“We are Very Much a Multi-polar World Now, but not One Comprised Solely of Nation States”
Mark Malloch-Brown was formerly Minister of State in the UK Foreign Office, covering Africa and Asia, and was a member of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s cabinet. He had previously served as Deputy Secretary-General and Chief of Staff of the United Nations (UN) under Kofi Annan. For six years he was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), leading the UN’s development efforts around the world. Other positions have included vice-chairman of George Soros’s Investment Funds, as well as his Open Society Institute (OSI), a Vice-President at the World Bank and the lead international partner in a political consulting firm. He began his career as a journalist on The Economist.
He serves on a number of non-profit and advisory boards. He is a member of the House of Lords and was knighted in 2007.
In this interview, Mark Malloch-Brown explains how he began to promote the concept of South-South cooperation in UNDP and also the limits of its application. Despite a modest beginning, countries like India, Brazil and South Africa – with their ability to focus on global economic policy – have helped to give new impetus to South-South cooperation. Malloch-Brown also discusses the strength of civil society in bringing a Human Rights agenda for South-South cooperation. At the end of the interview, Malloch-Brown also addresses the role and possible performance spaces in a new multipolar scenario.
Conectas Human Rights • How has the issue of South-South cooperation changed over time?
Mark Malloch-Brown • When my colleagues and I started promoting South-South cooperation at UNDP, it was still very much a new approach to development cooperation. There was, for example, very little Brazilian technical assistance outside Brazil. I worked on a project addressing social media and social behaviour involving Brazil and Mozambique. It was quite novel for Brazil, at that time, to be involved in such work. Two things have changed since then. Firstly, countries such as Brazil, India and most notably China, have become major donors in their own right. And, secondly, South-South economic links have become dramatically increased and enhanced, particularly for a commodity producer like Brazil and other countries in the South. These factors have overtaken the modest beginnings that I saw when I was at UNDP. Changes in the pattern of global political economy have meant that South-South cooperation has become a much more normal part of the development agenda.
Conectas • Could you give examples of where the South-South cooperation has worked well and also where it has not?
M.M. • One can consider government-to-government cooperation, or citizen-to-citizen cooperation. I think that government-to-government cooperation has had limited impact. Obviously, when countries such as Brazil, South Africa and India share advice at a policy level, it’s useful – their policy experience is much more similar than that of North and South countries. But equally, the impact of that can be quite limited. Policy dialogue still tends to be in the hands of the big bi-laterals, or of the international development banks, like the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank. Where the impact has been greater in South-South cooperation is civil society-to-civil society collaboration. In fact, the value of South-South cooperation at the level of citizen-citizen, is, in many ways, much greater. There is the spark of an understood common experience. What is perhaps most notable about this citizen-to-citizen collaboration it is not a strictly NGO-to-NGO, or Not-to-Profit to Not-to-Profit collaboration. There is a lot of business involved as well. You see, for example, multinational or international companies with an Indian, Brazilian or Chinese background engaging in agriculture, infrastructure and energy projects in other developing countries. This results in a significant transfer of know-how and experience. I, for example, chair an agriculture business, social enterprise in Ghana, where the middle managers are Brazilians. In West Africa there is a growing interest in Brazilian rice farming techniques, because of their apparent relevance to the agricultural conditions of West Africa, in terms of soils, water, etc. Therefore, it is this people-to-people level of South-South cooperation which is probably producing the most striking results.
Conectas • You talk above about businesses from the Global South and how there has been a positive sharing of know-how and expertise. However, some of these big businesses from the South have been criticized heavily by civil society because they are doing exactly what other Northern multinationals are doing in other Southern countries. How do you think human rights defenders can challenge violations caused by non-state actors? Is human rights language enough or is it out dated now that some of the main human rights violators are no longer states?
M.M. • Human rights language certainly needs re-thinking and re-positioning for this reason. One reason why South-South state cooperation has been disappointing is because the southern states are not willing to weave a human rights dimension into their development partnership with other countries. For example, a country like Brazil is much less willing than a country like Norway to raise human rights concerns when it provides assistance to an African country. This issue is compounded when a lot of the companies which are entering southern markets are operating with the development experience from their Indian or Brazilian background, in particular, the availability of cheap labour. This is often an issue where the labour is migrant based and where the labour force doesn’t enjoy a high degree of human rights protection. This is the uncomfortable flip slide of importing relevant experience. Although relevant, this experience is stripped of the kind of protection and rights-based assumptions that are present in northern development thinking. There is a genuine problem here. Does this mean that human rights defenders need to rebuild what they are doing? Certainly, they need to broaden their work and engage in a much more thoughtful discussion about the economic and social agenda. There needs to be an appreciation and recognition of the trade-offs – the arriving business may bring crops and livelihoods which were not there before. Equally, however, there may be a loss of political rights and poor labour conditions. The human rights defender needs to be very focused on this. Often both are missed because not enough attention is paid to the economic and social issues, and also because the focus often remains on the state being the persecutor, not the corporate employer. This is a new lens, which has many more fronts to it.
Conectas • What do you think could be the role of institutions such as the G-8, G-20, World Economic Forum for the protection of the human rights?
M.M. • I think they’ve got a role in promoting norms, but no role at all in policing or enforcing those norms. These are business institutions with a business or governmental agenda. They are, by design, the property of all of their members. As a place for a dialogue about norms, they’re useful, but as a new sort of alternative network of human rights compliance, they are not of much value.
Conectas • How do you think grievances and demands from the Global South could be heard and integrated into the policies and activities of those groups? Or do you think they are not the right place for that to happen?
M.M. • These institutions are often overrated for their ability to drive this kind of agenda. Take the World Economic Forum. It was driven in part to adopt concern for human rights issues as a competitive response to the World Social Forum. However, since the World Social Forum has rather lost its global impact, the World Economic Forum has slipped back to a less human rights-focused agenda. While it remains very interested in economic development issues, and is incredibly important in this regard, it doesn’t have any real human rights voice, nor would it want it.
Conectas • Southern Human Rights institutions are still funded by Northern institutions (OSF, Ford). What do you think this means for Global South organizations? How could these southern organizations influence the agenda of their Northern funders?
M.M. • This is a nice problem to have. Organizations like O.S.F., where I serve on the Board, and Ford really work very hard to try and make sure that they understand and are sensitive and responsive to a southern agenda. O.S.F doesn’t think of itself as American and I’m sure Ford doesn’t either. Even though O.S.I. has more of its money and people in the U.S., it has really been focusing on expanding into other places and on having a network of foundations in many parts of the world. George Soros, its founder, was an immigrant from Communist Hungary. Therefore, there’s a real attentiveness to southern agendas. While it’s not ideal and it is no substitute for a new generation of foundations from the South, this isn’t the biggest problem. These organizations want as much southern street credibility as they can get.
Conectas • Do you think we are living in a multipolar world? If so, do concepts like North and South still apply?
M.M. • We are very much part of a multi-polar world. We are part of a world where there are a handful of countries that can project political and military power at a global level – but they can do so with much less effectiveness than in the past. Almost every situation requires regional partners, as well as global partners to resolve it. A Syrian solution needs Iran and Saudi Arabia as much as it does the U.S. and Russia, for example. One can go on and on listing the regional actors and power-brokers of particular conflicts or situations. We are very much a multi-polar world now, but not one comprised solely of nation states. The private sector, civil society and other groups are also power sharers in this new formula. So, does that make North-South a useful division? Much less so than it used to be. But still a more useful term than ‘East-West’ is. While North-South is no longer a strict geographical line in the sand through the Equator and through the oceans, the fact remains that there are development challenges and income disparities which, still, are very much a feature of southern life, in a way that they are less so in northern life. So, there are still some useful defining characteristics of North and South, but you can no longer use that North-South template as the only way to group countries in the world. There are so many other factors which enable us to do so – whether it is integrated internationally, a trading economy, democratic in character, market oriented, you name it.
Conectas • You´ve mentioned when we were talking about South-South cooperation, and also linking to what you´ve just said, it seems that new powers or new poles have a more important role in the international sphere. What do you think that means for human rights? Brazil, China, India, South Africa, in terms of their concerns with human rights and how do you think it will change?
M.M. • In the short term, it’s a net deficit because you have countries which are prioritizing other agendas above the human rights agenda in terms of their international engagement. But, over time, I hope it will lead to a broadened ownership and commitment to the human rights agenda. Hopefully, the human rights agenda will escape the label of being a set of northern preoccupations which are imposed on the South. A more multi-polar global political economy means, ultimately, a more multi-polar human rights system of compliance, as well.