerships
- A method of financing and managing public infrastructure (hospitals, water supply, highways, etc.) through which a public body delegates the funding, building and/or commercialization and maintenance of the facility to a private operator, while retaining public ownership. In exchange, the private operator receives payment from the state (in the form of rent) or charges users for the service. While this system absolves governments from having to provide the necessary funding themselves, it is criticized for leading to the privatization of profits and, often, a significant rise in the ultimate cost to the taxpayer (total value of rents paid by the state far exceeds the sum invested, increased charges paid by users, etc.).
- international organizations
- In the words of Clive Archer, an IO is “a formal, continuous structure established by agreement between members (governmental and/or non-governmental) from two or more sovereign states with the aim of pursuing the common interest of the membership.” Marie-Claude Smouts identifies three characteristics of IOs: they arise out of a “founding act” (treaty, charter, statute), have a material existence (headquarters, finance, staff), and form a “coordination mechanism.