Monday, January 28, 2008

How Globalization Can Serve Us

Globalization is in trouble, as even many of its ardent supporters agree. But why?

To answer that basic question, I have over time made lists of some basic truths about our rapidly integrating global economy. I tried formulating propositions, short and not too complicated, that make sense, separately and as a whole. My first effort in this direction saw daylight in the May 2007 issue of my Website, Human Rights for Workers, under the title “5 Points on the Sorry State of Globalization.” After reflection, I added more ideas, especially on how globalization can serve us, instead of the other way around.

Here is the latest version, obviously with no assumption that it is writ in stone:

1. Globalization has created a new dimension ‑‑ a vast open space of human activity, an international marketplace ‑‑ outside the traditional jurisdiction of nations and their laws.
2. To establish the rule of law in that open space, governments have created – and are still expanding – a global network of bilateral, regional, subregional, plurilateral, and multilateral agreements laying down cross-border rules on trade, services, investment, intellectual property, and other issues, and have delegated enforcement powers to intergovernmental agencies, with the World Trade Organization at the pinnacle.
3. That global rule of law, however, is partial, in two senses ‑‑ partial as in incomplete and partial as in favoring the rights and interests of one group over others.

4. In its present partial form, globalization protects and promotes the rights and privileges of commerce and capital (particularly multinationals headquartered in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan), to the neglect of labor (the men, women, and children in the international labor market).
5. Those pro‑capital rights and privileges, as written, interpreted, and enforced, are balanced by no ‑‑ or by very ineffective ‑‑ matching responsibilities or accountability, thereby creating a huge global imbalance.
6. That imbalance leads to an imbalance of power that advances the interests and multiplies the wealth of multinational corporations and allied elites, to the disadvantage of other "stakeholders" in all countries, particularly the many millions of vulnerable men, women, and children, as well as the poor communities, deprived of the means to protect their own rights and interests.
7. The imbalance is wrong, grievously and glaringly so, and is increasingly understood as wrong, thanks to improved global communications and the proliferating nongovernmental groups committed to correcting inequities ‑‑ twin developments that are the happy products of globalization.
8. Since globalization itself demonstrates that the well‑being of people can be improved, those now left out are less and less willing to accept their deprived status, and often see themselves as sacrificial lambs to further enrich those already fabulously rich.
9. Explosive consequences are more and more likely if the rightful demands for justice continue to be ignored.
10. Risks have multiplied for the most visible manifestation of globalization – multinational corporations, which at latest count number about 70,000 firms, plus 770,000 subsidiaries, as well as uncounted millions of suppliers in almost every corner of the globe.
11. There is a serious misalignment, or gap, between the scope and impact of multinationals, on the one hand, and the capacity of less developed countries to deal with the behavior and misbehavior of foreign firms.
12. Since the U.S. government, under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, took the lead in determining the unbalanced rules of globalization and in creating the institutions of globalization, it has the responsibility to review those rules and to initiate reforms, but with a strengthened role for Congress, which has the constitutional authority and responsibility to regulate trade.
13. That process of review and reform needs to cover the full range of international policies now grouped together under "trade," including the two significant areas which are not really trade issues ‑‑ the protection of investment/investor rights and the protection of intellectual property rights ‑‑ but may well contribute more to global inequities than ordinary trade does.
14. Given the central role of multinational corporations in globalization, the corporate social responsibility movement, if motivated by more than PR, could help make the global environment conducive to serious reform, but action by governments and intergovernmental agencies is required to produce real and lasting change
15. Integrating socially responsibility into trade rules, and into intergovernmental agencies, is no cure‑all; many other types of private and governmental initiatives are also necessary, especially to insure worker‑friendly practices where people actually work.
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The list introduces you to the scope of this blog. I hope it stimulates you to comment on individual propositions and/or on how they add up as a whole. Take your pick.

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