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Inequitable Globalisation

Notwithstanding the loud claims by certain economic pundits and trumpeters, it is now crystal clear that ongoing globalization is not fair to all, especially the weaker sections of the society and the less developed countries. This is the conclusion of The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, constituted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The Commission’s report, which is now in the public domain, is understandably entitled “A Fair Globalisation: Creating Opportunities for All.”

The Commission had two co-chairpersons, one from the developed and the other from developing world. Besides, one was a woman while the other was a man. They were Ms Tarja Halonen, President of Finland and Mr. Benjamin William Mkapa, President of Tanzania. The list of members included, among others, Prof. Deepak Nayyar, Vice-chancellor of the University of Delhi, Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and Prof. Hernando de Soto, an economist of international repute from Peru.

The Commission during its investigation has found that globalisation is a highly divisive subject. While certain sections, top social layers, are enthusiastic about it in the belief that it will provide ample new opportunities for a better life, others think they will be certainly left behind because neo-liberalism-based globalisation is reviving the discredited doctrine of social-Darwinism under which the big fish gobbles up the small one.

Thus, if globalisation has to succeed, it needs to be made a positive force for all people and all countries. In other words, the dominant perspective on globalisation must shift from “a narrow preoccupation with markets to a broader preoccupation with people. Globalisation must be brought from the high pedestal of corporate board rooms and cabinet meetings to meet the needs of people in the communities in which they live.”

The Commission has underlined that, by its very nature, the ongoing globalisation is undemocratic because “Too few share in its benefits. Too many have no voice in its design and no influence on its course.” Globalisation cannot be judged only on the basis of its theoretical design and the model on which it is supposed to rest. In fact, the most important criterion to judge it must be what it delivers and to whom. There is no denying the fact that many of the ills afflicting the world predate the present phase of globalisation, yet one has to accept that they have been aggravated after its onset. The Commission has found concrete evidence of growing social and economic exclusion in certain regions of the world. “For many, globalisation has dislocated traditional livelihoods and local communities, and threatens environmental sustainability and cultural diversity.” Inequalities have increased not between countries but also within countries. It is evident everywhere that the “debate on globalisation is fast becoming a debate on democracy and social justice in a global economy.”

It is a fact that globalisation has promoted openness in social and economic spheres and encouraged free flow of goods, ideas and knowledge and better communications have inculcated greater awareness of rights and identities. Yet, the living conditions of a large number of people have deteriorated because they have lost their traditional vocations while new sources of earning their living have not been provided to them. An affected person in Philippines vividly described this to the Commission when he said: “There is no point to a globalisation that reduces the price of a child’s shoes, but costs the father his job.” All over the world, especially in developing countries, small enterprises have been facing threats to their survival because they experience great difficulties in adjusting to new conditions and profit by the opportunities presented by globalisation. The rural and informal economic activities continue to be on the margin and the people engaged in them are in a precarious situation. The result is persistent poverty. Plenty of jobs have been lost as a result of industrial restructuring presumably in order to face global competition.

Wherever the Commission went, people told it how they had been caught unawares in the whirlpool of globalisation, whether driven by technology, economics or politics. An Egyptian said: “We were sleeping on the shore when a big wave came.” In Costa Rica, the Commission witnessed a widespread sense of instability and insecurity brought in by globalisation. To quote one Costa Rican: “There is a growing feeling that we live in a world highly vulnerable to changes we cannot control." Thus everywhere the Commission found a sense of fragility among ordinary people, countries and regions. In certain parts of the world, people were frightened because they had experienced devastating impact of instability caused by global financial system.

Elsewhere common people were worried about the survival of their local values and cultural heritage. The perception was that global media and entertainment were endangering them by thrusting external cultural influences, lifestyles and values. The goods and people coming from the developed world, especially America, were bringing in their own values, outlook and attitudes. Though culture had never been static, the point was to empower the people to live according to their aspirations.

The Commission found in most countries a growing divide between the formal and the informal sectors of the economy. The former was linked to the global economy. The majority of the people all over the world were engaged in the informal sector. Their living conditions were invariably depressed and they did not enjoy any social or economic security benefits.

The Commission under the heading “Where do we want to go?” has this to say: “Our vision is of a process of globalisation which puts people first; which respects human dignity and its equal worth of every human being.

”We seek a more inclusive process which is fair and brings benefit and real opportunities to more people and more countries; and one which is more democratically governed.

We seek a globalisation with a social dimension which sustains human values and enhances the well-being of people, in terms of their freedom, prosperity and security. Globalisation is seen through the eyes of women and men in terms of the opportunity it provides for decent work; for meeting their essential needs for food, water, health, education and shelter and for a liveable environment. Without such dimension, many will continue to view globalisation as a new version of earlier forms of domination and exploitation.”

The Commission does not think that this is a utopian dream, but a realisable vision. It thinks that sufficient resources exist in the world to tackle the problems of poverty, health and education. It asserts that “Mahatma Gandhi put it very simply: “There is enough in the world for everybody’s need, but there cannot be enough for everybody’s greed”.”

It is almost impossible to detach oneself from the global economy. “The challenge is to manage interaction with global markets to ensure growth, development and equity….

“Efficient markets require effective states. If countries are to benefit from globalisation, they need a state which can develop the institutional capabilities—both social and economic—needed for sound and equitable economic growth.”

In other words the Commission has in a way pointed out to the relevance of the Nehruvian vision in the present context.

Link - World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization