NGOs Reimagined Manifesto

“The heart of justice is truth telling, seeing ourselves and the world the way it is rather than the way we want it to be. More than ever before we, as a society, need to renew a commitment to truth telling.” bell hooks

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned us that we need to take urgent action to avoid catastrophic environmental breakdown.

Humanity is facing environmental, economic and social crises that are interconnected. It is impossible to solve one of these crises without addressing the others.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not enough because they do not challenge the concentration of power in favour of privileged elites in both public and private spaces. We are calling on international NGOs to focus on these actions and bridge the ecological, economic and social crises.

1. Replace Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with measurements of progress based on what matters

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) tallies up money-based activity but it doesn’t care if the activity is useful or destructive. GDP will increase if a country cuts down all its main forests but the associated habitat and wild species loss would not be measured.

GDP not only leaves out what is bad, it leaves out much of what is good. It does not count useful activity that is not monetised. If you grow your own food, take care of your ageing parents, clean your own house or enjoy your local park, you don’t contribute to GDP because these activities don’t involve the transaction of money.

We need to move away from defining development through GDP and the extraction of natural resources. We need to galvanise communities around the world to have conversations about alternatives to development. People in African, Asian and Latin American countries should put forward alternatives to development that incorporate non-Western concepts of what constitutes a thriving society.

Only when GDP growth is no longer the main goal of the global economy will the solutions below be possible to achieve.

2. Establish and implement a collaborative approach to transition to a post-growth society

We have to reject the belief that we can continue to grow the economy and increase our consumption of resources forever. Now is the time for us to work out how to run our societies so that they deliver quality of life for all, without depending on increased consumption.

Our current economic system demands endless exponential growth. Even if we had 100% green energy, we would continue to destroy forests, expand industrial agriculture and produce more waste. We need to downsize total consumption, starting with people in rich countries who consume up to 10 times more natural resources than those in the poorest countries.

On average, one person in North America consumes around 90 kilograms (kg) of resources each day, a European consumes around 45 kg per day and someone in Africa consumes around 10 kg per day. (Source) Rich countries have to downscale production and consumption by around 6% each year. Poor countries need to the same after 2025, downscaling at around 3% per year. We all need to work towards creating localised economies which remain open and connected. (Source)

3. Take a more urgent and assertive approach to climate change

The climate crisis requires urgent mobilisation on an unprecedented scale. It is possible to tackle climate change effectively. To do that, we need to reduce human consumption and put in place fairer ways of sharing resources amongst the people of the world.

To keep emissions below 2 degrees we need a much more assertive approach. Rich countries need to hit zero emissions by 2035 and poor countries by 2050.
We need to end subsidies to fossil fuel companies. It would help make fossils fuel less competitive compared to renewable energy. We should redirect the $5.3 trillion subsidy currently awarded to fossil fuel companies towards renewable energy. Poor countries should receive compensation for damage caused by climate change. They should receive financial and technical support to help them transition to renewable energy. (Source)

4. Work with others to experiment with different ways of democratising the United Nations

The big challenges facing humankind are global and to address them we need global solutions and global cooperation. With representatives from 193 countries the United Nations (UN) is the only worldwide forum that can coordinate global justice and peace.

The UN has been hijacked by powerful governments, who act based on national interests rather than prioritising common welfare. We need international legislation that makes it illegal for countries to invade other countries. Member countries must work through their disputes within the rules of a truly democratic UN.

5. Start a public conversation about abolishing the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other undemocratic global institutions 

The World Bank and IMF are responsible for facilitating large-scale deforestation, land grabbing and ocean grabbing around the world, leading to inequality, poverty and global hunger. They act on behalf of corporations, not the citizens of the world.

They have failed to open themselves up to public participation. They work to serve the interests of their financiers, who are desperate to expand their markets. Privatisation and deregulation in developing countries are major factors that have led to increased cost of living.

The IMF and World Bank are run by bankers and economists in rich countries. Why are they the best placed people to devise national economic policies that benefit poor people in the Global South? History has shown us that they are unable to do that.

6. Call for the abolishment of debt-based currency and for reform to the banking system

We can and should abolish debt-based currency altogether and invent a new money system completely free of intrinsic debt. Replacing GDP will help us refocus economic policies on what really matters, but it doesn’t address the main driver of growth: debt.

The fact that our economy runs on debt-based currency is one of the big reasons that it needs growth. Any country could create a debt-free money system which its central bank (such as the Bank of England) would issue on behalf of the state. This could take the form of bank account money or digital currency as well as the existing notes and coins.

The responsibility for money creation would be placed with an independent non-governmental committee that is properly democratic, accountable and transparent.

High street banks could go back to speculative lending once the central bank took over money creation, and this could still be profitable for them. In the UK, the current £85k guarantee for people’s savings in an account could be changed. If someone wanted to speculate with your money, high street banks would no longer be indemnified if they lost it through poor investment choices, which would mean no bank was any longer too big to fail. This introduction of moral hazard might make high street commercial banks become more stable if their existence depends on making sensible and prudent choices.

7. Foster, promote and protect the commons, including the digital commons

The commons includes everything we inherit and create together. The commons we inherit are gifts from nature such as air, oceans and wildlife. The commons we create includes libraries, the internet, public spaces and historic knowledge. The commons provides the foundation of our social, cultural and economic life. Commoning involves people coming together to agree the terms of peer governance. People learn how to create fair systems of sharing and using resources, including how to deal with rule-breakers.

The commons are a viable solution to managing resources and governance, while also being a way for people to co-create and self-organise the economic and social structures that are needed in a living and thriving community. Fostering a commons-based society supports a shift away from a dominant market-based system through collaborative ways of working.

8. Build solidarity between people in the Global North and Global South and support the self-determination of indigenous communities

Ordinary people around the world want similar things – to meet their basic needs, adequate resources to feed themselves, self-determination, justice, mutually beneficial relationships with businesses and a healthy ecological system. When people are connected, they can get the opportunity to share similar struggles while embracing their differences.

We must connect people and movements in the Global South with people and movements in the Global North, through inter-cultural conversations that helps us understand the world in which we live.

This includes working alongside indigenous people to address issues that matter to them. Indigenous people and people in the Global South have questioned development for centuries. They have questioned its impact on them and their environment, and have challenged the power and right of the nation-state to determine their fate.

9. Support corporate practices that genuinely enable people and planetary wellbeing

An estimated $2 trillion is taken from “developing countries” annually through practices such as illicit financial flows, tax evasion, debt service and trade policies advantageous to the global capitalist class. In most countries, governments are at the service of corporate interests, who succeed in altering laws and policies to allow them to continue plundering the wealth of nations and maintain their predatory relationship with nature. (Source)

Transnational Corporations (TNCs) must be properly held responsible and effectively punished for the pollution produced by their activities. This is especially important in the extractive industries with regard to the impacts of megaprojects on local ecosystems and communities. When TNCs abandon a country their damaging impact remains, yet no reparation or compensation is given. Pollution must not be profitable. (Source)

10. Support the creation of Universal Basic Income and Universal Basic Services

The rise of automation means we cannot rely on formal employment as a dependable route out of poverty. Universal Basic Income would ensure that everyone is paid a regular income they can live on, without any conditions. Studies have shown that giving money to poor people is the most effective way to reduce poverty.

Universal Basic Services (UBS) calls for the provision of free public services provided by government. These services should enable every citizen’s safety, opportunity and participation. UBS can be defined as shelter, sustenance, health and care, education, local transport, information access, legal support and localised economies. Communities should be supported to define what UBS are for them and what they look like in their locality.

11. Support the global movement on tax justice

Tax evasion drains billions of dollars out of the Global South. We need to fix the international tax system. This starts with individuals and corporations that offshore their income, bankers who assist them, and the national governments and international institutions which make it all possible.  We need to:

  • Close down secret jurisdictions that serve as tax havens.
  • Create laws that require global financial transparency, so that we can know the owners of all companies, trusts and foundations and allow their income and wealth to be taxed by their home countries.
  • Change the way multinational corporations report profits. Firstly they should show country by country profits. Secondly they should report their profits in countries where their economic activity takes place, rather than the current practice of providing a single consolidated balance sheet and filing it in a separate low tax jurisdiction.
  • Impose a global minimum tax on corporations which would eliminate their incentive to evade national taxes altogether. Impose harsh penalties for bankers and accountants who facilitate tax evasion and other illicit financial flows.
12. Galvanise support for the abolition of debt burdens of developing countries, without imposing conditions

Abolish the debt burdens of countries in the Global South. The debt cancellation needs to be free from structural adjustment conditions. This would free up countries to spend more income on their own welfare services, reducing the control that rich countries exert over them.

Poor countries will need to have access to finance while retaining the sovereignty to use tariffs, subsidies, capital controls and other measures to manage their economy.

This measure can only work if we reform trade rules. Trade tariffs imposed by rich countries would wipe out that ‘clean slate’ very quickly.

When poor countries have defaulted on paying their debt, they have been punished by foreign invasions and externally supported coups. This injustice needs to be prevented using international laws created and administered by a properly democratic UN.

13. Campaign for land reform that favours small farmers

More people are going hungry because small farmers are losing access to farmland. Small farmers produce 70% of the world’s food but are now squeezed onto less than 25% of the world’s farmland. Farmland around the world is being bought up by Wall Street and financial institutions.

Corporate and commercial farms, big biofuel operations and land speculators are pushing millions of people off their land. The current global food system is set up to provide fuels and food for the Western market.

We need to ensure that small farmers have the right to use, save and exchange seeds. We must ensure that carbon trading schemes (another driver for land grabs) do not force people off their land in the name of climate change.

We need to place a moratorium on all deals that involve major transfers of land from small farmers. This will allow time to create a system in which land deals can be conducted transparently and with the full involvement of affected communities. We also need to prevent financial firms from speculating on food.

14. Promote fair trade and work with communities to devise better rules for trade

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) oversees the rules of international trade but the rules currently favour commercial trade interests and rich countries. This bias generates outcomes that are detrimental to human rights, health and the environment. The WTO negotiation process amplifies the power of multinational corporations, the major engines of global trade. (Source)

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) demands trade liberalisation, but trade flows benefit rich countries. At present rich countries give huge subsidies to their farmers, allowing them to overrun competitors in the Global South, flooding poor countries with cheap grain that undercuts the market share of small farmers. We need to allow poor countries to give subsidies to their own farmers, to allow their own industries to grow and to curb hunger.

The WTO court system enables rich nations to impose sanctions on poor countries without impunity. Trade agreements are negotiated in secret. We need to make them public and subject to genuine democratic scrutiny.

We need to stop investor-state dispute settlements. These allow foreign corporations to sue national governments over regulations that compromise their profit. Corporations should pursue their concerns through national court systems which are transparent, public and accountable. All countries should have the ability to create regulations in the interests of workers, public health and the environment, even if these regulations harm the potential profits of foreign investors.

15. Campaign for a global minimum wage

We need global labour standards. Currently, corporations can maximise profits by roaming the globe in search of the cheapest workers, the lowest wages, the weakest protections, the most limited rights and standards, and the most insignificant taxes and startup costs. Many corporations lobby to enact legislation that protects their profits over the rights of workers. Country-by-country fixes will not work while companies can simply transfer from one country to another at their convenience. (Source)

Without a global minimum wage or international wage protection policies, there is no need for corporations to bargain with workers, develop safety standards or guarantee rights. Most of the world’s workers face a stark choice between unsafe and exploitative conditions or no income.  Effective, properly enforced global standards would ensure protection for all workers.

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