Globalization and human rights (The Impact of Globalization on Human Rights)
Humanity has always been in the look out for change in search for better conditions. The widespread perception of change in the context of development is always associated with economic growth, characterized by increased production due to increased consumption of goods and services. In a normative sense, it serves as a social goal covering a wide sphere such as achieving high living standards, better material-well being, wider opportunities for quality education and work, being able to afford leisure activities, enjoy health care, or essentially the whole concept of a desirable material and social welfare.
This goal has shaped man’s history and political boundaries through the years. Today, the process of achieving them has evolved into a process called globalization.
What the world is witnessing in this generation is an increasing rate of integration of economies of the world into one capitalistic political zone, dictated by a neo-liberal free market ideology.
This is the current world order better known as “globalization”. Although it is being referred to as the “new order”, it is not entirely a new phenomenon. The world has seen it evolving through the years and it is gaining momentum day by day. Instead of a world economy based on national markets, it has shifted into a global market economy that transcends political borders and which is increasingly being governed by a common set of rules. In essence, globalization connotes economic liberalization by developing a global financial system and a transnational system of production based on a homogenized law of value.
Globalization is bringing the world smaller and smaller as people around the globe are able to connect to each other more than ever before. It has brought a faster flow of information and money, and goods and services produced in one part of the world are readily made available in different parts of the world. International travel has drastically increased and international communication has become commonplace. This phenomenon has been referred to as “globalization”. The current times is preferably being termed as “The Era of Globalization” just as certain particular periods of history were described as the Depression, the Roaring 20’s, the Space Age, and the Cold War Era. Globalization is more than just global business. Social activists, journalists, labor organizers, and many others also operate in a global scale (K.Porter. “Globalization: What Is It?”).
What contributed to the development of globalization was the demise of the Cold War which allowed the emergence of a new aggressive level of competitiveness in the global economic order. As newly industrialized countries and other developing countries are being integrated, globalization spread out. Market liberalization thru globalization had contributed to the economic growth of certain countries, but more are raising questions concerning the negative impacts that it has brought into the developing societies. Globalization had been described by Richard Barnet of the Institute of Policy Studies into four webs of global commercial activity: the global financial network, the global workplace, the global cultural bazaar, and the global shopping mall. (C. Collins, “A World in Mutation”). A new culture searching for quick profits has been created by the global financial market. There is also an increasing mobility of jobs creating global workplaces, boosting international labor migration. The global cultural bazaar on the other hand creates uniformity of cultural values and products to be desired across the world. This had influenced billions of people, molding their goals and unifying their tastes and attitudes towards one directed fantasy lifestyle. Consequently, such a scenario serves as the perfect host for global trading, and we see today an unprecedented increase in buying and selling of goods as well as services among countries. A ‘planetary supermarket’ has been created, where cultural bazaar and shopping malls merge through media advertising. Media plays a key role in the globalization process and had been used in fact as a medium to influence the culture and increase the power of the wealthy nations. Plainly speaking, globalization had allowed transnational companies to shift their manufacturing units to cheaper labor costs offered by developing countries. Moreover, although globalization has opened equal opportunities for nations to sell their products, less developed countries that are less ready and capable to compete aggressively in the open market, would often become a dumping site for products owned by wealthy companies. Meanwhile, local companies suffer from stiff competition and would sometimes cause them to trim down on labor and employment. In turn, unemployment rises causing more and more people to be displaced as they seek jobs across borders, separating families. More often, they are brought into inhuman conditions for lower wages. This clearly illustrates that globalization is a complex process that transcends various levels: economic, political and even cultural.
II. Relation of Development, Globalization, and Human Rights
The spread of globalization has affected and changed the lifestyle of the people of not one but practically all countries that are directly participating in the system. It has been advertised as a tool for economic advancement. However, its implementation has also brought on less desirable effects, as well as the good. It has raised crucial issues concerning human rights policies and legal questions. Is globalization of the market-oriented economic system necessary for development? Does it truly advance the cause and the protection of human rights? There are certain obstacles in answering this question, one of which are the opposing views of human rights concept held by Western countries in contrast to that of developing countries (G.M. Chunakara, “Globalization and Its Impact on Human Rights”).
Human rights in its basic definition refer to the universal rights, or status of every human being, regardless of legal jurisdiction or other factors such as ethnicity, sex, and nationality (See Wikipedia. “Human Rights”). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 outlined a “common standard of achievement” as a guideline for the future of human rights, serving as the cornerstone in international human rights regime. Three points were highlighted in the growing importance of human rights in international relations: (1) first point is the proliferation in the scope and number of human rights instruments, which even expands further across three “generation” of rights; (2) secondly, it traces the regime’s increased focus to implementation as evidenced by mechanisms within instruments and the activities of new players in the regime; (3) lastly, the concept of human rights places limits on state sovereignty. Human rights or individual sovereignty with these points in mind remains to be a subject of intense debate and change (J. Coicaud, M. Doyle & A. Gardner. “The Globalization of Human Rights”). Therefore nations are still in a quandary as to the definition of human rights, or to be exact, having more difficulty in determining whose rights must be protected.
If development can only be viewed in terms of what has been previously discussed, then it can be surmised that globalization or international trade and commerce has brought greater economic opportunities such as new opportunities for workers, cheaper prices for commodities, and bigger returns for investors. It has birthed a remarkable tiny global elite benefiting from this world order. But there is a group of people who fall on the other side of this deal — billions of lives for decades to come, who will continue to experience much lack and want.
In connection to this issue, the national governments had taken it upon themselves to take responsibility in leading the protection of the people’s rights, as marketplaces that were once locally operated and governed by the local communities has shifted from local to international. Still, others have expressed doubts as to who is truly in control — the national governments or the multinational corporations who are allegedly the ones steering the national government to create policies which favor them to operate with less restriction.
Unlike popular perception, the disadvantages of globalization have their effect both to the wealthy as well as on poor nations. The world’s poorest nations are held by the neck, from rules imposed by international lending institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Threats include cutting off foreign credit to coerce poor governments to submit to a strict free-market theology, the selling of publicly-owned resources, adjusting budget allocations, and deregulation.
Wealthy nations are not spared from the harsh effects of globalization. As barriers to foreign investment is eliminated, multinational corporations had been given rights through free trade agreements to convert natural resources into commodities for sale, and to take legal action against rules and restrictions to their operations. Employees are also experiencing instability to job security to the point of blackmail as multinationals can now make more cuts on spending on production costs by taking parts of their operations offshore, as developing countries scramble to underbid each other in offering cheap labor. Several major airlines now have their accounting done in India, computer software are being developed in Bangalore, India from a computer software company from the United States. Car companies like BMW, Daewoo and Hyundai have set up manufacturing units in Vietnam. Developing countries had established Export Processing Zones which caters to the needs of the transnational companies. Unfortunately this has been described by the International Labor Resource and Information Group based at the University of Cape Town as the race downhill. Competition and survival pull down workers to race to the bottom, and rock bottom means slave like conditions.
The movement of work to less developed countries does not automatically transfer the Western’s level of prosperity to the host countries. Certainly, there are short-term advances in the living standards of a small group of workers. But nevertheless, they should not sit on their laurels as some workers elsewhere lead the race to the bottom, and those much coveted jobs may eventually disappear. Another situation has arisen wherein certain governments of developing countries has lost control over the flow of financial capital, so much as to lose the entire control of their own economies.
The physical distance of these global institutions serves as a natural wall of protection from the average citizens who might choose to oppose.
III. The Effect of Globalization on Human Rights
There is an emerging battle over economic globalization concerning human rights and development. Globalization is not the issue, but the rules that that and will govern it. Rules are certainly needed, but if they had been framed by the wealthiest corporations and individuals set to make a profit, how can it be possible for them to make rules that will protect people, instead of fortunes? Is it capable of putting the welfare of the majority’s rights and not to a wealthy few? Could it make policies that would entail them to make sacrifices on their pockets? (J. Schultz. “Corporate Globalization Impacting Human Rights”).
Added capital poured in by transnational companies is welcomed by developing countries like miraculous ‘manna’ sent down from heaven. And yet, globalization is dangerously tipping the scale of pros and cons, with the weight becoming heavier and heavier on its disadvantages. It cannot be denied that globalization has done its own share of benefits —especially to an elite few, and a privileged few work forces.
It is a fact that with the onset of globalization, the debt of the developing nations has considerably intensified, driving the majority of its people to poorer living conditions, and bringing them closer and closer to economic crises. Roberto Verzola, a Filipino social activist of the Philippines once said that globalization today is what colonization was one hundred years ago (R. Verzola. Asia-APEC Internet Message).
Like the wars waged between colonizers and local natives, globalization too has its winners and losers. Since trade, market, foreign investment has expanded, developing countries are witnessing the gap between them widen as well. Liberalization is like a pill that heals one disease but brings other damaging side effects. It has been accompanied by greater inequality, with many trapped in utter poverty. Unemployment has soared to higher levels, with disparity among income widening. Arguably, globalization has been characterized as a vehicle for improved productivity, opportunity, technological progress and has brought the world closer, but it has violated and ravaged human rights. An increase in economic impoverishment coupled with social disparities, is not in aid of humanity’s well-being. When man is stripped off of its ability to live and work in decent conditions because of the cunningness and swiftness to take advantage by the mighty few, there is a clear violation of human rights. Development expressed by the upliftment of the standard of living must flow down to lower levels of society. If the bulk of wealth is siphoned upward to a few, it creates a vacuum at the lower level, leaving many people gasping for a few drops of resources to survive. It is true that some parts of the world today are living in abject condition, with a number of families living with less than half a dollar a day for each member. Those that have less opportunity than this, have to content themselves with dreams of hitting the jackpot on game shows that offers easy money, but on the meantime sleeps with an empty stomach. More children are forced to give up on education and a chance for a better life. Moral decay is seeping in as people from these developing nations feel deprived of the luxuries aggressively advertised and molded by Western culture, takes the shorter route by means of high tech prostitution via the internet.
Like the bitter pill that must be taken in, globalization is necessary as well as damaging. Developing countries swallow it —since they are left with no choice. Chanting for the total eradication of globalization is simply unrealistic, and to continue to do so would find one standing in the stage of rhetoric. It makes for interesting discussion with no application. If we simply look at the structure of power and inequality in the world, then we would simply see the gigantic obstacles to achieving global justice.
Though there is a lack of international democratic processes and institutions which greatly impedes global justice, but with the “global justice movement” — there is hope. With the growing realization of neoliberalism’s injustices, increasing accessibility in forming global justice alliances, and increasing support for global taxation as a source of funding for development projects aimed at developing countries again, — there is hope (S. George.“Global Poverty or Global Justice?”).
The United Nations University World Institute for Development and Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) is urging governments to reconsider their global development strategies. Development that improves the quality of life must be achieved with politicians reshaping international regulations to balance social progress with economic growth. A “new consensus on development” must be made to pave the way for poor countries to make their own political choices while having a voice in international decision-making (D. Nayyar. “Development through Globalization?”).
International governing bodies and even transnational companies on the other hand, can take their cue from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s model for successful international politics. These points were taken from the World Cup: “accountability, conversation and analysis, equality, and willingness to learn from other countries” (Annan, K.“At the UN, How We Envy the World Cup”). If taken seriously by all global players, all can work on the improvement of human conditions, by promoting laws and guidelines that protect even the most basic human rights — and this is not far from possible.
Hoping against hope, a win-win solution is possible.
1. Porter, K. “Globalization: What Is It?”. http://globalization.about.com/cs/whatisit/a/whatisit.htm
2. Cited in Collins, C. “A World in Mutation”. WSCF Journal, December 1995
3. Chunakara, G. M. “Globalization and Its Impact on Human Rights”.
4. “Human Rights”. From Wikipedia.
5. Edited by Coicaud,J., Doyle, M., and Gardner, A. “The Globalization of Human Rights”.
6. Schultz, J. “Corporate Globalization Impacting Human Rights”.
7. Verzola, R. Asia-APEC Internet Message, August 16, 1996.
8. George, S.“Global Poverty or Global Justice?”. June 2006.
9. Nayyar, D. “Development through Globalization?”. March 2006.
10. Kofi, A. “At the UN, How We Envy the World Cup”. International Herald Tribune. June 9, 2006. http://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/cultural/2006/0609kofifootball.htm
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