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Upholding 'neoliberal' agenda of corporates, G20 an elite, anti-poor club: We20 NGOs

Counterview Desk 

As the leaders of the world’s powerful nations come together for the 18th G20 Summit, what is missing on their agenda are the issues which are paramount to people and the planet, says a civil society declaration issued the NGO network We20, with over 70 organisations as its members.
Regretting that a meeting of We20 was forcefully stopped by the government, sending police, the declaration was issued following a deliberation by participants representing working class, Dalits, Adivasis, persons with disabilities, ethnic and religious minority communities, farmers, fisher-people, forest workers, hawkers, artisans, unorganized workers, academicians, and members of the civil society.
“While the event was stopped by the police, people continued their discussions both offline and online. The key issues they deliberated upon included inequality, climate crisis, just energy transition, labour rights, social protection, agriculture and food security, attack on natural resources, and digital data and surveillance”, it underlined.
The declaration adopted by the We20 meet decried “the arbitrary action of the police to prevent people from exercising their democratic right to assemble peacefully and freely express their opinions. This was in continuation with the crackdown on civil society and stifling of voices of dissent perpetuated by this regime.”
Stating that this was also done to prevent any other narrative on the G20 except what was published and propagated by the government, the declaration said, “Massive forced evictions and wastage of public money on the promotion of the G20 have been the hallmarks of the event when the economy is at a historic low.”
It said that this G20 is a group of rich and ‘emerging market economies’ which takes policy decisions to serve the economic and political interests of corporations, advanced the neoliberal agenda promoted by international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the WTO, and has repeatedly failed to address the pressing concerns of people.
Addressing the climate crisis, the declaration said that the false market-based solutions to the climate crises proposed by the G20 and similar fora have resulted in financialisation of nature and deprivation of natural resource-dependent communities, and greater debt distress.

Text:

This declaration ‘People and Nature over Profits for a Just, Inclusive, Transparent and Equitable Future’ is an articulation of the collective voices of the participants that has been adopted unanimously at the We20 Summit.
The We20: A Peoples’ Summit on G20, has been a successful gathering of different people’s movements, trade unions, civil society organizations and concerned individuals who came together in New Delhi from 18 to 20 August in the run-up to the 18th G20 Leaders’ Summit, to share diverse experiences and knowledge, and demand action from decision-makers of the G20. The deliberations of the We20 Summit in thematic workshops focused on the following topics: (i) G20 and India’s presidency, (ii) Right to Information, Digital Data and Surveillance, (iii) Climate Change, Environment, Biodiversity and associated human rights, (iv) global finance, big banks and impact on the people, (v) agriculture and food security, (vi) inequality, labor rights and social protection, (vii) right to just, sustainable, participatory and inclusive city, (viii) fascism and marginalization, and (ix) rights of natural resource-dependent communities. The We20 Summit was attended by over 700 people from over eighteen states of India who represented the working class, Dalits, Adivasis, persons with disabilities, ethnic and religious minority communities, farmers, fisherpeople, forest workers, hawkers, artisans, unorganized workers, academicians, and members of the civil society.
India is hosting the 18th G20 Leaders’ Summit on 9 and 10 September 2023 in New Delhi. We, the people, assert that the G20, since its inception, has been an elite club in terms of its membership and actions. This informal group of rich and ‘emerging market economies’ has taken policy decisions to serve the economic and political interests of corporations, advanced the neoliberal agenda promoted by international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the WTO, and has repeatedly failed to address the pressing concerns of people. These include economic, social and ecological injustice; inequality; agrarian, food and livelihood crises; debt distress; accelerating climate change; and human rights violations and democratic backsliding. We, the people, assert that the G20 needs to urgently acknowledge people’s voices and priorities – especially those most vulnerable to, and affected by, inequality and crises – and respond appropriately by putting people and nature over profits for a just, inclusive, transparent and equitable financial and development system and future.
The We20 Summit shook the government as was evident from the Delhi police’s attempt to suppress peoples’ voices by barricading the venue on the second day to stop the entry of delegates who came to attend the workshops. The police also denied permission to hold the event on the third day. We strongly protest against the arbitrary action of the police to prevent people from exercising their democratic right to assemble peacefully and freely express their opinions.
The G20 events in India are being organized at a time when we are going through a phase of rising inequalities, systematic erosion of the rights of workers, farmers, fishers, Dalits and Adivasis, skyrocketing food and energy prices, extreme weather events engendered by climate crisis, widespread ecological destruction, inter-faith and inter-religious conflicts, increased violence against women and gender diverse persons, and shrinking democratic spaces. We bear witness that the preparations for the G20 mega-events in New Delhi and in many other cities across India have led to gross violations of human rights of thousands of urban poor and marginalized communities, who have been forcibly evicted from their homes and deprived of their livelihoods without due process, compensation or proper rehabilitation. As documented in a public hearing report released on 13 July 2023, the forced evictions and demolition drives carried out by state agencies were done in the name of beautification, protection of monuments and other similar flimsy pretexts. We strongly deplore the crackdown on the poor and marginalized people across the country and demand participatory rehabilitation and adequate compensation for those who lost their livelihoods for the arrangement of the G20 events.
We are also severely critical of the use of crores of public money spent on advertisements ostensibly to promote India’s presidency at a time when food and fuel prices are skyrocketing, heat waves and flash floods are killing people and devastating entire communities, and democratic spaces are declining. Evicting the poor, hiding working class settlements behind high curtains and spending public money for political gains explicitly contradict India’s much-cherished ‘Mother of Democracy’ claim.
We call for an overhaul of the international financial architecture. International Financial Institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank, the IMF, the ADB and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are controlled by former colonial powers and emerging economies with imperialist interests and have no role in democratic polity. The billions of dollars of investments by the IFIs in critical sectors such as energy, urban infrastructure, transport, and climate action have had devastating consequences for the lives and livelihood of peoples. Such investments, as we have seen in multiple mega-projects such as the Tata Mundra Power Project or the Amravati Capital City Project or the Bharatmala and the Sagarmala projects, have resulted in corporate land and territory grabs, displacement of local communities, commodification and privatisation of natural resources, environmental degradation, violation of labor, fishers and farmers rights, and protecting private capital investments against economic risk with public money. Further, the IFIs continue to lobby with elected governments to bring anti-people laws and policies (such as the FRDI Bill 2017 or the three farm laws or high banking charges), commodify and financialize land and essential services, control food production systems, and finance projects without adequate environmental and social safeguards. Instead of rectifying global power imbalances in economic governance, the G20 reforms of IFIs have pushed for increased private sector investments and foreign direct investments (FDI). Specifically in key areas such as agriculture, health and education, this will have a negative impact on people’s lives and the environment through privatisation and commercialisation of essential services. It will also destabilise constitutionally mandated democratic governance and national security of individual countries. We demand more public spending on health, education, agriculture and all essential services, and reject financial austerity measures as solutions to the renewed debt crisis in many South countries. We also make a call for South-South cooperation to revamp the international financial system and demand that the elected governments of the countries of the global South commit to the peoples’ interests instead of advancing the same of the corporations.
In a world marred by multiple, intersecting crises triggered by the unbridled finance capital and the tendency of global capitalism to extract ‘value’ from every crisis, resolution of the debt distress of low and middle income countries (LMICs) is a top agenda of the G20. However, past solutions such as the Debt Service Suspension Initiative have failed to address the debt crisis by not being able to engage private creditors in resolving the same and, instead, creating conditions for more debt-creating finance. We reject the G20’s zeal to push for profit-oriented private investments in the LMICs and flawed market-driven initiatives to support development and climate action. As India claims to become the voice of the global South, the demand for debt justice for the LMICs must be a priority under its presidency. We demand debt-free and grant-based financing to support the appropriate developmental goals and ecological/climate action in the developing world, removal of all policy conditionality to finance, implementation of transparency and accountability safeguards, fair channeling of Special Drawing Rights for countries of the global South, and reparations and justice from the rich countries of the global North for the immense past and continuing ecological and other forms of debt they owe to the global South.
The false market-based solutions to the climate crises proposed by the G20 and similar fora have resulted in financialisation of nature and deprivation of natural resource-dependent communities, and greater debt distress. We demand immediate action to protect the environment and biodiversity through increased debt-free climate finance and cancellation of existing debts, phasing out of fossil fuels, an end to funding plastic production infrastructures and waste-to-energy plants, reducing emissions to real zero and not net zero, advancing sustainable and climate-resilient agroecological systems, significant public outlays for adaptation and mitigation by communities already being severely impacted, recognising the collective governance and management rights of nature-dependent communities, and increased public spending towards such communities to save our water, forests, land and air (jal, jangal, zameen, aur hawa).
Evicting poor and hiding working class settlements behind high curtains  contradict India’s much-cherished Mother of Democracy claim
We reject corporate capital’s capture of global food governance through the Agreement on Agriculture in the WTO, and emerging bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. Agricultural sustainability and food security are burning issues today, particularly in the wake of the war in Ukraine and disruptions in food supply chains because of globalised trade in food and agriculture. The impacts of extreme weather events on agriculture and the IFI’s stress on agribusiness-driven agriculture have led to hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity. For example, the three farm laws introduced in 2020 by the Government of India were a direct consequence of the policies promoted by the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO to cut farm and food subsidies and destroy public stockholding of food grains. What we are witnessing is the aggressive capture of the food and agriculture system by corporate conglomerates. We demand immediate coordinated actions to address the needs, rights and demands of most affected communities, make the public distribution system more robust and inclusive, and call for a radical restructuring of the food system where food justice and food sovereignty are central, and where respect for human rights, agroecology, protecting biodiversity, gender justice and diversity, youth agency, climate justice, economic and social justice, and safeguarding the interests of the small and marginal farmers and natural resource-dependent communities, are integral components.
The G20 has always pushed for bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTA) to serve the economic interests of wealthy countries, and the march of capital. India, for instance, has signed and is in the process of signing FTAs with Australia, Canada, European Union, and the UK, the terms of which have mostly been kept unknown to the people. We believe that the global trade system is broken and what the world needs is a new system for trade based on economic justice and cooperation free from corporate interests and greed.
Rising inequality is a pressing concern of the world today. As noted by the UN, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed all kinds of inequalities, including gender inequality. The root causes for rising inequalities are unchecked capitalist expansion supported by pliant nation-states, tax evasion and avoidance by powerful rich actors, and the concentration of financial power by corporations to safeguard the interests of their wealthy shareholders at the cost of the rights of working classes, small scale food producers and of nature. The bargaining power of workers has been systematically eroded by undermining trade unions, implementing anti-worker legislations and policies, absence of social protection schemes, and introduction of automation in workspaces. We demand the introduction of concrete, time-bound targets and action plans to reduce inequality, end the accumulation of extreme wealth by taxing the top, create more jobs, protect the rights of workers including their right to unionize and right to represent themselves in the decision-making boards of companies, eliminate the gender pay gap, make multinational companies follow due diligence in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, share profits with the workers, protect the rights of Dalits, Adivasis and marginalized communities, and ensure gender equality.
We strongly oppose the commodification and privatization of healthcare promoted by the ‘One Health’ approach. The pandemic has also exposed corporate greed in its most glaring avatar and the G20 has failed to make diagnostics, treatments and medicines public goods in the truest sense of the term. The inability of the G20 to waive intellectual property rights of corporations and instead promote multilateral cooperation in sharing treatments and technologies critical for public health demonstrate the elite, neoliberal character of the forum. The health agenda of the G20 continues to serve the interests of wealthy nations, transnational corporations and philanthropic foundations. Further, there is an increasing attempt to invisibilise the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on informal workers, migrant laborers and the poor.
We also strongly protest against the privatisation of education and policies (such as the New Education Policy of India) and demand more public spending in education infrastructures at primary, secondary and higher education levels.
We reject the blue economy agenda of the G20 that aims to economically exploit the marine ecosystem and resources, and turn conservation into a profitable venture. The push for attracting private investments in the name of protecting marine life and sustainable tourism, expansion of capital-intensive large-scale aquaculture, corporatisation of the coastal infrastructure, introduction of new financial instruments like blue bonds, diluting environment protection laws to benefit the corporations, and greed for using the fossil fuel oceanscape is highly condemnable. We have no doubt in stating that the blue economy agenda of the G20 is a step towards extraction, mining and grabbing of marine resources by private corporations that will have devastating consequences for the ocean people, environment and marine ecology.
We are deeply concerned at the weakening of environmental and ecological safeguards in the name of ‘B-READY’ or for the single-minded pursuit of economic growth. In India, over the last few years, nearly every environmental, social and labour laws and policies have been watered down, rather than strengthened which would be necessary in the context of national and global ecological collapse.
We demand that scientific and technological research must be more people centric.
We strongly condemn the erosion of democratic institutions and spaces, the attack on the constitutional values, civil society groups, human rights defenders and academic bodies, the use of digital surveillance and data privacy, the dilution of laws related to right to information, criminalisation of dissent, unjust use of government agencies to suppress peoples’ voices, and increased social antagonisms and communal tension engineered by rightwing forces. In India, we have witnessed the creation of social antagonisms and communal tensions among communities in Manipur and Haryana just days before the G20 Summit. Further, we condemn the G20’s maneuvering of the civil society voice in C20 through political control and use of selected religious institutions and pro-private capital civil society organisations masquerading as representative bodies of the people. We call for the establishment of participatory and plural democracy and equal citizenship, strengthening of democratic institutions and making them more inclusive, transparent and accountable.
We reaffirm that the G20, is an exclusive elite club of countries that share ideological commitment to neoliberalism, market capitalism and globalised trade despite their continuing failure to deliver wellbeing to the majority of the world’s people and being an instrument of legitimisation of the increasing authoritarianism and democratic backsliding among many of its members. Decision-making and governance has become a centralized exercise of the numerical few, and we demand democratic and decentralised governance by keeping peoples’ voices at its core. Further, the G20 is undermining and hijacking multilateralism through its proposals and decisions on global economic governance, trade, finance, environment, development and climate. We assert that the ‘one earth, one family, one future’ theme of the G20 represents the suppression of the heterogeneity and diversity of peoples’ voices.
We call for solidarity and unity among all democratic forces, peoples’ movements, civil society organizations, human rights defenders and progressive individuals to demand robust South-South cooperation, and a just, inclusive, transparent and equitable future for people all over the world. We stress that there are thousands of grounded, community-led initiatives towards genuine, just, equitable and ecologically wise ways of meeting human needs available across the G20 countries, which governments and others can learn from and help expand to communities.

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