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ISSUE 118 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/25/2005

Conference focuses on economy concerns

By Tiffany Ayres
News Editor

Friday, February 25, 2005

On Feb. 17-19, St. Olaf hosted its fifth annual Globalization Conference to conclude Globalization Week. The conference, organized under the theme "Consequences of the New Economy," featured speaker Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America and St. Olaf’s 2005 Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow.

Offenheiser spent the week on campus visiting different classes and talking with students about general globalization issues as part of the fellowship program. He finished his week in residence with a lecture for students, faculty and other conference participants concentrating on the Oxfam organization's major projects.

"I’m going to speak to you on trade and globalization, not as an economist, but as a regular guy trying to make sense of it," Offenheiser said when opening his speech.

Oxfam focuses on changing the international trade rules which have contributed to the debt problems and widespread poverty of developing countries. Offenheiser listed five major problem areas on which the organization focuses: changing intellectual property rights for medicine, alleviating debt problems caused by fluctuations in commodity prices, resolving unfair market practices that deny developing countries market access, getting rid of import tariffs for multinational corporations and fixing appalling working conditions.

Offenheiser pointed out that Oxfam’s core mission has been to address poverty and social injustice through helping the poverty-stricken become active in making these changes rather than remaining passive recipients of charity. The organization wants to change the way in which debt relief is conducted to include the people and their ideas.

Offenheiser said that most debt relief campaigns do not solve the “root issues” and are "islands of progress in a sea of injustice.”

The other conference speakers focused on similar issues. C. Ford Runge addressed the debate over intellectual property rights dealing with genetics.

He focused on sharing biotechnology information in agricultural advancement between developed and developing countries.

Liza Featherstone spoke about workers' rights at Wal-Mart, focusing on how the low prices on goods come at the expense of the workers earning less-than-livable wages. The same issues were addressed in the play "Nickel and Dimed," which was also part of the Globalization Conference.

Other events included student poster displays and small discussion sessions, which focused on topics ranging from tsunami aid to female sexual exploitation.

St. Olaf hosted its first Globalization Conference in February 2001 with the intention of turning the conference into an annual event for discussing globalization issues affecting economics, politics and social structures worldwide.

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