After 20 years of structural adjustment and free trade throughout the Americas, are the poor any better off? The answer is a resounding no!

• Over 200 million poor people in Latin America are living on $2/day or less.

• 90 million Latin Americans are unable to meet basic food and shelter needs – with no improvement since 1980. In rural areas, poverty has increased by 3%.

• Even in a wealthy country like Canada, 5.2 million people are living below the poverty line. The mayors of the ten largest cities have declared homelessness a national disaster.

• Estimates of the homeless in the U.S. range from 5 to 20 million.

Even the World Bank Chief Economist, Joseph Stiglitz, admits that trade liberalization “has the potential of imposing greater risk and greater inequality.” Under free trade, the rich have indeed got richer – and the poor got poorer. What’s worse, even the federal government admits that public programs to deal with inequality such as national health care and unemployment insurance programs are under threat as ’non-tariff barriers” to trade.

We want a trade deal to help eliminate poverty – not increase it

Two sets of international rules and visions compete to shape our world:

• trade agreements like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and NAFTA – which give priority to profit-making;

• human rights laws – which put the rights of citizens first.

As it stands now, many trade deals violate human rights. We need to demand that:

• human rights be given more importance than corporate rights;

• Canada should only sign trade agreements with countries who have signed international human rights agreements. Governments who have signed these agreements should implement them or lose their trade privileges.

Creating an Alliance to fight for FAIR trade in the Americas

’We know that increasing poverty and the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the Americas is directly linked to the conditions created by regional and international trade agreements. The process behind trade agreements must be opened to include civil society and those who have suffered as a result of trade across the Americas as we fight to improve our lives.”

With these words, two Canadian anti-poverty activists attending the People’s Summit of the Americas in Santiago Chile in April of 1998, began their report from the Round Table workshop on Poverty to two thousand other delegates at the Summit. The Round Table participants, representing groups in the hemisphere fighting for food, safe water, housing, land, health care, education and jobs, decided to work together to achieve common goals. Their report outlined what they all committed to do:

• ’Support each others’ actions by informing each other of our work and by joining international acts of solidarity;

• Continue to add the perspective of people with low incomes to the growing hemispheric social alliance;

• Put a human face on greed and corporate crime, not just on poverty, by naming and shaming those who profit from our suffering;

• Ensure all of our communities are empowered by the full knowledge of their human rights;

• Use international human rights agreements our countries have signed to hold our governments accountable when they abuse our rights;

• Continue to work with unions and other sectors in society to fight for the rights of all peoples in the Americas. It must be understood that poor people’s organizations require additional resources in order to participate equally and with dignity.”

The Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA)

The HSA grew out of the People’s Summit to bring together social, environmental and labour movements from across the Americas to oppose the expansion of Free Trade in the hemisphere. The Alliance has committed to ensure that poor people who are hurt the most by Free Trade are fully involved. (More information in the Free Trade Action Kit, available from Common Frontiers. See box on page 4)

Box or quote on side – page two

Overall there was progress (at the People’s Summit) – greater inclusion of indigenous, black and poor people’s organizations and gays and lesbians. There was strong support for Cuba fighting the U.S. embargo, for Colombians who are being viciously attacked by their government, and for the people of Chiapas, Mexico who have recently experienced a massacre at the hands of the Mexican army.

Josephine Grey of Low Income Families Together (LIFT)- ’Notes from the plane ride home”

U.N. Slams Canada’s Track Record on Poverty

In 1998 and 1999 two United Nations (U.N.) human rights committees condemned Canada’s governments for failing to comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Low-income Canadians and other witnesses presented evidence to the U.N. committees and accused governments in Canada of violating poor people’s rights.

The U.N. committees agreed that economic, social, civil and political rights have been severely undermined by drastic cuts and changes to social programs, employment insurance, transfer payments and the loss of standards. They criticized programs like mandatory forced labour and the National Child Benefit for discriminating against people on social assistance. Committee members were very disturbed by evidence that child poverty continues to increase, and thousands are hungry and homeless in such a wealthy country. They were shocked that this could happen in a country long respected for championing human rights around the world.

The National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO) and others will use a few key recommendations from the U.N. Committees to strengthen advocacy for:

• national standards for social assistance so that everyone in need receives an adequate level of benefits without being forced to work;

• an end to discrimination in the National Child Benefit programme so that families on social assistance will get to keep the benefit;

• improvements to the Employment Insurance Programme so that more of the unemployed receive benefits;

• a national plan to reduce poverty and homelessness;

• protection in human rights laws against discrimination on the basis of social condition (i.e. poverty).

Box or boxes on page 3


World Women’s March 2000

Women’s groups throughout the world are hard at work planning local and national events leading to a World Women’s March Against Poverty and Violence on October 17 (International Anti-poverty Day) in the year 2000. To get involved in the Women’s March 2000 contact:

CLC Women’s and Human Rights Department

National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC)

The March of the Americas

In October, 1999, poor and homeless families from all of the Americas, including families from Canada, the United States and Latin America, will march from Washington DC to the United Nations in New York City in a March of the Americas: Continuing the March for Our Lives. To get involved contact:

Kensington Welfare Rights Union (215) 203-1945. FAX 215-203-1950

E-mail – http//


Learn more about the Hemispheric Social Alliance on Free Trade

• Hold workshops to discuss their alternative proposals for economic integration (free trade) and add new ideas.

• Get involved in upcoming People’s Summits in 2000 and 2001 and other events to reform Trade agreements.

For more information or to get involved contact: Common Frontiers (See box below)

NAPO @ 1-800-810-1076.

Join Marches Against Poverty (See boxes on page 3)

• Join the March of the Americas or get your organization to support it in a resolution.

• Join the Women’s March 2000 Against Poverty and Violence.

Write the Prime Minister. Write or meet with your local politicians

• Call for trade deals signed by Canada to make economic, social and labour rights central to the agreements.

• Also be sure to mention what we need in a trade deal, using some of the points made earlier.

Fight the corporate agenda locally

Our public social programmes are being lost to private for-profit corporations.

• Track the records of company takeovers and their impact on jobs and services and publicize your findings on the real effects of privatization.

Follow-up on the UN recommendations to Canada ( See page 3)

• Hold public and government education sessions about the UN recommendations to Canada and pressure the federal government to respond to the recommendations.

• Use the UN recommendations in court to achieve rights as a Renters’ Rights group in Saskatchewan did with the right to housing.

• Encourage provincial human rights groups to lobby governments to declare social condition (poverty) a prohibited ground of discrimination in their human rights codes.

• Help keep track of government compliance with International human rights standards. Contact ’Social Watch” through info-NAPO, LIFT-Human rights project- 416-597-9400.

Never forget to stand up for our rights

• Use our democratic right to demand that our governments uphold human rights, ensure labour and environmental protections, and negotiate fair trade agreements which benefit everyone.

Poverty and the Free Trade Connection

Our planet has enough resources to provide all of its people with a decent life. Poverty is not a curse or a natural circumstance. It is a result of the way societies organize the distribution of goods and opportunities among their members and among nations. The complete elimination of poverty is a moral, ethical and political issue like the abolition of slavery was over a century ago. However, the international community has not set deadlines or agreed on a method for completing this task.

Source: Social Watch, a group of social organizations monitoring government compliance with international commitments.