Gloria Spittel draws on crucial lessons learned to challenge the old paradigms of globalisation

The learning process is ceaseless – and lessons learnt today may need relearning or even unlearning in the future. While globalisation continues to evolve and drive the global economy, in its past and present avatars it has provided lessons on which to model or prevent developing future forms of globalisation. Here are some of them.

LESSON #1 Unfettered globalisation does not lead to equal outcomes across all countries or peoples. A substantial quantum of globalisation is based on international trade between nations but all international trade isn’t equal. While there are certain goods that only some countries can produce, trade terms and regulations can be so stringent that for instance increases in labour or operational costs could render a supplier of a product noncompetitive in the global market.

Furthermore, large mechanised farming, manufacturing and industrial processes outweigh production efficiencies, not to mention the output of human workers. This means that countries and organisations that can afford modern means of manufacturing are at an advantage when it comes to completing orders in a short time span and pricing competitively.

Protectionist and proprietary tendencies that skew global trade in products (and increasingly, in services through intellectual property rights) in favour of developed or more powerful trading nations also wreak havoc on local economies especially in important sectors (such as agriculture) of developing or emerging countries.

Those employed in the global services industry do not emerge unscathed from the effects of globalisation. While cross border employment especially in outsourcing hubs may pay higher wages and afford more employee benefits, these are low in comparison to the countries of origin as regards employment.

It can be argued that wages and benefits need to be maintained at certain levels to attract business in the first place. But sustainability cannot be built on a continued policy of lowered pay, which ultimately feeds global inequality. Additionally, lower wages and benefits prevent a locality from remaining and increasing its competitiveness due to the lack of funds for reinvestment either in labour or infrastructure.

LESSON #2 Globalisation has fostered rampant inequality around the world. While global job creation through product manufacturing and service delivery may have been aided by government policies supporting globalisation, labour policies have not kept pace – whether in terms of minimum wages, employee benefits or non-discrimination of employability within and across national borders.

As a result of short-sighted policies and highly competitive markets, globalisation has created and favoured an emerging global middle class in countries across the world – including China, Indonesia and India.

Unsurprisingly, globalisation continues to benefit the world’s top one percent in developed economies disproportionally. People at the bottom of the income ladder and the lower-middle class were not intentionally sidelined. But inefficient policies and insensitive attitudes meant that these individuals witnessed marginal incremental gains in their incomes, social stature and life opportunities.

In attempts to address these inequalities, some organisations have taken on community uplifting tasks through policies that advocate hiring from local areas, life skills training such as literacy in languages and IT, and other programmes that seek to provide assistance for social advancement and broadening of life opportunities.

However, these efforts (while not in vain) will be insufficient to redress the status quo, given the persistent and growing gap between the haves and have-nots.

LESSON #3 Environmental degradation has been a byproduct of ill planned globalisation policies. Deforestation for the development of factories, special economic zones, housing and increasing urbanisation will continue to have a damaging effect across the globe. It is directly and indirectly linked to climatic disruptions, as well as catastrophes such as flash floods, landslides, fires and other deadly man-made disasters.

Whether with respect to air, land or water, pollution continues to have a severe effect on the climate and health although regulations are being enacted. For example, advancing consumerism has a direct impact on the amount of waste produced each year. This in turn increases landfills and the methane gases from landfills are a detriment to the ozone layer, which spirals into various climate change issues.

From sustainable buildings and operations to sustainable consumerism, sustainability is touted as an elixir that will remedy the damaging effects globalisation has on the environment. Technological advancements such as those used in smart and green buildings increase energy efficiencies, while reducing harmful byproducts and associated costs.

Whether sustainability will reverse the damage done is left to be seen. But it may inspire a new norm in the way business is conducted and life is lived.

LESSON #4 Globalisation will continue its dominance. It is hard to imagine a world in which the systems and processes that are now commonplace are changed dramatically. However, it is clear that the developmental paths taken thus far have not benefitted all and nor have they been the most sustainable.

Within these realisations, there are opportunities for initiating policies and procedures that would be beneficial across different countries, peoples and industries.