world council of churches

justice, peace & creation concerns

"Globalization understood as increasing internationalization of ideas, science, communication and technology, must be distinguished from economic globalization, which transforms trade and finance in favour of powerful global actors."

"How do we live our faith in the context of globalization?" the WCC's 1998 assembly in Zimbabwe asked, thereby challenging the Council and its member churches to offer clear analysis and critiques as well as alternatives to globalization - in terms of the neo-liberal paradigm, trade, finance and ecology -, as well as to explore the political, cultural, and ecclesiological dimensions of globalization.

Thus began a journey of churches and their partners that will culminate at the next WCC assembly in 2006 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The journey is called AGAPE: "Alternative Globalization Addressing People and Earth". With clear guidelines from the January 2001 WCC Central Committee meeting in Berlin, it is being coordinated by the Justice, Peace and Creation team.

Human development within sustainable communities is the vision guiding the WCC’s approach to economic globalization. Such a vision can become reality only when economic, financial and ecological justice are addressed holistically with democratic participation at all levels.

economic globalization

neoliberal paradigm
finance, speculation, debt
civil society voices
documents and press releases on what the jpc team is doing with partners

AGAPE: "Alternative Globalization Addressing People and Earth"

See also: Workshop on deepening the AGAPE process and follow-up
Geneva, 7-9 September 2006

It can not be realized while the material overabundance enjoyed by a small part of the global community continues to grow at the expense of the majority of people in the world. The unquenchable thirst for more power, profits and possessions of some individuals, social groups and corporate entities is unsustainable, and deprives many communities of the ability to meet their needs in harmony with their environment. Today, globalization is one of the main causes of the growing gap between the rich and the poor, between the North and the South.

The exchange of goods, services, ideas and information has always been a feature of human history. It is a source of authentic human development, provided it spreads in ever-expanding circles. However, if left to itself, it will impoverish those at the edges of the system, sucking out their substance to increase the means at the disposal of the powerful. This is the message of the Jubilee which lies at the core of the Bible's social teaching.

Shocking figures: a powerpoint presentation on globalization and poverty

"These shocking figures are urging us to take action today," says WCC/JPC programme executive Rogate Mshana, who created this presentation.

The City, the heart of London's
financial district.

Life – and that which is essential to sustain it – cannot be commodified. Real value goes far beyond what can be expressed in monetary terms. Human beings are made in the image of God, and human life finds its full meaning in community. Yet the dominant worldview underlying economic globalization characterizes humans as competitive individuals rather than as community members. By undermining essential spiritual values, globalization has eroded the moral and ethical fabric of society, putting the diversity of cultures at risk and threatening the ecological basis of life, eating at the very heart of sustainable communities.

Justice is the heart of the matter. All people and communities should participate in the economic, social and political decisions that affect them, and the aim of economic life should be to nurture sustainable, just and participatory communities. What is needed is the globalization of solidarity: the affirmation of our common destiny as co-inhabitants of one Earth, for which we all share responsibility and from which everyone should equitably benefit.

In order to carry forward the AGAPE process, the JPC team is attempting to

  • promote better understanding of the impact of economic globalization on people and the churches, and provide an ecumenical platfom to respond to its consequences, in close cooperation with Christian world communions, regional and national ecumenical organizations. The WCC's work in relation to two global events - a UN Financing for Development (FFD) Summit in March 2002 in Mexico, and a September 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg - was part of this effort.
  • develop guidelines for encounters on the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and contribute to the work of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) on trade and the World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • cooperate closely with the Jubilee movement on debt cancellation, and with KAIROS Europa and other groups on the international financial system
  • promote economic literacy and leadership training on economic globalization and alternatives through studies and workshops organized with member churches and social movements
  • support initiatives to develop a new vision for Africa with an emphasis on poverty eradication.
  • Documents and press releases on WCC work on the neoliberal paradigm

    A new type of capitalism has emerged in which technology and communication facilitates lightning-fast trading in financial assets across borders.

    It is characterized by financial speculation, international debt and inequitable world trade.

    Aristotle made a clear distinction between economics (oikonomia) and purely speculative activity, which produced nothing of real value. Today the power of financial capital dominates the real economy of production and trading of goods and services. Turning the Tide: Confronting the Money Traders, a book by the Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice (Canada), analyzes the devastating effects of this new economy - built on "cybermoney" and on financial speculation rather than the production of goods and services - on jobs, social security and quality of life.

    It is estimated that about US $ 1.3 trillion worth of currencies changes hands on world markets every day. When in the 1940s Maynard Keynes warned against the danger of the finance economy dominating the real economy, financial exchanges were about twice as voluminous as merchandise trade. Today financial transactions are 72 times greater. Foreign exchange trading accounts for only only one quarter of the speculative economy. When all financial instruments are put together, we are talking about a total daily transaction of US $ 4 trillion. It is also estimated that more than US $ 13 billion flows through telecommunications networks as "hot money".

    This proposal, first made by the economist James Tobin, has met resistance from rich countries. Canadian churches working together for a just and sustainable economy have succeeded in persuading the Canadian Government to spearhead the application of the CTT. (See their website for details.)

    Because speculators go for quick returns, they are not interested in investing in companies which create employment but yield slow returns. Excessive speculation leads to financial volatility and in many cases contributes to chronic indebtedness. To solve this problem, some churches are campaigning for a Currency Transaction Tax (CTT) aimed at discouraging excessive speculation, enhancing exchange stability and creating revenue which can be used to finance poverty alleviation and social projects. Up to now, this tax has not been enforced. The UN was asked to conduct a study on the practicality of this tax during the Geneva Summit on Social Development+5 in 2000.

    The position of the WCC on debt is that "Debt relief must be... a contribution to eradicating poverty and building sustainable community, not... a means to achieve debt sustainability."

    Since its inception in 1996, the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative has been subjected to stalling and delays. To date only 10 out of the 40 countries on the HIPC list have seen actual reductions in their debt repayments. This reduction was not sufficient to pull these countries out of the cycle of poverty. A new condition demands that HIPCs produce "Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers" with the participation of civil society. At the rate at which the Initiative is being applied, it will take more than 15 years to provide relief to the 40 highly-indebted poor countries.

    Churches are called to suggest alternatives to current short-term debt relief initiatives. The WCC/JPC supports the efforts of NGO coalitions - Jubilee South and other Jubilee 2000 movements - to implement their new proposals.

    A group of theologians, economists, sociologists and ecologists have produced a background document for the churches on how they can respond to the policies of International Financial Institutions. This document is called "Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Churches' Response to the Policies of International Financial Institutions". A joint group of staff from the WCC, the World Bank and IMF has organized two joint encounters on the neo-liberal economic paradigm; wealth and social justice, and debt. The reports are in form of books. An internal encounter on the policies of the World Bank and IMF was organized for churches and agencies in September 2003 and produced a book entitled "Passion for another world".

    Another seminar on Illegitimate Debt and Arbitration was organized by WCC in June 2003 to assess where we are in solving the debt problem: A report entitled "The Debt Problem for Poor Countries: Where are We?" was produced.

    Documents and press releases on WCC work on finance



    In seeking economic justice, we have chosen to focus on how multilateral trade can be carried out in ways that promote justice, human development, and ecological sustainability.

    Trade is a basic act in any society. We accept that trade can bring about good in our world. An exchange between parties, if fair, can be of mutual benefit and increase human wellbeing.

    But trade on unequal terms is damaging, creates and maintains inequities, and can lead to violence and conflict. Trade should be a means to share the bounty of the earth and the fruits of human labor, yet too often it is a force that produces poverty, despair, injustice and death.

    Current global trading systems are dominated by a few economic powers – including rich country governments, transnational corporations, stock markets and multilateral institutions – whose control of capital, technology, political influence, cultural persuasion through the international media, and military influence are overwhelming and preclude access to the global market on an equitable basis. Within poor countries, powerful elites reap the benefits of economic globalization, while billions of their people remain in abject poverty. International trade and its liberalization provide the means by which power and advantage are translated into disproportionate wealth for some, while inequalities between countries and within countries continue to widen and vulnerable people are further marginalized.

    Most poor countries and their people do not benefit much from world trade. About 360 transnational corporations currently account for 40% of world trade and their production centres and sales networks cover the world, both rich and poor. Although some Northern states exercise some, and Southern states less, control over them, TNCs possess enormous potential for building monopolies and are able easily to overcome trade barriers.

    For historical and structural reasons, developing countries require special consideration and assistance to be able to participate equitably in world trade. This would include protective tariffs for developing country exports to developed country markets. Increasingly, the rich countries continue to subsidise their farmers and also make it difficult for accessibility of their markets by the developing countries.

    The World Trade Organization (WTO) is still dominated by the developed countries and is not helpful to the developing countries. At its 45 meetings a week, poor countries are neither sufficiently skilled or resourced to carry out effective trade negotiations.

    Civil society is now proposing the development of just, pluralistic trade organizations interacting with one another amidst broadly defined and flexible. The issues of low prices for products from developing countries requires further studies and analysis.

    Documents and press releases on WCC work on trade

    The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is a new and broadly ecumenical network for international cooperation in advocacy on HIV/AIDS and global trade, designed to strengthen the prophetic voice and impact of ecumenical witness on the crucial social, political and economic issues of the day. It will do this by pooling the resources and experience of its partner bodies. Many are already participating - the WCC and its member churches, regional ecumenical organizations and fellowships, church agencies, specialized networks in the South, Christian world communions, international ecumenical and Roman Catholic organizations. More will join.


    Civil society voices

    Mozambican Debt Group (MDG)
    "The MDG protests against the one-year moratorium on Mozambican foreign debt service payments granted recently by the World Bank. The MDG also protests against the fact that the World Bank is granting Mozambique new funds in the form of loans to support emergency efforts. The MDG considers that the attitude of the World Bank is immoral and shows a sickening lack of humanity for all those Mozambicans who for years have sacrificed to pay the debt service. In this context, the MDG appeals to the World Bank to:
  • Cancel Mozambique’s foreign debt completely.
  • Give grants and not loans to help the emergency situation.
  • Not use funds released under HIPC to help in the emergency."

    The Uganda Debt Network (UDN) is a coalition of 90 NGOs, institutions, civic organizations and individuals. The postponement of debt relief under HIPC has created more hardships for the people of Uganda.

    "UDN is concerned that donors are taking us for a free but dangerous ride. The network members have worked so hard to see that the country obtains debt relief and starts on the road to poverty eradication. Your actions and those of your colleagues seem to undermine our achievements so far. We are not happy that creditors, when the country has just finalized the exercise of the Poverty Reduction Action Plan declare intentions to accord debt relief. Such actions will do more than harm than good. The poor are being punished twice. UDN states categorically as follows:

  • No new conditionalities.
  • Poverty eradication can not be eradicated.
  • Debt relief must be given now."

    Jubilee Research (successor to Jubilee 2000) and Jubilee South, two important church-related debt coalitions, recently reiterated the following position:
    "A new deal for developing countries has to be premised upon fundamental resolution of the debt crisis. Existing proposals of debt "relief" do not release poor countries from debt bondage, or address the fundamental causes and recurrences of the debt problem and, further, subject developing countries' economies and people to the pressures and dictates of creditor countries.

    We reject the HIPC Initiative and the repackaging and the perpetuation of the IMF and the World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes under the guise of the growth and poverty reduction facility.
    We support the move to build an international alliance among government and civil society that will press for the cancellation of all debts deemed by civil society to be unplayable and all illegitimate debts of developing countries.
    We demand that control of the process of dealing with debt should be removed from the hands of the IMF, the World Bank and the Paris Club.
    We further demand that new, independent and transparent arrangements accountable to civil society must be put in place."


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    © 2004 World Council of Churches. Remarks to: webeditor"