Geneva — Globalization has largely failed in its promise to benefit the world's masses, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Sunday during a special summit.
Efforts to lower barriers to trade, investment and business around the world "can benefit humankind as a whole," Annan told organizations gathered to keep an eye on a special anti-poverty session of the U.N. General Assembly.
"But clearly at the moment millions of people -- perhaps even a majority of the human race -- are being denied those benefits," he said.
"Some have lost their jobs. Others see their communities disintegrating. Some feel that their very identity is at stake," he said. "Even in the richest and most democratic countries people wonder if the leaders they elect have any real control over events."
He said governments have to work with people, organizations and corporations to turn the tide.
"Private corporations produce most of the wealth in the world," Annan said. "If only for that reason, we would be foolish to ignore them."
The weeklong U.N. gathering, dubbed the "Social Summit," kicks off today. It was called to review progress and failure since a similar meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, five years ago set a goal of eliminating poverty.
Since that 1995 session the number of people in absolute poverty -- living on less than a dollar a day -- has climbed by about 200 million people to 1.2 billion, the United Nations estimates.
Before Annan's speech, thousands of people protesting poor countries' debt burdens and other global problems demonstrated peacefully in the streets of Geneva. "The 'social summit' organizes social misery," some signs read.
Police steered the protesters, many of whom vehemently oppose attempts to create freer trade among countries, away from the headquarters of the World Trade Organization.
The WTO previously was a target of demonstrators' wrath in Geneva and Seattle. Some protesters' signs on Sunday denounced the WTO. An effigy of Mike Moore, the organization's director-general, depicted him as a vampire.
Annan said organizations like the WTO, World Bank and International Monetary Fund were created "to help manage the world economy and ensure that its benefits are more widely enjoyed."
"If some of them have pursued mistaken policies, haven't we all at one time or another?" he asked.