||Background Information on the Global Themes
is gradually becoming one single huge market. Some people have
said that the world has become a village.
We all talk about globalisation but do we
know what it is exactly?
Globalisation refers to a process that is characterised by:
- the expansion of telecommunications and information technologies;
- the reduction of national barriers to trade and investment;
- Increasing capital flows and the interdependency of financial
Indeed, globalisation promotes an increasing mobility of people
although the control over migrations is greater then ever (air
traffic has never been so important in the world's history), global
alliances among companies are more and more common (see the examples
of the telecommunication and food industries), and it is possible
to chat through computers with people from virtually any country
in the world. Finally, the recent financial crashes in Asia and
Latin America have demonstrated the increasing financial and economic
And what are the key challenges of globalisation?
Fair Trade Movement
intends to label goods and products
that are produced in conformity with social practices and with
human rights. This way the consumers who are aware of such issues
have the opportunity to make a difference by using their purchasing
There is a lot of controversy
about the current and potential consequences of globalisation.
We can identify many dilemmas and in many cases there are no clear-cut
answers. Numerous sectors and individuals such as human rights
activists, scholars, economists, researchers and sociologists
concerned by its negative impact have identified some of the following
issues as key challenges:
- Reduction of state sovereignty: Where governments have less
and less control over key decisions that can affect their economies
and consequently the well-being of their people, the most powerful
transnational companies, intergovernmental structures and private
financial institutions have a growing influence and tend to
act in the same way as governments. This is why it is said that
the sovereignty of states has been strongly reduced. Their traditional
roles are being redefined.
- "Economically focused": Economical considerations
are taking over political and social considerations. Since private
companies and intergovernmental international and regional organisations
are increasingly assuming a predominant role in running states
and world affairs, there is a risk that the economic and financial
dimensions will prevail as the sole concerns of these institutions
ignoring other fundamental issues related to social, health
or environmental aspects.
- Lack of transparency and responsibility: Governments, public
institutions, national banking authorities, etc., traditionally
in charge of deciding the future of their countries and people,
have seen this responsibility in some cases being gradually
taken away from them. Many of their actions and decisions are
controlled since they are democratically accountable, but this
is not the case for transnational corporations or international
and regional institutions. In the case of human rights violations,
for example, is it almost impossible to hold them responsible
and to monitor their actions. Furthermore, in many of these
instances, concern has been expressed over the lack of transparency
of the existing decision-making mechanisms. For instance, in
some cases in the World Trade Organisation, decisions are taken
behind closed doors after complex processes of multilateral
informal or formal negotiations.
- "Race to the bottom": One particular characteristic
of the liberalisation of trade is that transnational companies
tend to relocate in countries offering better comparative advantages,
which in practical terms means lower salaries for workers, less
strict labour legislation, more flexible working conditions,
non-existing or non-applied environmental legislation, lower
taxes and cuts in social expenses such as unemployment insurance,
health care, etc. In these circumstances, it is easy to come
to the conclusion that human rights are strongly being affected
by such practices, especially but not exclusively with regard
to the economic and social rights of the workers in the host
countries that are facing difficult social and economic conditions
and are in need of foreign investments to help reactivate their
already fragile economies.
- Homogenisation: Some argue that the threat of living in a
single integrated society with standardised social and cultural
patterns of behaviour would condition us to eat the same food,
listen to the same music or watch the same movies wherever we
live and whatever our nationality. This situation would deny
the specificity of each country and would violate our rights
to enjoy our own cultures.
In this context, consumer boycotts have sometimes been successful
in rectifying unethical and unlawful business practices. Additionally,
some companies and organisations are trying to develop business
strategies that would transcend the problems of globalisation.
More specifically, as far as trade liberalisation is concerned,
some of the main intergovernmental international and regional
institutions that have been promoting it are:
- The World Trade Organisation
- The International Monetary Fund
- The World Bank
- The World Economic Forum. A private organisation gathering
the most powerful 2000 companies in the world. They meet every
year in Davos, Switzerland.
- Regional trading blocs such as the European Union, the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Asia Pacific Economic
Do you know where the clothes you are wearing or the food you
are eating come from?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the revised
European Social Charter, as well as the Community Charter of Fundamental
Social Rights of Workers and the European Union Charter of Fundamental
Rights (although this last is not yet legally binding) are some
of the international and regional instruments that are particularly
relevant to the issue of globalisation. It is worth mentioning
that the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection
of Human Rights, as well as the Sub-Commission on the Prevention
of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities have both adopted
resolutions on human rights and globalisation, the first one on
trade liberalisation and its impact on human rights (Resolution
1999/30) and the second one on human rights as the primary objective
of trade, investment and financial policy (Resolution 1998/12).
For another look at the world perceived to suffer from a North-South divide, have a look at the Education Pack section "North-South, a question of imbalance".
Some of the assumed positive aspects of globalisation
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
... requests all governments and economic policy forums to take
international human rights obligations and principles fully into
account in international economic policy formulation 22."
1. Redefining citizenship:
There is a new dimension of citizenship that is emerging and
which is called global citizenship. It combines with the traditional
concept of citizenship linked to the exercise of political and
legal rights and obligations such as voting. Indeed, to be a global
citizen nowadays means to be more critical of what we consume
and in which conditions products have been produced, and to be
more aware of global issues such as poverty affecting the world,
environmental problems or violence. Additionally, some people
argue that social and cultural globalisation means the opposite
of homogeneity; that, on the contrary, new practices and identities
are created as a result of the processes of interaction.
2. Increasing mobility and faster communications: Despite
the obvious increasing technological gap between the haves and
the have-nots which is one of the major downsides of this trend,
one of the positive consequences of the opening up of borders
and the development of the Internet and other technologies is
that it has become increasingly easier to travel from one country
to another or to communicate with people from all over the world.
This gives us the opportunity to share and learn from one another
and from other cultures, hopefully by teaching us to be more tolerant
3. The gradual opening up of borders: Should facilitate
the development and implementation of transnational and regional
judicial systems of protection of human rights that can rectify
human rights violations. The European Court of Human Rights is
an example of quite an efficient regional system of protection
of human rights.
The anti-globalisation movement
is the tenderness of peoples."
As a response to financial and
economic globalisation, important sectors of civil society concerned
by its negative impact have started to organise a world movement
to promote what they call a humanisation of globalisation. This
international movement commonly called `the anti-globalisation
movement', gathers trade-unions, environmental non-governmental
organisations, politicians, human rights activists, scholars,
women's institutions, etc., in short, a wide range of institutions
and individuals interested in building a more equitable world
which, according to them, cannot exist as long as neo-liberalism,
deregulation and privatisation are the main engines of economic
globalisation. They call for globalisation with a human face.
Some of these groups have chosen to demonstrate their disagreement
by participating in large protests during meetings organised by
the G7+1 and other institutions that promote such phenomena. Unfortunately,
the most highly visible aspect during such events has been the
violent incidents which have caused a lot of material damage.
This movement is also gradually organising itself. The Word Social
Forum has met in Porto Alegre, in Brazil "parallel"
to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, and
gave the opportunity to thousands of delegates from civil society
organisations to analyse issues related to globalisation and its
consequences and to study alternatives. Under the slogan "Another
world is possible" some of the numerous key issues discussed
were the process of reforming the World Trade Organisation, the
defence of human rights (especially economic, social and environmental
rights) and debt relief for the Third World.
In conclusion, we could quote Xavier Godinot of ATD Quart Monde:
"Globalisation is a collective challenge as well as an
invitation for each of us to reinvent new ways of being citizens
of the world."
Some NGOs and institutions dealing with globalisation:
Fédération Internationale des Droits de l'Homme,
International Forum on Globalisation, www.ifg.org
Third World Network, www.townside.org.sg
L'Observatoire de la Mondialisation, http://terresacree.org/obsmondi.htm
World Social Forum: www.forumsocialmundial.org.br
Do you know any other institution or individual from your own
country that can be added to this list?