Social Commentary

United Nations Comes to Iowa

Jim Leach Remarks
Jim Leach Remarks

IOWA CITY— My World came to Iowa on Tuesday, Nov. 5. It is the United Nations survey to collect grassroots input to the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and one of only 11 U.S. consultations. One of the criticisms of the 2000 MDG process was the lack of grassroots input, and the survey and consultations are intended to address that deficiency post-2015. The goal is to get at least one million U.S. survey responses (if readers would like to participate online, click here).

I was asked to facilitate a small group discussion on access to clean water and sanitation, and was provided a copy of a nine-page handout on the subject.  At our table, we had eight people, including some students at the nearby University of Iowa and one person each from China and India, two countries where along with Bangladesh a majority of people in extreme poverty live.

We had an engaging conversation and took notes for submission in the final report to the United Nations. As University of Iowa law professor Jim Leach said, we should support the United Nations, “and take on those that don’t.” We did our part last night.

The publicity, organization and event itself seemed well executed. The attendees I knew had the experiences and credentials to add value to the discussion as the United Nations prepares its next set of millennium development goals. Still,  something was lacking. On the drive home, it occurred to me that what was missing was any substantial discussion of business concerns that impact global society so pervasively.

When Shuanghui International, China’s largest pork producer, bought Smithfield Foods, the largest U.S. pork producer, what were they after besides the pork? Because China is so polluted, they were after access to U.S. land and relatively clean water to meet their burgeoning demand for protein. In a free-market way, they would co-opt U.S. land and water rights to benefit China. Americans may not see it this way, but it is the same kind of free-market colonialism the Chinese are engaged with in Africa and South America. The implications for the millennium development goals seem clear.

While a focus on human rights and individual needs may be appropriate for the United Nations, the world has become an open shop where corporations ply their trades freely and collect their tithe, accruing it to the wealthiest people on the planet. The role of corporatism, and keeping it in check as human rights are addressed must be part of the formula for the U.N. I don’t see how that would be possible today.

A very vocal minority, whose members are pro-life, anti-U.N. and anti-taxes will stand as a roadblock to the U.S. governance it takes to keep corporations in check. Until now, the our country has been a beacon of hope for good governance, but the 113th U.S. Congress seems incompetent to pass any bill of significance, let alone one that will reign in corporations as they plunder our world.

As I drove north after the meeting, on a highway not much removed from when Dillon plowed his furrow in the 19th century Iowa wilderness, it seemed clear our civilization has not come as far as we might think. That has to change to make the progress needed to sustain our lives in a turbulent world.