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WTO Think-In

The movement that made its spectacular debut in Seattle is still young and inventing itself, but it can begin enunciating political objectives?plausible vehicles for educating public opinion and agitating political change. I would start with modest legislation (enacted at the national level but also promoted in state and local forums) to impose rules on the behavior of American multinationals.

I mean simple stuff, like standards in overseas factories for fire prevention and full disclosure of toxic releases (including those by subcontractors producing for US companies). The establishment would object that such laws are forbidden by the WTO agreement. Yes, exactly. Americans must establish the sovereign power to assert their common values in law and thus expose the illegitimacy of the WTO's global pretensions.

A national law would advance two principles, both designed to empower people and communities to speak for themselves and form civic alliances across national boundaries. First, companies would have to make full disclosures on matters such as environmental impact, or compliance with labor rights and host-country labor laws. This information would be delivered to workers and communities, not just to governments, and thus give people the basis for organizing in protest. Second, foreign citizens would have legal standing to sue the US multinationals in US courts, a critical venue for enforcing accountability.

These modest first steps would shift the debate to the social values that are being trampled by globalization. A new map of the world would appear, delineating the true nature of the global system, factory by factory. That is a necessary prerequisite for any action toward establishing global standards. In the process, the WTO would be cut down to size?if not made defunct, then reduced to a marginal role of settling commercial disputes among competing producers.

As it resists global governance by business and finance, and their self-appointed institutions like the WTO, the movement must also invent what ought to replace them in the future. To succeed, we must learn to tell a positive story about what the world will look like if our values prevail.