number 5, december 9, 1998

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Churches should defend the voiceless

By Munetsi Madakufamba

Churches, which command the largest constituency of any social gathering, have both a moral and spiritual obligation to be the "voice of the voiceless" and stand up to defend the integrity of creation.

This was the general feeling among delegates attending the solidarity stream of the Padare offerings around campus yesterday.

As one delegate said, "More than 60 per cent of the world’s population is suffering from war, natural disasters and, more silently, from debt burden. Women are abused, children are exploited and millions of people have been uprooted.

"The church should use its vantage position to influence the international community to act on these issues. The obscurity of globalisation is one issue that presents an important challenge to the ecumenical agenda."

The solidarity stream covers discussions on the impact of globalisation, the negative impacts of tourism, the rights and exploitation of children, uprooted people and refugees, environmental concerns and climate change, and youth involvement in the struggle for justice in the world.

Topics on globalisation, generally understood in the ecumenical movement as the economic, political and social changes the world is going through, have generated particular interest among the participants and offerings on the subject have ostensibly attracted sizable crowds.

One offering on "Human Rights and Development" put the work of transnational corporations under scrutiny, saying that these companies should not put emphasis on profits alone, but on sustainable development for people and the environment.

A delegate from the Bread for the World, a German-based advocacy group, said transnationals’ lack of care about human rights was demonstrated by the Ogoni case in Nigeria, where civil rights leader Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed by his government in November 1995 for challenging the work of oil giant Shell.

Shell has refused to clean oil that spilled in the Ogoni land, saying it was not responsible for the spill although it has wide oil interests in the country and the capacity to clean the affected areas.

A multimillion dollar project by Shell, ELF and Esso to transport by pipeline oil from Chad through Cameroon to Europe was temporarily suspended after the community, including ecumenical support groups, voiced concern about the environment as well as lack of consultation with local communities.

Pastor Norbert Kenne, a delegate from Cameroon, said there was a moral anomaly given that the transnationals were going to transform the oil in Europe and bring back the finished and more expensive product to Africa, where the resource originally came from.

"Who is going to benefit from the project?" he asked. "It’s the transnationals."

The offering echoed a proposal from other solidarity offerings about the need for an independent monitoring and verification group to control the work of transnationals.

Concerns about the growing threat by transnationals which are getting more autonomy from proponents of globalisation are not unfounded. Available statistics show that there are more than 40,000 transnational corporations in the world today, about six times more than they were a decade ago.

In 1996, the world’s top 200 transnationals had combined annual sales greater than the combined economies of 182 of the world’s total 191 countries.

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Read other articles in this issue:

Help create fair world -- Mugabe
Evangelicals liken WCC to a polygamist husband
They work for peace in cities
Churches should defend the voiceless
Received by the President
Human chain to cancel debt
Indian delegates retrace footsteps of St Thomas
Making peace possible
Mugabe's liberty bell cracked

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor