Even if most of us have a sense of what globalisation is, the concept is complex and its links with human rights are multiple.
The term "globalisation" is used to describe a variety of economic, cultural, social, and political changes that have shaped the world over the past 50-odd years, from the much celebrated revolution in information technology to the diminishing of national and geo-political boundaries in an ever-expanding, transnational movement of goods, services, and capital. The increasing homogenisation of consumer tastes, the consolidation and expansion of corporate power, sharp increases in wealth and poverty, the "McDonaldisation" of food and culture, and the growing ubiquity of liberal democratic ideas are all, in one way or another, attributed to globalisation1.
Globalisation may be described as the ever closer economic integration of all the countries of the world resulting from the liberalisation and consequent increase in both the volume and the variety of international trade in goods and services, the falling cost of transport, the growing intensity of the international penetration of capital, the immense growth in the global labour force, and the accelerated worldwide diffusion of technology, particularly communications.
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
No matter which definition we choose to adopt, globalisation today has an influence in practically all the major areas of life and social organisation. Globalisation is everywhere; it has both negative and positive aspects.
Globalisation is allegedly responsible for human rights violations on the one hand, but allows human rights movements to counter its excesses and negative effects on the other hand. Globalisation results in lower prices paid to farmers for their crops, and increases the incentive to create abusive workplace conditions including the employment of child labourers.
However, globalisation also enables a level of networking which results in the emergence of global human rights movements, for example, to create fair trade, to reduce child labour and to promote a culture of universal human rights.
Question: Can you give one positive and one negative example of globalisation from your own experience?
In the economic field, globalisation is associated with the development of capitalism as an economic system, often based on the belief of self-regulating markets. Globalisation has developed economic freedom and allegedly raised living standards worldwide, even if, in relative terms, the gap between rich and poor is growing.
Globalisation is connected with the development of international trade, and the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through the reduction of barriers to international trade, such as tariffs, export fees, and import quotas, and the reduction of restrictions on the movement of capital and on investment.
Globalisation has accelerated processes of outsourcing and offshoring. Transnational corporations (TNCs) can exploit small and medium-sized enterprises intensively and at the lowest possible cost, at a world level, due to outsourcing. The small and medium enterprises may find it difficult, though, to resist global competition and ensure their workers' rights. TNCs cannot easily be held responsible for human rights violations when the corporation is legally incorporated in one state while it conducts its operation in another state.
Globalisation has also had an impact on the privatisation of public utilities and goods such as water, health, security, and even prison management. Recently other goods, such as seeds or medicines, have been considered as economic goods and integrated into trade agreements.
Globalisation has contributed to the development of corporate social responsibility and the concern for the accountability of non-state actors, such as transnational corporations for their activities, particularly when impacting negatively on the environment, on communities, and so on. Today, we can also see an increase in companies developing a code of conduct for their activities. Consumer boycotts and campaigns have also led TNCs to be more attentive to social responsibility and to their reputation risk.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) provides policy advice and financing to member countries in economic difficulties and also works with developing nations to help them achieve macroeconomic stability and reduce poverty. IMF conditionality is a set of policies or "conditions" that the IMF requires in exchange for financial resources. There is little or no human rights integration with the policies of the IMG, whose main concerns are those of economic and monetary order.
The World Bank provides loans to developing countries in order to reduce poverty, taking its decisions with a commitment to promote foreign investment, international trade and facilitate capital investment. While having an important power on developing countries, and even though it represents 186 countries, the World Bank is run by a small number of economically powerful countries. In the 1990s, both the World Bank and the IMF forged policies which included deregulation and liberalisation of markets, privatisation and the downscaling of government.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an organisation that supervises and liberalises international trade. Created in 1995, the WTO deals with regulation of trade between participating countries, provides a framework for negotiating and formalising trade agreements, and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants' adherence to WTO agreements.
Question: What impact does globalisation have in your organisation or school?
In the political field, the increased concern for the effects of the internal developments of one country on another has had consequences such as external political support to leaders who otherwise enjoy little domestic legitimacy. The concentration of economic and financial power results in reduced influence for national political actors and impacts on democratic processes. Gross inequality in distribution of wealth accentuates inequality, tensions in society and threatens effective access to social rights for all. Many trade agreements are decided by governments, without any public participation in decision making. Human rights considerations are rarely included in trade agreements, even if these agreements may have an impact on human rights.
Globalisation is, however, also credited with supporting the spread of democracy and a greater awareness of human rights. Despite massive technological gaps, the political impacts of this include the democratisation of media through social networking sites, resulting in movements which organise for increased political openness, an end to impunity of corruption and abuse of power, and improved political representation.
In the cultural field, globalisation is associated with the development of communication networks, with knowledge and with an ideological discourse around globalisation, as a necessary step towards global happiness.
Globalisation has led to the development of common lifestyles and consumer habits. Cultural globalisation also impacts on media coverage, bringing human tragedies to our urgent attention and mobilising the conscience of the world in the light of massive population flows. "Media globalisation" has also led to massive monopolies controlling our key global media outlets, with all the risks of bias and lack of objectivity that this may imply.
Globalisation has enhanced the development of a different sense of community, for example the existence of digital communities. It has also encouraged exchange and excellence in the arts and created the impulse for the emergence of new musical genres and fusion cooking! Cultural globalisation has sensitised increasing numbers of us to be concerned with what we consume, for example the working and environmental conditions under which the products we purchase are produced.
With globalisation, intercultural dialogue has become a need for both international solidarity as well as universal human rights respect. Not least, globalisation has triggered the development of cultures of resistance to globalisation and movements for a "different world".
In the social field, globalisation has had consequences on the levels and conditions of employment and on the social rights of workers. Global competition, accompanied by relocations and off-shoring, push companies to move production to countries where salaries and social protection of workers are lowest. As a result, trade unions and workers in wealthier countries are "forced" to accept less favourable conditions, what is often referred to as social dumping.
Trade unions have been among the most concerned and vocal critics of globalisation processes. The European Trade Union Conference, for example, has called for a framework that supports sustainable development. This should include:
- a multilateral framework to protect migrants
- a multilateral framework to promote social protection
- a multilateral framework to promote dignified and fair work as a key tool for reducing poverty
- a multilateral framework for protecting the rights of workers, food safety, health, education, gender equality and the full autonomy of women.2
A better globalisation?
We believe the dominant perspective on globalization must shift more from a narrow preoccupation with markets to a broader preoccupation with people. The social dimension of globalization is about jobs, health and education – but it goes far beyond these. It is the dimension of globalization which people experience in their daily life and work: the totality of their aspirations for democratic participation and material prosperity.
A better globalization is the key to a better and secure life for people everywhere in the 21st century.
ILO, World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation
Critics of the way globalisation is organised refer to people as the ignored side of globalisation. While capital and goods enjoy a growing freedom of circulation, the freedom of movement of people has not enjoyed any easing of conditions. Despite this, globalisation is accompanied by increased migration, legal and illegal, either for economic reasons or due to environmental disasters.
Today, globalisation is not limited to the phenomena already mentioned. An important aspect connected to globalisation is the state of global environment, with the problems of ozone depletion, decreasing biodiversity, worsening land, air and water pollution, environmental catastrophes, oil spills, floods, droughts due to climate change, waste treatment, nuclear proliferation, deforestation, and so on. This also impacts on the flows of people, as the effects of globalisation on the environment can cause refugee flows.
Fairtrade standards are a set of minimum standards for socially responsible production and trade; they are also intended to support the development of disadvantaged and marginalised small-scale farmers and plantation workers. Fairtrade standards relate to three areas of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental development.
In terms of social development, farmers' organisations must have a democratic structure and transparent administration to enable effective control by its members; the organisation should also have the potential to promote the social and economic development of its members; and there must be no discrimination.
The economic development criteria ensure the organisation's ability to effectively export their product and to effectively administer the Fairtrade premium (money paid on top of the agreed Fairtrade price for investment in social, environmental or economic development projects), in a transparent and democratic manner, on behalf of its members.
The environmental development criteria are intended to make environmental protection an integral part of farm management. There are rules to protect farmers and workers relating to the use of chemicals, disposal of waste, and protection of natural resources. The standard also prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms.3
As a response to financial and economic globalisation, many civil society actors oppose the insufficiently regulated power of large multi-national corporations as well as the negative impact of trade agreements and deregulated financial markets – each of these contributing to violations of human rights, of work safety, of environmental damage and even undermining the ability of national governments to uphold these standards. These groups and individuals promote what they call "globalisation with a human face". This is to distinguish it sharply from an economic globalisation in the framework of which companies neglect people and human rights from the equation.
This international movement, commonly called the anti-globalisation or alter-globalisation movement, gathers trade unions, environmental non-governmental organisations, politicians, human rights activists, scholars, women's organisations, and others interested in building a more equitable world which, according to them, cannot exist as long as deregulation and global trade competition are the primary values of economic co-operation and development.
The slogan, "Think globally, Act locally" has become the catchphrase of what have become the glocal movements. The phrase was first used in an environmental context in relation to urban planning, but has quickly spread to areas of social justice and education, and indicates an increased awareness of the connections between local actions, local decisions and the use or abuse of global resources. The glocal movement can be seen as a response, for example, to globalised economy, in which the environmental effects or the human rights violations related to the production of a product might occur in a different country than the point of purchase. At the same time, it has come to work the other way around as well, as opportunities are also becoming more global and can be used to further local goals.
Awareness of globalisation issues has increased significantly over recent decades and demands on international bodies for greater accountability has increased. Decisions that used to take place behind closed doors by governments, banking and trade authorities, international organisations and public institutions have now been exposed and are intensively discussed in public. The Indignados and Occupy protests have also become a global phenomenon, with protests taking place on every continent4.
World Social Forum (WSF)
The WSF defines itself as an open meeting place where social movements, networks, NGOs and other civil society organisations opposed to neo-liberalism come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, to formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action. Since the first world encounter in 2001, it has taken the form of a permanent world process seeking and building alternatives to neo-liberal policies. The World Social Forum is also characterised by plurality and diversity, is non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party. The World Social Forum is not a group, nor an organisation. The WSF has prompted many regional social forums, as well as local and national social forums.
Question: How can globalisation be "humanised"?
Globalisation in itself does not violate human rights; the main concern is that it affects negatively the realisation of universal human rights everywhere. These concerns include the human rights obligations of non-state actors, for example transnational companies, amplified by the fact that national governments, due to the economic and political globalisation, have less control of social and economic processes. Another example regards the primacy that human rights considerations should have in governmental decisions, which is questionable, particularly when governments' economic policies depend on market fluctuations and foreign investors' actions, as well as in settlements of trade disputes.
Some of the human rights that are at stake in the face of globalisation are the following:
- The rights to equality in dignity and to non-discrimination, for instance through poor health and safety conditions for workers in developing countries
- The rights to health, food and shelter, particularly through the imposition of trade barriers to developing countries, or through the purchase of arable land in African and Asian countries for producing export crops or bio-fuels
- The right to work, for example through the relocation of industries to countries with a cheaper labour force and where lower social standards can be imposed
- The rights to life, for example through trade agreements that make it prohibitive for people in poor countries to access medicines
- The right to own property, for example through evictions in situations of big infrastructure projects, such as dams or pipelines
- The right to health and healthy environment, for example through the concentration of hazardous waste in developing countries or through the lack of international consensus regarding climate change actions to be taken by governments
- The right to protection against harmful forms of work and exploitation, for example by governments tolerating harmful forms of work in order not to lose the interest of foreign investors
- The rights of indigenous peoples to their culture and development, for example through deforestation and/or severe pollution that destroy areas in which indigenous communities have been living, the industrial exploitation of their lands and expropriation.
The WTO agreements often have human rights consequences, even if they do not necessarily mention human rights. For example, the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), adopted in 2001, contains requirements that nations' laws must meet for protecting copyrights, including in sectors such as pharmaceutical industries and other patents. For states that do not have the financial resources to pay for patented medicines – or the capacity to produce their own generics – this requirement is in conflict with the right to health (and the commitments of the same state in this respect).
In 2004, the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation issued the report "A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All", in which it states the need for the respect of human rights in the globalisation processes. The commission identified 9 measures to be met to this end:
A focus on people. The demands of the people must be met: respect for their rights, cultural identity and autonomy; decent work; and the empowerment of the local communities they live in. Gender equality is essential.
A democratic and effective State. The State must have the capability to manage integration into the global economy, and provide social and economic opportunity and security.
Sustainable development. Mutually reinforcing pillars of economic development, social development and environmental protection at the local, national, regional and global levels must be secured.
Productive and equitable markets. Institutions need to promote opportunity and enterprise in a well-functioning market economy.
Fair rules. The global economy must offer equitable opportunity and access for all countries and recognize the diversity in national capacities and developmental needs.
Globalisation with solidarity. Globalisation must help to overcome inequality both within and between countries and contribute to the elimination of poverty.
Greater accountability to people. Public and private actors must be democratically accountable for the policies they pursue and the actions they take.
Deeper partnerships. Dialogue and partnership among actors in globalisation – international organisations, governments and parliaments, business, labour, civil society – as an essential democratic instrument.
An effective United Nations. A stronger and more efficient multilateral system to create a democratic, legitimate and coherent framework for globalisation.6
Amnesty International campaigned, for example, against the actions of the oil-trading company Trafigura. In 2010, Trafigua had been found guilty by a Dutch court for delivering hazardous waste to Amsterdam while hiding its nature, and for exporting it to Ivory Coast. As a result, 15 persons died and more than 100,000 sought medical help for a variety of health troubles. Interestingly, the Dutch prosecution focused only on events in the Netherlands. Its ignorance of the impact of the dumping in Ivory Coast reflects the challenges of prosecuting companies for actions across borders.
It is the response to the unhindered search for advantage that has also led the human rights community to advance several areas in human rights, for example clarifying the right to development, advancing the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights and advancing the principles of the UN Global Compact.
UN Global Compact's Ten Principles7
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights
Principle 2: Make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
Principle 4: The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour
Principle 5: The effective abolition of child labour
Principle 6: The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation
Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges
Principle 8: Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility
Principle 9: Encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies
Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.
The negative impact of the 2008 financial crisis on human rights, very much the result of global financial movements, was highlighted by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights on a visit to Portugal in May 2012. "Fiscal austerity measures implemented so far in Portugal have disproportionately affected the human rights of the most vulnerable social groups, especially children, the elderly and Roma. Portugal is a state party to the European Social Charter, under which it has undertaken to effectively protect all persons who live or risk living in a situation of social exclusion or poverty. Employment, housing, education and social and medical assistance are vital social rights that may not be ignored even in times of economic crisis", said Nils Muižnieks. The Commissioner noted with concern that more than 20% of the children and the elderly have been considered to be at risk of poverty.
Question: Do you know where your mobile phone has been designed, manufactured, assembled and packed?
Globalisation and young people
Young people, due to their transition to adult life, are even more vulnerable to fluctuations of economic, social, cultural and political order, than other groups in society. The UN World Youth Report 20118 showed that in 2010 the global youth unemployment rate was 12.6%, dramatically overshadowing the global adult unemployment rate of 4.8%. In 2011, about 152 million young workers were living in households that were below the poverty line, comprising 24% of the total working poor. Transitions to adult lives take longer. Female youth unemployment was particularly striking, at 39.4% in the Middle East and 34.1% in North Africa. In 2011, developing countries were home to 87% of the world's youth, who are often underemployed and working in the informal economy under poor conditions.
Globalisation for young people, even though not for all young people, means also more information, more possibilities to experience more mobility, diversity in cultural and lifestyle choices, and more opportunities to develop networks around the world with their peers, and to express solidarity. Young people are active in alter-globalisation movements, and many youth organisations with a global reach are attempting to become active protagonists of processes and partnerships for a more just globalisation.
In 2004 the youth sector of the Council of Europe organised the youth event, How Big is Your World? – Europe, Youth and Globalisation. 317 young people from 83 countries gathered together in order to discuss their experiences and perceptions of life under the conditions of globalisation, as well as Europe's position in the world, and to conceive effective actions to respond to the effects of globalisation, with the aim of encouraging good governance and the protection of human dignity worldwide. The participants pointed out the lack of access to social rights, such as work and education, and to a decent standard of living, as major concerns. Attendees of the event stressed the particular responsibility of Europe as a region that has benefited greatly from economic globalisation, and as such could "afford" to be a home of liberal democracies that are upheld as examples to other parts of the world, as well as calling attention to considering young people as an asset for today, rather than considering them as actors of a future in which current adults no longer hold power.9
Internships in Europe
Within the context of globalisation, young people are highly pressurised to enter the fierce competition of the labour market, and use internships as possibilities to boost their competences. The European Youth Forum gave its attention to a very important area for young people in Europe, the question of internships, through a survey that gathered evidence from nearly 4,000 interns across Europe. 25% said they received adequate remuneration, and 37% said they had completed three or more internships. One intern, who had completed a total of four internships, summed up the experience: "Employers know they can get away without paying interns a thing because graduates "need" the experience, and, as a result, employers expect someone starting an entry level job to know everything on their first day".10
Youth activism for a just globalisation takes the shape of educational and awareness-raising campaigns, protests, action campaigns, publications and strikes. They may stem from individuals, particular organisations or vast coalitions. They may be local, national or international. The yearly programme of activities of the European Youth Centres regularly includes activities of youth organisations campaigning for a human globalisation. The following are just some examples of actions by youth organisations.
European Coordination of Via Campesina
ECVC gathers farmers' and agricultural workers' organisations campaigning for different food and agricultural policies based on more legitimacy, fairness, solidarity and sustainability.
Federation of Young European Greens – a global agenda
FYEG brings together young environmental and Green political groups from all over Europe. In its general political statement, FYEG shows concern about the impact of transnational companies on the environment and the lack of democratic governance in institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and WTO, while requesting that the Tobin-tax on speculative money transfers be introduced and infrastructures for transport, energy, and telecommunications be put under the control of democratic institutions.
International Falcon Movement – Socialist Education International
IFM – SEI developed in 2011 the project Volunteering against Poverty aiming to develop a strong network of young volunteers from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America to raise awareness of youth poverty and the struggle for decent work.
Service Civil International – voluntary workcamps
SCI has been organising voluntary projects for over 90 years, as a means of promoting and building a culture of peace while supporting local communities. Every year thousands of volunteers work on international voluntary projects organised in many countries all around the world.
World Association Girl Guides and Girl Scouts – The Global Girls Fund
This initiative aims to contribute to changing the lives of girls and young women around the world by equipping them with valuable skills, knowledge and opportunities. The fund aims to raise £10 million by June 2014 in order to create and develop related projects and programmes that will ensure each and every girl has the opportunity she deserves to research her fullest potential.
2 Shalmali Guttal,"Globalisation" in Development in practice, vol. 17 no. 4/5, August 2007, pp. 523-531 www.jstor.org/stable/25548249
Resolution of the ETUC Executive Committee on the Social Dimension of Globalisation, 2005: www.etuc.org/a/365
3 Fairtrade Foundation: Fairtrade standards. www.fairtrade.org.uk/what_is_fairtrade/fairtrade_certification_and_the_fairtrade_mark/fairtrade_standards.aspx
6 Adapted from A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities For All, International Labour Organisation, Geneva, 2004
8 "Youth Employment: Youth Perspectives on the Pursuit of Decent Work in Changing Times": http://unworldyouthreport.org/index.php
9 Council of Europe, 2005: www.coe.int/t/dg4/youth/Source/Resources/Publications/2005_How_Big_is_your_world.pdf
10 European Youth Forum, Interns Revealed: http://issuu.com/yomag/docs/yfj_internsrevealed_web
11 Jubilee Debt Campaign, 2008
Richard Falk, Resisting "Globalization-From-Above" through "Globalization-From-Below" in B. Gills (ed.), Globalization and the Politics of Resistance, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001
Global Finance Magazine: www.gfmag.com
International Council on Human Rights Policy, "Human Rights in the Global Economy, Report from a Colloquium", Geneva: ICHRP, 2010, available at: www.ichrp.org/files/documents/185/210_human_rights_global_economy_colloquium_report.pdf
Naomi Klein, No logo: taking aim at the brand bullies, London: Flamingo, 2000
Shalmali Guttal, "Globalisation" in Development in Practice, vol. 17 no. 4/5, August 2007
- 22 MarchWorld Day for Water
- 7 AprilWorld Health Day
- 1 MayInternational Workers Day
- 2nd Saturday in MayWorld Fair Trade Day
- 21 MayWorld Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
- 5 JuneWorld Environment Day
- 20 JuneWorld Refugee Day
- 1st Saturday in JulyInternational Day of Co-operatives
- 11 JulyWorld Population Day
- 9 AugustInternational Day of Indigenous People
- 12 AugustInternational Youth Day
- 1st Monday in OctoberWorld Habitat Day
- 7 OctoberWorld Day for Decent Work
- 16 OctoberWorld Food Day
- 17 OctoberInternational Day for the Eradication of Poverty
- 9 DecemberInternational Anti-Corruption Day
- 18 DecemberInternational Migrants Day
- 20 DecemberInternational Human Solidarity Day