moral globalist: making globalization work
Globalization is often accused of harming domestic jobs, and accusations of
Americanization are not too far away. May 1, 2001 protests in Australia saw
anti-globalization advocates take to McDonald's restaurants. The author refers
to moral globalists: those who do not see a distinction between themselves and
fellow world citizens in other nations, who can help ensure that the forces
of globalization help those most in need instead of marginalizing them. One
key to this global social justice is the use of branding techniques, coupled
Globalization is hurting our jobs: let's trash McDonald's!
THOSE residing outside the United States often hear charges
of American cultural invasion. They see McDonald's, 7-Eleven, Baywatch
and other American exports become part of their daily life.
The charge has been directed toward designers,
amongst others. Those that do not undertake to make use of a national
identity in, for instance, a web site, or adopting a dot com address,
risk being accused of Americanization. I know of a number of non-American
ecommerce outlets that price in US dollars. I have met numerous
people in New Zealand, where my publication Lucire is headquartered,
who believe it to be American, rather than global, despite our tagline,
'The global fashion magazine'. In these examples alone, it appears
some have equated globalization with Americanization.
Culture is seen as an integral part of national
identity. In an increasingly global societywhich includes
the internet and a growing awareness of the planet as an environmental
unitthere are logically concerns that national identities
are being diminished. Yet what seems to grow stronger are international
brands. They are not necessarily American (Seiko, Mercedes-Benz,
Nokia, Elle are Japanese, German, Finnish and French) but
many are (Coca-Cola, Vogue, McDonald's), because American
companies have capitalized on the free-market forces.
The most poignant example as I write are May 1
protests in Sydney, Australia, against international trade. McDonald's
branches were targeted. They were attacked and protesters sprayed
graffiti on their premises. In Wellington, New Zealand, a city branch
of the restaurant had to be closed, with police forming a cordon
to prevent the same happening.
History is filled with similar examples, and not
always directed at the United States. Graphic designers may remember
a Swiss movement that saw the growth in the use of the Helvetica
typeface. Some Americans believe there is a strong eastern influence
these days, with Hollywood adopting ideas from Hong Kong Chinese
film-making (not to mention its stars). Everyone is concerned with
their own identity being changed or moulded with another.
Yet given the way we would like our society to
develop, we should not stop these forces. They are in fact far less
harmful than the pessimists would like to have us believe.
Is it progress?
Free-trade protesters are spurred by the fear that globalization
has cost jobs. There is an associated concern over environmental
damage. Sue Bradford, a New Zealand Green Party MP, put forward
a powerful argument, backed by real-life examples, in September
[We] recognize that there are
limited resources on Earth and if a small group of [the world's
richest] own or control big chunks of it, there is less for everybody
The accumulating wealth of these people and companies
comes at a pricenot only through deprivation of resources
and wealth for smaller, developing nations, but also through environmental
degradation and the exploitation of the people who make the goods
and supply the labour to create these profits.
The Green Party deplores the sweatshops of South
Asia where Chinese workers earn 23¢ an hour and Bangladeshis 1¢
an hour, with no union or human rights.
New Zealand has unfortunately been a world leader
in the ideology of globalization. We have removed nearly all the
protections for local production and have sold off or privatized
huge chunks of our economy to foreign interests.
These changes have led to lower wages, increased
unemployment and the absurd situation where we import goods which
we should be making ourselvessuch as pet food, biscuits, clothing
and footwear. …
Over the past 30 years the environment has been
damaged more than in the whole history of human life on Earth …
Ms Bradford is right in the results of deregulation and globalization:
New Zealand's deregulation since 1984 has seen its GNP drop substantially
compared with other rich nations. Economist John Kay, in the
Financial Times, called New Zealand's post-1984 performance
'dismal', its economic progress slower
than that of its former rival countries. However, blame cannot lie
solely with the philosophy behind globalization, but rather how
individuals have coped with it.
Ms Bradford and her Green Party colleagues are
correct in joining protesters to raise awareness of the issues that
concern them. Being active is far more productive than engaging
in mere rhetoric. The plight of sweatshop workers and the damage
to the environment need to be highlighted and it is admirable that
a Member of Parliament sees no difference between the governors
and the governed. Many of her fellow politicians would dare not
roll up their sleeves.
Those who are responsible for the damage, however,
are not necessarily globalization advocates. They have simply capitalized
on globalizing forces.
Nike is often attacked by labour groups worldwide,
and even the company itself now calls the treatment of Indonesian
workers 'disturbing'. It has shifted production to Indonesia because
of its low cost and had not guarded against the exploitation of
workers that included 'verbal and physical abuse' and where 'female
employees at two of its factories were coerced into having sex with
managers to get hired and promoted'. The experience is unlike, for
instance, Sweden's Hennes & Mauritz AB, which has a code of
conduct and was consequently able to refute allegations printed
in Aftonbladet about poor treatment of workers. Hennes
& Mauritz regularly visits its factories to ensure compliance.
These high-profile examples show both the unacceptable
and acceptable faces of globalization. The latter's acceptable aspects
are in its respect of fundamental human rights and the improvement
of living standards in Cambodia. Free trade has helped H&M be
more profitable. Its Swedish headquarters can concentrate on research
and development, creating value-added products. The income generated
from the profit has helped grow H&M and consequently, the Swedish
economy. Sweden's shift to value-added products and a government
active in reducing the number of jobless has seen unemployment fall
steadily since January 1999. (By contrast, c. 70 per cent
of New Zealand's exports remain in the primary sector.)
Yet this also brings concern, for it could centre
wealth on a rich nation while the poor factory workers are paid
a pittance. 'The difference between the income level of the top
20 per cent and the bottom per cent has been widening and is now
around 1 to 37,' wrote UN Under-Secretary-General Nitin Desai in
the Earth Times News.
The difference between the exploiter and the "moral
globalist" is the educational aspect. A corporate culture more inclined
to treating fellow humans with decency is the key to making globalization
work. To create justice, there needs to be more globalizationnot
the forces that serve to marginalize the poor and repeat the social
injustices that are represented by the Nike example. What I support
is a dismantling in the way we see a separation between nations;
those in economically poor nations are our equals.
In a standard economic argument, those with access
to higher technologies should use them for the betterment of their
own nation (I use this word for the ease of description), creating
wealth through value-added services and innovations. Those who can
best produce the innovation given current market structures should
do so. Such a scenario relies on globalization.
Using another explanation, the treatment of workers
in third-world countries, for instance, by corporations reflects
on their brand equity, as Nike and others have found. In the 21st
century, there is a growing awareness of the honour and integrity
behind the brands, given that they have become increasingly powerful.
As corporations become more global the actions of its individuals
become more important: misbehaviour by the CEO or impolite service
by a clerk are communicated with greater impetus via email and other
media. Because of their intrusion into people's lives, corporations
have in many ways switched roles with nations, many of which have
tried to reduce the size of their governments. Thus, audiences have
become interested in the substance behind the façade.
The concern of the widening gap is then addressed
by the market. This is not a pure economic model as advanced by
Friedman and others, but one that is based around branding. The
marketor more correctly the audiencewill purchase because
of the sincerity behind the brand and how the corporation behind
it treats its workers. Since information is becoming easier to get,
it is likely that the modern consumer is more knowledgeable. Abuses
could be quickly propagated through viral email campaigns. Already,
the largest companies are learning that consumers are tiring of
big-brand stances, with their revenues falling, for reasons of market
segmentation and, I believe, awareness of their corporate citizenship.
Citizens are swayed more by the intangibles of emotions and brands
than the hard economic data of globalization.
Should jobs leave one country in favour of another
where wages are lower, then there is exceptional potential for retraining
and upskilling the newly unemployed. From the perspective of corporate
citizenship, there is potential for the corporation to partner with
a group of training organizations. This may bear a cost but the
benefits from being a good corporate citizen are invaluable from
a brand-equity standpoint. In a corporate world that is driven by
financials as much as PR and brand equity (though all are interrelated),
such actions improve an organization's profile considerably, measurable
in terms of goodwill. On a simpler note, it is part of carrying
out a duty, doing the right thing.
The Green Party's protests serve more to highlight
that decency is lacking when the earth's resources are raped or
its citizens are abused, rather than a fault with globalization
which seeks, at least in its ideal form, to ensure everyone can
fulfil their desired purpose in life with a respect for our environment.
The key is raising consciousness about how we can direct globalizing
forces for good. That takes education and a way to shift our focus
from national views to world views. (To some degree it is about
addressing our planet's need for spiritual development versus technological
or economic development.)
To take an example that has already begun, there
is a growing awareness amongst the young of the effect of rainforest
destruction because they do not see that as happening in a "foreign"
nation, but on our planet. It may take positive examples where moral
globalists have empowered people, not just in commerce, but in social,
health and human rights' programmes.
One should also remember that the causes that
Ms Bradford and others have protested for have come to their attention
through global media flows and a rising, healthy awareness that
third-world workers are our own fellow citizens. They are themselves
a positive example of globalization: those who are concerned enough
to take a stand for fellow humans and for the planet's well-being.
America, the international police nation
Linked to globalization is the perception of Americanization. As
the world's remaining superpower, the United States' actions influence
other nations. In my work, the internet is a strong example: our
readership rises and falls depending on American holidays. Summer
breaks at universities affect us. Our hits drop on Thanksgiving
Day. But American peace efforts in the middle east, the Balkans
or Ireland, for example, are just as important as they are reported
widely and internationally by the media. The US has to be involved
in such efforts, largely to safeguard national interests. She has
learned the hard way in the last century that isolationism meant
more difficulties in the long run: her 1930s behaviour only meant
a more costly fight against Axis powers during World War II. Other
nations that practised isolationism have found the need to catch-up:
the gap between the rest of the world and Communist China, for example,
was highlighted most when Premier Deng opened the People's Republic's
doors in the mid-1970s. And in more recent times, the United States
has learned that shallow, TV-camera diplomacy failed to impress
leaders such as Milosevic. The human misery in the Balkans could
have been avoided if substance was delivered with the words. I hope
that within the Bush administration, particularly given the talents
of the Secretary of State and the National Security Adviser, the
"cruise control" mentality in "solving" international conflict has
been turned off.
But all these US efforts are almost always matched
by accusations of imperialism and protesters with 'Yankee go home'
placards. It is not surprising that many American voters would prefer
less involvement offshore because it can be a thankless task.
As these are communicated through the media, nations
outside the US become concerned over their own culture. Rather than
create innovations that can be exported into other nations' homes
along with their national style, or brands that can be communicated
with their own philosophy, some raise the spectre of Americanization.
The French have been good at resisting Americanization through powerful
marketing campaigns for luxury goods such as Moët champagne
or Hennessey brandy. The Japanese have done so not only through
automobiles but children's products such as Anime cartoons. In the
light of such possibilities, claims of an American hegemony seem
to be based around an unwillingness to be creative. Americanization
is a myth created through state envy. The complainants could have
relied on globalization themselves to market their national images
but chose not to.
If such complaints are offered sincerely,
and that those extending them believe that globalization is Americanization,
then the only realistic long-term solution is, ironically, continued
globalization to a point where all cultures are considered equal.
The global society
At a very basic level, we see a global society emerge on
the internet. The examples have often been cited elsewhere. If there
are any boundaries on the internet, then they are along language
lines. That problem is being gradually solved through improving
online translation services that, while not perfect, seek to promote
the importance of different cultures and their languages.
The online community is already an example of
how global and local interact. People communicate across national
barriers while regional and local distinctions are retained through
physical (offline) social groups. Within the same language, Americans
have little trouble accepting a piece spelt in British English.
This is why we have retained Oxford English and Hart's Rules
for the majority of our publications: there has been neither resistance
nor protest from our readers. Reading something published in British
English is as acceptable as driving a Japanese car or wearing a
It is through globalization that regional and
local differences can emerge and be championed. Individuals' effortswhether
they be this paper or Ms Bradford's essay from which I quotedcan
come to the fore and reach more people. With cheaper air travel,
we can personally communicate our views to others.
Most importantly, we should see the moral globalist
surface. We should educate tomorrow's citizens with global responsibility
in mind and there are encouraging signs that tell us we are on the
right paththough far more needs to be done. The separations
that have kept nations at odds with one another and fuelled misunderstanding
are unnecessary and wasteful. Corporate structures that force the
marginalization of the poor cannot survive because of an increasingly
globally conscious and information-rich consumer who is more aware
and desirous of the truth. The fault lies not with globalization,
but how we have managed to useor more accurately, misuseour
path. The misuses can, refreshingly, end overnight, by our simply
making a choice for the betterment of everyone on this planet. Jack
PDF edition of this article with footnotes (94 kbyte).
Jack Yan is editor of CAP and CEO of Jack Yan & Associates.
Home | Features
Your feedback is welcome