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

Non-state Actors and World Governance

In the modern-day world, non-state actors face ever-increasing opportunities, which are often difficult for them to take up

Non-state Actors and World Governance


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

Theories and institutions develop more slowly than economic, social and cultural realities. The implication of non-state actors such as companies, churches, associations and foundations, in the area of international regulations, is also forged from the diachrony between the evolution of ideas and institutions on the one hand, and the evolution of economic, cultural, social and ecological realities on the other. Our mind-set, in particular concerning politics and economics, is still based on certain intellectual frameworks and debates which have been held for centuries and which are very distant from the challenges of the twenty-first century.

In the case of institutions, they remain, on paper at least, as they were conceived between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The result is that humanity now must address new kinds of interdependencies that exist between societies themselves and the biosphere, and must do so with mind-sets and institutions that are truly adapted to these challenges.

This situation creates for the non-state actor an historical challenge for which they are sadly ill-prepared. They are, perhaps, more supple in their mentality and institutional frameworks than the state, but will they be able to implement change as quickly as is needed in order to meet the challenges required?

The main historical issue at hand is how to manage these interdependencies without the existence of a world political power. It is when this void exists that conflicts, plundering of natural resources, power plays between countries with oil reserves and those without, dumping, flags of convenience, tax havens, mafias, international terrorism, and all sorts of trafficking become possible. In this scenario, the priority of non-state actors should be to contribute to the emergence of a world community consciousness, as it is preliminary for the rest. The non-state actor’s role is to shed light on the major agenda topics of our societies, in an etymological sense, stating what should be done and to propose a strategy or strategies capable of meeting such challenges. We cannot hide the fact that, although there are some exceptions, we are still very far away from meeting this objective.

When studying enterprises, we can see that they are legally an association of share-holders, who are therefore the owners of the enterprise. Directors therefore, must, in theory, only submit themselves to the will of the owners. The personal ethics of directors, workers and shareholders together with the objective of the enterprise, which is required for its effectiveness, along with the enterprise’s good reputation, which can be distorted in case non-governmental players report its actions, can push enterprises to be socially and environmentally responsible. Although company practices, which are subject to the pressure of international competitors and the market value of shares are analyzed based on the influence of the three elements of economic efficiency, social responsibility and environmental responsibility, it is only the first one, that of economic efficiency, which is really implemented. It is understood that social and environmental responsibilities play less important roles. These two elements fall into the category of what is referred to as “sustainable growth”. This concept is really an oxymoron: an association of the two contradictory terms of “sustainable” and “growth”, although we consider that this contradiction has been solved. In reality, among the need to assure social cohesion through indefinite growth, the need to profoundly transform the model of economic development with the way societies function to protect the Biosphere, it is by far and away the issue of “growth” which wins the upper hand on a national and international scale.

As for foundations, they have been inspired by such traditions as Greek Evergetism, the Protestant tradition of what one owes to society and the Buddhist tradition of duty once success is acquired and then turning oneself to the true essential, which means spirituality.

A certain number of foundations have engaged in international activities: big foundations such as the Ford or Rockefeller Foundations or the smaller ones, such as ours, the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind. However, this cannot be extended to all foundations. Foundations are above all associations, which carry out certain actions for the local public good. This is not in itself illegitimate that is the idea of giving back to society some of the prosperity one has received. However, this idea of maintaining economic efficiency, gives the majority of foundations a narrow field of movement in the field of philanthropy, which does not prepare foundations to take on the great challenges of the modern world. Notwithstanding, American foundations, based on the 2006 Foundation Centre Report, have significantly increased the funds allocated to international programs to a total of 4.2 billion dollars, of which 22% of the funds go to foreign allocations. Are foundations more innovative and efficient than state action? Is private generosity, by nature, nobler than tax redistribution? Foundations usually try to give us that idea. However, this is not clear. Foundations usually present themselves as the promoters of social innovation. Yet, studies show that this is rarely true, as foundations hardly ever study their own governance. As for the juxtaposition of separate actions implemented by foundations, this trait is not so favorable in regards to a coherent construction of public goods.

Non-governmental organizations, in the same way as foundations, are focused almost exclusively on local or national activities. Only large organizations emerge onto the international scene, and which have had from the beginning an international vocation in the fields of solidarity, human rights and the environment. These well-known organizations are Oxfam, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Handicap International, Caritas, etc. Their vocation is often very specific and their form of action when addressing international regulations is basically that of lobbying rather than trying to establish a new world order. Nevertheless, the advantages of the non-governmental organization are still decisive. Now we are experiencing the arrival of new foundations linked to the computer revolution, such as The Bill Gates and The Hewlett Packard Foundations, and of those of the large, emerging nations, such as India and China, in particular, which are still typically modeled on the great old foundations, but which may adopt original positions in the international scene, due to the pressures arising from the wide range of challenges inherent to their countries.

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