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Dossiers and Documents : Discussion Papers : Non-state Actors and World Governance

Non-state Actors and World Governance

The ability to design better institutional schemes

Non-state Actors and World Governance


Pierre Calame ¤ 2 June 2008 ¤
Translations: français (original) . Español . 中文 .

Some of the modes of action necessary for international governance such as the right to resort to force and taxation remain the monopoly of public power. In other cases, we must compare the efficiency and relevance of public and private regulation systems and agencies. These can be measured using a series of criteria: their ability to coordinate the means necessary for achieving set objectives, and therefore their ability to overcome the fragmented nature of both national and international institutions, the construction, where necessary, of social conditions favorable to the creation and acceptance of regulations, the capacity to bring together different means, such as judicial and administrative constraints with those whose behavior must be modified and those who have the ability to influence behavior, the implementation of effective tools of political evaluation and the differentiation of methods according to the very nature of the regulations that are to be implemented. I will provide brief illustrations of each of these points.

A more global approach to governance

Public systems, be they national or international, generally function through the segmentation of competencies. Thus, through the years, the objectives that the international community has assigned to itself have been multiplied, leading to a multiplication of structures, each one dedicated to one particular set of objectives. But real world challenges do not fit into such neat divisions. At the national level, this always raises the thorny issue of inter-ministerial coordination and at the international level, the problem of ‘incompatibility of norms’ and of inter-agency cooperation. In phases of rapid economic globalisation, international commerce is the domain where major contradictions are most visible. On the one hand World Trade Organisation (WTO) regulations put forward the principal of non-discrimination. Its (practically) sole aim is the liberalization of trade and the defence of intellectual property regulations. This permanently risks leading to ‘social and environmental dumping’ in countries thus placed in competition with each other. The WTO also pushes for integration in the commercial sector of goods and services. This promotes a different logic, for example that freedom of information. UNESCO and the WTO logically defend different positions, one is in favor of the freedom of information and knowledge exchange, the other supports intellectual property. The same is true of environmental protection, defended by the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and the protection of man’s labor rights defended by the ILO (International Labour Organisation) contradict the rules of commerce that see this concern for human and environmental rights as being like so many other non-tariff obstacles. It thus regularly falls to non-governmental organizations, themselves moreover often supported by one government or another, to be in the position to propose the global management outsourcing of production. The ‘banana branch,’ or the ‘forest branch,’ are interesting in this respect.

Coordination between institutions of the same level can only come “from above”, from one institution capable of calling them together, or ‘from below,’ from a third party who has no authority over either institution. In the case of the international system where a higher authority doesn’t exist, it’s often non-state actors who play the ‘third party”, role.

Contribution to the emergence of a world community

Let’s take the example of China and Europe. These are two essential trade partners and two major world players for the future. Thus they need to conduct negotiations across a wide range of fields: multi-lateral forums, bi-lateral relations, trade forums, etc. But above all, the way in which the two societies perceive each other is a determining factor in their long-term relations. The process through which they learn to know each other and even to solve misunderstandings are decisive. They are in many respects beyond the realm of public institutions. Thus, our Foundation has implemented a China – Europe Forum where the different socio-professional milieus learn to communicate on an equal footing, and to work together on common problems.

Another example can be given: that of “popular universities”, for example the UPAFA (African Farmers University) or the UPU – People’s Urban University created by the International Alliance of Inhabitants. Here the aim is to provide those social and economic players located the most distant from places of power and knowledge with the relevant expertise and mutual connections that allow them to place themselves in the contemporary context, to actively and competently participate in negotiations and to progress from competitive to cooperative relations.

Another interesting example is that of fishermen. Northern and Southern fishermen are in direct competition. State negotiations often lead to the selling out of the interests of one of the groups (for example the sale of African States’ fishing rights to the Europeans, in order to secure the money necessary to pay civil servants’ salaries to the detriment of local fishermen) or to the tooth and nail defense of the rights of their own fishermen. The World Forum for Fishermen and Sea-workers created a new forum through which fishermen from all nations could get to know each other and investigate ways in which to promote their common interests, as well as the sustainable management of fish stocks as opposed to competing for resources.

The combination of different regulatory modes

I have already mentioned the diversity of sources of regulation on several occasions. It hardly needs mentioning that the ISO standard, which has become the benchmark even for public contracts, is a ‘private’ standard that has been developed between companies. Traditional regulations combined the rule of law (that which is allowed and that which is authorized), taxation and financing (that which is taxed and that which is paid) and the public sector (that which is collectively undertaken, and that which is not). Today’s regulations are necessarily more subtle, using the carrot and stick, giving weight to market mechanisms, combining voluntary and compulsory commitments.

In this approach, non-governmental organizations play an important role of proposition, no longer restricting themselves to a role of demanding change or of protest. As we have seen on several earlier occasions, the role played by consumers is decisive. Recently, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, introduced the idea of a taxation based on the “carbon content” of imported produce. In the short term this has given rise to a lifting of blockades, but it seems obvious that in the long term, the work of non-governmental think tanks such as the Wüpperthal Institute on MIPS (material input per unit of service) will found new ways of managing international commerce, in accordance with the need to fight climate change. In the same way, going back to ideas that came from non-governmental organizations, the British Secretary of State for the Environment has begun to float the idea of a ‘Carbon Currency,’ i.e. of carbon quotas that individuals could trade freely on the market.

The ability to get all the different parties around the table

States have not waited for the intervention of non-state actors to learn to practice cooperation between the parties involved. However, at the international level, no similar capacity to convoke these players exists. Initiatives are almost always mixed. As in the case of the updating of labels for sustainable forest exploitation, the ‘Progressive’ States, here Canada, and NGOs came together.

An efficient evaluation system

It is one thing to state the rules and another to ensure that they are respected. The African States are those who have ratified the greatest number of International Conventions, and perhaps we could suggest that this is because signing a convention costs nothing, if there are no means to ensure that it is properly implemented! More generally, for everything concerning economic and social rights or environmental protection, States rarely benefit from the necessary means of surveillance and control. They are also, even if we set aside the cases of flagrant corruption, placed in an ambiguous position between protection and the desire to maintain and develop economic activity. Finally, on the international scene, the sacrosanct principle of sovereignty places states in a difficult position when they are obliged to carry out official evaluations of other states. Only the citizen networks like Amnesty International, Reporters Sans Frontières, the International Prisons Observatory or Greenpeace are in a position to carry out decentralized, independent assessments, supported as they are, by large numbers of volunteers.

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