from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #51


     Globalization generally refers to the increasing interaction and integration of the people, businesses and governments of nations.  While it has social and political consequences, a narrower definition—expansion of foreign trade and investment—focuses on its economic aspects.  Mention globalization and most Americans think jobs going overseas (Figure #51a), out-sourcing (Figure #51b), sweatshops, and free trade agreements like NAFTA.  Some connect it with 80 % of the goods they buy at Wal-Mart coming from China, others with money borrowed from foreign investors sent to Saudi Arabia for oil, and still others with haze and particulate air pollution blowing in from East Asia.  But ethical globalization may stump them! 

     At a 2003 forum, former president of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo asked former president of Ireland Mary Robinson to explain use of this phrase in naming her initiative to reform globalization.  She replied, "[Globalization] could have many more positive aspects if it were more ethical... Globalization should work for all the world's people. It doesn't do that at the moment, but [it could if it] was more values-led, and we don't say that human rights are the only values...there are...ILO standards, environmental standards, even arms control..."

     Her answer suggests ethical globalization starts with "Valuing Human Rights" (theme #32).  Given her reference to the International Labour Organization, a UN agency concerned with promoting decent working conditions, it extends to include workers' rightsto safe workplaces, to join labor unions, to expect fair compensation, and freedom from discrimination.  Anti-globalization critics point to corporations exploiting workers (sweatshops and child labor), and their moving (or outsourcing) manufacturing operations to developing countries where workers have few or no legal rights.  Thus millions of workers —especially women and children—toil long hours for low wages under dangerous conditions.  Their sweat, misery and sacrifice makes possible the low prices Western shoppers expect.  Critics charge overseas' corporate investment targets areas where labor is cheap and environmental regulations weak or non-existent.  Thus air pollution in Asian cities, gauged by particulate and sulfur oxides levels, is among the world's worst; multinational corporate activities—logging, mining, oil drilling—are a leading cause of rainforest destruction; ocean-going ships carrying products from Asian to American shores burn the world's dirtiest fuels.

     Ethical globalization opponents—namely those invested in  "Imperialism"—counter these charges (see Discussion, theme #22B).  They cite an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study showing that corporations operating in developing countries pay higher wages than the national average.  And point to a World Bank report that, after


historically linking high pollution to low to middle income transitions, optimistically notes "many developing countries have already turned or are turning the corner in the fight against pollution at much lower levels of income than rich countries did in their day."

     Mention organizations such as the World Bank, World Trade Organization, or International Monetary Fund and many anti-globalization folks wince.  They charge such organizations aid multinational led Western efforts to dominate developing countries.  They use "McDonaldization" to refer to what they perceive as efforts to spread a American consumerist lifestyle and culture around the world.  They fear such cultural imperial-ism homogenizes the world hastening destruction of traditional customs and unique cultural heritages.

     Unlike libertarians (theme #50A), those respecting ethical globalization urge corporations to put ethics before profits and take responsibility for human rights, worker rights, and environ-mental problems related to their operations in developing nations.  They challenge those concerned about global economies to think less about comparative advantage, free trade, global competitive indices, subsidies, tariffs, balance of trade, and more about what might bring sustainable development to poor countries: appropriate technology, distributive justice, family planning services, microcredit financing (Figure #45c), and a basic human needs approach for the poorest.  A few believe a values, not profit, driven globalization could eventually make national boundaries irrelevant: creating a global village of global citizens (theme #37B).

Figure #51a: Offshoring

according to physical laws...

       High Pressure           air     ====>         Low Pressure

           Region                 moves                        Region 

given today's global economic realities...                                                    High Wage               jobs  ====>         Low Wage

       Countries                 move                       Countries

NEWS ITEM, 1993:  Ross Perot campaigns against NAFTA urging Americans to listen for the "giant sucking sound" of jobs moving south to Mexico.

NEWS ITEM, July 2006: A study from the U.S. Government Accountability Officeobtained in the 109th Congress—confirms U.S. jobs continue to be moved "offshore" to lower wage environments.  "Offshoring is moving up the technological food chain with more sophisticated jobs and facilities going overseas.  For workers this translates into flat job growth and stagnant wages, which is hard on American families and our communities."                     Bart Gordon, U.S. Congressman


Figure #51b: The World is Flat

This is the title of Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book about globalization. Its title came from a trip he took east to India—one of discovery he contrasts with Columbus’ famous voyage west 500 years earlier. “Columbus was searching for hardware —precious metals, silk, and spices—the source of wealth in his day.  I was searching for software, brainpower, complex algorithms, knowledge workers, call centers, transmission protocols, breakthroughs in optical engineering—the sources of wealth in our day.”  He was investigating why American accounting, computer programming, engineering and other jobs were being outsourced to places like India.  He met an Indian information technology CEO who told him, “The playing field is being leveled.”  He was referring to the empowerment of smart people in poor countries like India so they could compete with their counterparts in affluent countries for jobs in a global economy.  Whereas Columbus came back and reported the world is round, Friedmann returned from his trip proclaiming “The world is flat!”


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