What is globalisation?

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Globalisation is the exchange of goods and services between nations. Many things can be ‘globalised’-goods, services, money, people, information, effects on the international order as well as less tangible things such as ideas, behavioural norms and cultural practices. This makes most nations increasingly dependent on each other.

There are organisations that help to foster international trade, notably the World Trade Organisation (WTO), charged with enforcing trade rules agreed to by member countries; the International Monetary Fund (IMF), established to promote international co-operation on finance) and the World Bank (WB) which provides loans to poor countries for development projects) most notably. The world has seen a momentous increase in the volume and value of international commerce, and the pace of global economic integration has accelerated rapidly.

The wealth generated by global economic growth has helped to raise living standards and bring remarkable progress in life expectancy, infant mortality and adult literacy across the world. Millions of people have better lives. However, globalisation has become a contentious issue because of form in which it takes place and much debate lies over its place in a moral society. Why is globalisation said to be exploitative? There are groups that have protested against the growth of worldtrade, such as Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Do it Nike, for various reasons.

Critics like author Naomi Klein say that multinationals exploit workers around the world by shifting production to the cheapest locations. One major concern expressed is the influence of Trans-national corporations (TNCs) on the politics of the host country. Aside their control of two thirds of all world trade and 80 per cent of foreign investment, it has been argued that (for TNCs) profits rule, not people. Governments have been accused of bowing down to businesses, even to the extent of subverting the democratic system and moral values in a country.

Chiquita, an American TNC with banana-producing presence in the Caribbean Islands lost some of its patronage from the EU to smaller Caribbean farmers and as a result lobbied the US Congress to approve higher taxation of British imports such as Cashmere sweaters by up to 100%. Free trade and foreign direct investment may take jobs from workers in the advanced industrial economies and give them to cheaper workers in poor countries. The North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) means that there no restrictions to stop an American manufacturer closing down a factory in the United States and opening a new one in Mexico.

The increase in the local supply of labour caused by the redundancy could drive down other wages while the workers in the LDCs are drawn into jobs that exploit them. The processes of globalisation have facilitated the destructive impact of TNCs on the environment. They capitalise on the reluctance of governments to enforce environmental laws on them. Even when governments prosecute TNCs for violating environmental regulations they let them off with a slap the wrist, for example, ICI being fined only 51 540 for its pollutive activities, despite an annual profit of more than 630 million.

Nike uses bags of sulphur hexafluoride in its trainers as cushions (SF6 has 35,000 times the global warming potential of CO2). Animal Kingdom, a 500-acre addition to Disney World, Florida was built on natural wetland thus leaving animals caught in the wild to die. Multinationals are criticised for using child labour in some countries where there is ineffective legislation, as a way of cutting costs. According to the ILO, in 1996 73 million children between the ages of 10 and 14 work in the world.

There was a storm just before the 1998 World Cup, after footballs bearing the Manchester United club crest were being made by child labourers in India, working for as little as 6p an hour. child workers in Asia The scramble by governments to attract TNC investment has resulted in a ‘race to the bottom’ in working conditions, with the rights of working people sacrificed in order to create the ‘most attractive’ investment environment. Nike the multibillion sportswear company is regarded as the worst exploiter of workers. In China workers at Wellco Factory making shoes for Nike are paid 16 cents/hour, 11-12 hour shifts, 7 days a week.

Nike employs 35,000 mostly female workers in Vietnam, where verbal and sexual abuse are not uncommon for workers. For an eight-hour day they are paid on average $1-60 for making shoes that can retail for up to $165 in the States. As TNCs use their immense purchasing power to take over local markets, local firms are commonly swept aside. Employers in Malmesbury, England see a bonus in Dyson Appliance’s decision to relocate its factory in Malaysia, in order to remain competitive.

A local employer said: “I suppose in a perverse way this might help us”, because Dyson pays its employees the highest wages in the area, and its relocation would reduce wages. Most outward foreign direct investment from rich countries is not diverted to poor countries but to other rich countries. In the late 1990s, roughly 80% of the stock of America’s outward FDI was in Canada, Japan and Western Europe, and nearly all the rest was in middle-income developing countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand. The poorest developing countries accounted for only 1% of America’s outward FDI. This means that countries are embracing globalisation at a different pace.

The LDCs receive very little funds for investment while the MDCs receive high rates of FDI and can then create more wealth by utilising the funds. Anti-globalisation protesters in Genoa The WTO, IMF and WB remain constant points of criticism of globalisation. Their decisions are generally made in private, influenced by the multinational corporations and their allies in the developed countries’ governments. Given their corporate bias, many decisions favour expansion of the power, rights and dominance of the largest corporations, at the expense of smaller, local businesses from the communities they serve.

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