From IPS Report 1983: The Amsterdam Center

17 November 2005
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From IPS Report 1983: The Amsterdam Center


The last year was a period of growth for the Transnational Institute's Amsterdam Center. BASKER VASHEE, a London School of Economics trained Zimbabwean, and the Director of TNI, oversaw a crowded schedule of seminars, conferences and political outreach. TNI work in Europe is undertaken in parallel to work in Washington. Thus, the International Economics and Human Rights Program [see below] includes the activities of not only TNI Fellows Isabel Letelier, Jorge Sol, John Cavanagh and others in Washington but also TNI Fellows Susan George in France, Wendy Chapkis and Jan Joost Teunissen in Amsterdam, and the TIE European network. Likewise, the National Security and Foreign Policy work of Richard Barnet, Marcus Raskin, Michael Klare, etc. in Washington is coordinated by Mary Kaldor, Fred Halliday and other TNI Fellows in Europe.

Program in International Economics and Human Rights

The International Economics and Human Rights Program, the third major area of IPS work, is organized within the Transnational Institute and conducts activities both in Europe and Washington. It has three major aims:

  1. analysis of the dynamics of the global economy; and the consequences for the world's poor;
  2. formulation of strategies to make transnational banks and corporations accountable to democratic development; and
  3. education on human rights.

Debt and Development

The debt crisis now threatening the world economy and strangling Third World development was a focus of Institute work long before it started making headlines in the US, and it remains a major concern today. The Institute contributed to the Arusha Initiative for a new international order of 1980, which became the basis for the policy position taken by the Group of 77, the non-aligned nations of the Third World. TNI Fellow MICHAEL MOFFITT's 1983 book, "The World's Money", was a popular treatment of those issues, as well as an investigation of the powers of the global banking industry. Since then, JORGE SOL, the new director of the International Economic Order Project, has worked with TNI Associate Fellow JAN JOOST TEUNISSEN of the Amsterdam Center to continue the analysis. As a former Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Sol is well acquainted with the power the IMF wields over debtor nations. Much of his time last year was spent sharing his expertise with various nations and organizations seeking relief from the debt burden, including the Organization of American States, the Socialist International, and various UN agencies. Along with TNI Fellow JOHN CAVANAGH, he also organized a major conference on Capitol Hill on the IMF and the world debt crisis. In 1984 his project will publish a series of policy pamphlets proposing specific changes in international development finance that will allow nations to borrow socially necessary investment funds without having to deprive their people of such basic human needs as clean water and shelter.

The Political Economy of Food

Hunger, a global epidemic which continues to take its toll, has been a major focus of Institute work since 1974, when in one of the first initiatives of the new TNI, a team of researchers submitted to the United Nations World Food Conference a report arguing the world did not have to be hungry.
TNI Fellow SUSAN GEORGE, a contributor to that report, last year published her third major work on world hunger, Food for Beginners, a popular introduction to the problem written for the mass audience. Dr. George also attended conferences throughout the world, led seminars, gave speeches, and spoke in the media, spreading her message that hunger is not a natural but a man-made disaster which could be defeated if governments elected to serve human needs. Further pursuing her investigations into the political economy of food, she also conceived, wrote and narrated an hour-long film for British television on the biotechnology industry, whose scientists are now busily developing the 'food' of tomorrow.

The Political Economy of Atoms and Cloth

The nuclear industry also came under Institute scrutiny last year. IPS Fellow MARK HERTSGAARD investigated the men and money behind nuclear energy, discovered an "Atomic Brotherhood" that despite setbacks remains determined to make ours a nuclear nation and world, and revealed how they plan to do it in a book called "Nuclear Inc." His writings were excerpted in Mother Jones, Le Monde diplomatique, and The New York Times, and he also appeared on dozens of radio and television shows, including the 'Today' show.
TNI Associate WENDY CHAPKIS co-edited with Cynthia Enloe "Of Common Cloth", a reader on the role of women in the Third World's largest industry - the international textile business. The book resulted from an October, 1982 conference Chapkis organized at the Amsterdam Center which attracted 22 women academics, labor activists, workers and researchers from 14 different countries.

Multinational Monitoring

In Amsterdam TNI Associate Fellow Jeroen Peijnenburg coordinated the Transnational Information Exchange - a network of nearly 15 European activist and research groups established in 1979 to coordinate education on transnational corporations in Europe.
Peijnenburg and the TIE staff produce the TIE Bulletin and coordinate the activities of its three main sub-groups, on the auto, agribusiness and information technology industries. One special issue of the Bulletin summarizing past and present labor relations in the nations of Western Europe and the US received special acclaim, and was sent to the entire two million membership of the Italian Metalworkers Federation and turned into books in West Germany and Belgium. Another highlight was the convening of the second TIE world auto consultation, which drew senior shop stewards, workers and other delegates from Europe, the US, Japan, Brazil and Malaysia to discuss common problem and plan counter-strategies.
The new 'Transnational Corporations' project directed by TNI Fellow JOHN CAVANAGH completed the link between theory and practice. The TNI Planning Board had decided in 1981 that the Institute should investigate how global corporations had changed in the years since the 1974 publication of Richard Barnet's pathbreaking "Global Reach", and how they can be made more accountable. Relying on contacts made during his years in Geneva, studying transnationals for the World Health Organization and the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Cavanagh began in January, 1983 to pull together a network of over two hundred trade unions, research, consumer, church, and women's groups, and government and international officials.
Most of these people have been working on these issues for years, but in isolation from one another, Cavanagh says. We've gotten a very good response from groups around the world, and many of them are getting directly involved in the planning of our big conference in Washington in June of 1984.
TNI Associate DEBORAH SMITH is helping to plan the conference, where about a hundred key activists and researchers will evaluate past efforts, learn about new corporate strategies, and begin discussing counter-strategies. Cavanagh and Smith hope the conferees will create some structure to stimulate the groups to keep working together in the future.
The economic problems of today's world are transnational, so the solutions must be as well, argues Cavanagh. We desperately need new strategies of organizing. Once goods and capital can go anywhere, the idea of distinct labor markets, and therefore of national trade inions and national strikes as strategy, becomes increasingly obsolete.

Human Rights

As director of the Institute's 'Human Rights' Project, Senior Fellow ISABEL LETELIER traveled to four continents and over thirty countries in the last three years urging 'peace, justice and dignity' as the basic principles of civilized governments. Drawing particularly on her homeland of Chile, she emphasized the importance of economic as well as political rights and argued that the root cause of most political repression is economic injustice.
Letelier oversees the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Fund, whose sixth annual awards dinner, organized by TNI Associate ELIANA LOVELUCK in Washington on September 21, 1982, was attended by over 200 people. Recipients of the 1982 awards were Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, of Sao Paulo, Brazil, for his many years of organizing resistance to the human rights abuses of the military government, and in the US, the INFACT Group, which organized the nationwide boycott against the Nestle Corporation.

Third World Women

Letelier also helped found in 1981 the Institute's 'Third World Women' Project, intended to educate Americans on Third World issues and especially the concern of women. She says today that she and project coordinator, TNI Fellow JILL GAY, have been overwhelmed by people's response. The project's main activity is to arrange US speaking and media tours for Third World women who are active in political struggles at home. Seven visitors have toured the US under the project's auspices, including Brazilian church and labor activist Maria Helena Alves, former first lady of Jamaica Beverly Manley, and Bolivian community organizer Rosamaria Ruiz.
We invite women who are strong persons and passionate about what they do, explains Letelier, because the common assumptions in the US is that Third World women need our help and protection. But in fact these women make a real contribution here. By talking about their experiences they show Americans the actual effect of US policies overseas. They teach women here about integrating a feminist struggle with other social justice concerns.
The project arranges dialogues for the visitors with community, church and university groups, with key colleagues in the visitor's field, and with the media. In Washington the project sponsors an active seminar and film series and serves as a resource center. In fall 1983 it will publish a volume containing selected speeches given by its sponsored visitors.