CONSCIOUS CONSUMERISM: Shaping Globalization through the Empowerment of the People
Shaping Globalization through the Empowerment of the People
Dagny A. Tucker
COPYRIGHT 2004 Dagny A. Tucker
Consumerism in the United States
An Ingrained Ideology
Organizations Leading the Way:
International Monetary Fund
World Trade Organization
“Export Processing Zones”
One Dollar One Vote
Cultural and Natural Capitalism, Care Ethics and the New Paradigm
Challenges to Being a Conscious Consumer
Tools of Change
Dedicated to my Mother
Whose greatest desire was
“to help others”
The greatest of thanks to Merrin Slocombe
For her unending patience, advice, editing and most importantly…friendship.
To Howard Richards,
Without you and your inspiration
this thesis would not have been possible.
Last but certainly not least…
Thank you my dear, dear friend.
“All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.”
Simply living. It has turned into quite a job in and of itself in this modern world. Dynamic. This single word describes an unquestionable universal reality of the world in which we live. Even the most remote villages in the furthest regions experience processes of transformation. At relatively faster and faster paces change confronts and at times, confounds us. Thus, it is imperative that societies do not allow the rapid dynamics of modernity to disempower the people themselves.
Humanity’s social structures, experiences, and interactions often represent a kind of social tautomerism. Despite vastly different experiences in each of our own unique worlds, a golden thread seems to stretch across dynamics of time, space, culture and human experience. And so, the need to provide for basic human rights and to protect our biosphere has transcended general differences.
The human experience tends to be no less than overwhelming. Most people express concern for and a desire to help others. At the same time, social institutions of modernity, including capitalism and advertising, have made it challenging to feel completely provided for ourselves. The linchpin is to deconstruct illusionary experiences of isolation and individual powerlessness in creating change. The challenge is in diffusing the sense of helplessness, recognizing where individuals’, communities’ and nations’ power lies and then empowering society with useful tools to contribute in positive ways.
Due to enormous purchasing power, U.S. citizens hold a major key in shaping worldwide human rights, environmental practices and the process of globalization though increased consciousness concerning products purchased. Every dollar spent supports the practices of companies from which we buy. Consider purchases as donations to charities. As with a charity only those companies choosing to operate as socially responsible organizations should be endorsed. Under the current capitalist structure, worldwide practices are absolutely dependent upon monetary support. If the consumer public only endorses ethical human rights and environmentally responsible policies then only companies with those policies will survive and succeed.
The barrier to this simple means of creating change is acquiring the knowledge to make well-informed choices about the products purchased. With such an abundance of goods available it is exceptionally difficult, in fact nearly impossible, for the consumer to investigate and evaluate the production of each item. What little help the government gives is in deciphering whether or not products are safe for the user. No consideration is given to how and under what conditions the products are produced. Options do exist, though, to eliminating this barrier.
Through the examination of the economics of consumerism, its effects globally, the potential for transformation and the new paradigm of cultural capitalism, the reader will come to understand why conscious consumerism is of utmost importance to his/her life and the future of the global community. With that understanding we will explore the possibilities in overcoming obstacles for consumers and look at potential solutions for providing concise and easily accessible information about products on the market and the companies that produce them.
Consumerism in the United States
“There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.”
- Henry David Thoreau
An Ingrained Ideology
“The fact that political ideologies are tangible realities is not a proof of their vitally necessary character. The bubonic plague was an extraordinarily powerful social reality, but no one would have regarded it as vitally necessary.”
Consumerism, through greater availability and mobility of products, the increase of advertising and the far- reaching embrace and/or imposition of its ideological value, is spreading throughout the world. A product of Western capitalistic society and economically manifested in the chronic purchasing of new goods and services, consumerism thrives on both actual and perceived need. Sklair in her assessment of global consumerism noted, in Globalization: Capitalism and its Alternatives, that the purpose of “global capitalism is to persuade people to consume not simply to satisfy biological needs, but in response to artificially created desires in order to perpetuate the accumulation of capital for private profit, in other words to ensure that the global capitalist system goes on for ever” (2002: 62).
The concept of mass consumption and the realization of its value (both perceived and real) dates back to the early 20th century. “Almost from its initial European settlement, America participated in an economy of commercial exchange, and gradually over the centuries a market revolution increased the amount of goods that Americans purchased rather than made at home” (Cohen, 2003: 21). Economist Thorstein Veblen developed the concept of “conspicuous consumption” in his Theory of the Leisure Class at the turn of the century (1899). He argued that there was more to consumption than the “rational economic theory. That, in fact, much of the economic motive superseded simply enriching oneself and moved in to a realm of “social emulation expressed though extravagant personal display” (Cohen, 2003: 9) in a race to reach standards set by the elite of the Gilded Age.
“The Progressive Era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries marked a significant shift toward recognizing the centrality of consumers to the nation’s economy and polity”(Cohen, 2003: 21). Consumers were given their own category in the make-up of American citizenry. The National Consumer League (NCL) was nationally visible and campaigned for its members to practice “ethical consumption”. Members were encouraged to use selective buying in order to pressure employers to maintain fair wages and safe working conditions for women and children.
The “White Label Campaign” sought to improve labor legislation, child labor laws and improvements in factory and retail work conditions. The campaign produced a label testifying to the “moral and sanitary” condition of factories producing white muslin underwear and urged consumers to protect themselves and laborers by only purchasing products bearing the label. According to the NCL, strategic consumerism was an integral strategy in assuring decent working conditions for labor (Laidler, 1913).
Richard Hofstadter contended that “It was in the Progressive era that the urban consumer first stepped forward as serious and self-conscious factor in American social politics”(1955: 170-73). It was at this time the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act were passed and consumers came to be seen as both in need of specific protections, and as an influential population of the general public.
Most of the regulations passed to protect the consumer were insignificant. The decade of the 1920s was dominated by business while consumer consciousness dimmed. “With so many exciting products few challenged the status quo by calling for stronger regulation”(Cohen, 2003:23). It was during this period that consumers first become overwhelmed and excited by the abundance of products. In terms of product safety, misleading advertising or unfair pricing, the government offered only minimal protections.
For the most part, manufacturers, businesses and advertisers were free to do as they saw fit in the new mass marketplace of the nation. A pro free market administration in Washington maintained that uninhibited business would allow for technological innovation and economic efficiencies that would serve the joint interests of both manufacturers and consumers. The free market would bring consumers the best products at the lowest prices. The “production, distribution, and purchase of standardized, brand-name goods aimed at the broadest possible buying public grew more prevalent” and the concept of mass consumption was born ( PRCST, 1933; Cohen, 2003: 22).
Consumers of the 1920s lost sight of themselves as influential participants in the formation and execution of economic power. That mind set would change though with the collapse of the economy and the onset of the Great Depression. In fact, the concept of the consumer, as an important component of the economic engine, was built into the New Deal ideology. In 1933 Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act and included on its committee representatives of the consuming public alongside that of business and labor.
Difficult times forced people to become more conscious about what and how they consumed. They began to remember their power as purchasers while at the same time began to urge the government to protect their rights in terms of safety and fair treatment in the marketplace. The buyer soon came to be seen as the key to economic recovery.
New Deal ideology held that under-consumption was behind the collapsed economy and that greater purchasing power was crucial to recovery. This theory gained significant support as Keynesian economics gained wider acceptance by both academic and government economists (Galbraith, 1952). Soon the consumption model began to permeate through every level of U.S. consciousness from government to business right on down to the everyday citizen. “By the end of the depression decade, invoking “the consumer” would become an acceptable way of promoting the public good, of defending the economic rights and needs of ordinary citizens. The importance of the consumer in public policy and in civic life was indisputable”(Cohen, 2003: 23).
In the post war era consumption become one of the most influential elements of American politics and culture. Mass consumption took the form of a new cultural dogma, in fact, a civic responsibility and as such enabled “full employment and increased living standards for the rest of the nation”(Life Magazine, May 1947). Being thrifty and saving money became downright un-American as “the prosperity of the nation could only grow with spending”.
Sentiments of the time held high hopes of the affluence to come and more citizens than ever before faced the reality of steady employment and home-ownership thanks to the new growth economy. “Faith in a mass consumption postwar economy hence came to mean much more than the ready availability of goods to buy. Rather it stood for an elaborate, integrated ideal of economic abundance and democratic political freedom, both equitably distributed, that became almost a national civil religion from the late 1940s into the 1970s”(Cohen, 2003: 114).
Conscious consumerism and mass consumption were practically born together. The first, in the wake of the second, has fallen to the wayside. The power of the consumer to shape policy has been nearly forgotten. The concept of consumption, on the other hand, has surged into the new millennium overflowing borders to stimulate and formulate the process of globalization. U.S. consumers have reached by far the highest consumption levels achieved by any civilization in human history (Durning, 1992).
It is easy to understand how much of our modern ideological dogma has become so attached to the concept of consumption. In fact, it is almost impossible to envision a successful America in any other way. Entrenched in the mindset of mainstream mentality is the concept of consumption as a necessity. In fact, it has been elevated to a level of survival almost considered as necessary as human reproduction. The act of consumption has attained “law of nature” status as opposed to the reality; that it is a societal construction of modern time. Albeit, one that has indisputably served the United States well in terms of material growth. But as societies progress so must our structures, whether ethereal or real we must rebuild and reshape to improve upon our past.
Patterns of consumption currently prevailing in the industrialized world are not sustainable particularly if the push to encourage similar patterns in the Southern hemisphere prevails. Growth in any kind of production involves social and ecological costs. The major problems arise when signs make evident that under the present development system the costs are outweighing benefits. Over exploitation of natural resources is clearly unsustainable in the long run. Globalization must be re-envisioned to not only protect capital, but also human rights, the environment and other social concerns.
“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”
- John Maynard Keynes
In the capitalist consumer culture people are so indoctrinated into the logic of the market that they cannot see anything wrong with what they are doing. “Our consumption of goods obviously is a function of our culture- only by producing and selling things and services does capitalism in its present form work, and the more that is produced and the more that is purchased the more we have so called “progress and prosperity”. The single most important measure of economic growth, after all, is the gross national product (GNP), the sum total of goods and services produced by a given society in a given year. It is a measure of the consumer society, obviously, to consume” (Robbins, 1999: 209-210).
Because society is so entrenched in consumerism it no longer even questions market ideology, and therefore unwittingly contributes to its own oppression as well as to the oppression of the laborers who actually produce the goods and provide services. Under the current capitalist structure, convincing the public to continuously buy more than is necessary is the key to maintaining a healthy economy:
Buying = Producing = Importing/Developing = Employment = Healthy Economy (growth)
Assuring sellers that they will reap profits has become the overriding imperative. Simply put it’s a mathematical formula in which no room exists for an “x” or “e” representing “ethics” (Richards, unpublished: notes). Pragmatism to maximize profits is elevated to an official dogma. Given the current global situation we now have a very “practical need to overcome recurrent crises to prevent systematic catastrophe, without critical thinking and transcendental ethical standards the pragmatic approach leads to a highly fragmented problem-solving pattern, with the overriding focus on quantifiable economic gain” (Nef, 2003: 132).
The logics of exchange and of rational man that are built into the constitutive rules of capitalism now define the social structure of consumerism.
“…the circularity contained in the concept of rational economic man, the assumption that to be rational is to maximize one’s own utilities, can now be
recognized as a statement from the perspective of the capitalist that is inconceivable that one could act in any other way. And of course, it is a materially defining feature of the existence of the capitalist firm that it must seek to maximize utilities (profits) or go out of business. The isolation of individuals from each other in a world structured by institutions can now be understood as rooted in the experience of exchange, and the inadequate account of human community that results from such an understanding must be seen as replicating at the level of theory the real poverty of communities constructed by exchange” (1985: 125-126).
The Rousseanian assumption is that human beings are inherently good and that it is societal structures that corrupt them. The goal then must be to make visible and accessible the constitutive rules, instead of taking them for granted, resulting in an awareness of the difference between pseudo-pragmatism and real pragmatism. Essentially, it becomes the difference between viewing capitalism as an unchangeable scientific fact or as a social structure mutable and constantly evolving with the will and input of society (Richards, 2000). Capitalism is a tool of exchange and conscious consumerism must once again become an obvious and accessible tool of shaping the process and conduct of that exchange.
“We live in a world of things, and our only connection with them is that we know how to manipulate or to consume them.”
The United States of America is a body of incredibly diverse peoples with incredibly different thoughts and habits. In terms of the American consumer though, there are three important and distinct groups of buyers.
The first group is that of the educated indifferent. A generally small group, it does represent the minor fallout of Rousseanian assumption. This group is economically well off and generally has been, or has the ability to be, educated. The most prominent of the conspicuous consumer, it is this group that may knowingly engage in unethical consumption. Comprised mostly of educated and often fairly well-traveled people, this group has the exposure that is helpful in conceptualizing and understanding global interconnectedness and the effects of U.S. consumption on the rest of the world. It is also this group of the public that generally chooses to “disconnect”, as opposed to accepting responsibility as conscious consumers.
The second group is that of “mainstream America”. This is the collection of Americans that are somewhat educated and comprise the economic middleclass. Usually isolated in middle size towns and communities this group rarely travels beyond the borders of the United States with possible exceptions being the uncommon trip to Mexico or Canada. Conceptions of other nations are largely drawn from television and newspapers with little real experience on which to base those perceptions. This group generally has little to no comprehension of the possible effects of their consumerism on the rest of the globe.
The third group is the responsible consumer. This group is generally educated and well traveled but economically often make up a good portion of the lower tax brackets. Comprised of individuals with a strong understanding of an interconnected world and the effects of consumption around the globe. This group has already proven itself a strong initiator and supporter of the conscious consumerism movement.
“The advertising industry is one of our most basic forms of communication and, allegedly, of information. Yet, obviously, much of this ostensible information is not purveyed to inform but to manipulate and to achieve a result — to make somebody think he needs something that very possibly he doesn’t need, or to make him think one version of something is better than another version when the ground for such a belief really doesn’t exist.”
– Marvin E. Frankel
The United States has become a culture where you are defined by what you buy. Things that are cool in ads become what is cool in real life. Jokes that are funny on television become the jokes that are talked about and funny in real life. The fact that global spending on advertising reached $446 billion in 2002 (in 2001 dollars), an almost nine-fold increase over 1950, is a direct contributor to this delusional reality (Worldwatch, 2004). U.S. markets account for more than half of all advertising spending. One cannot help but recognize the relationship between advertising and spending (why else would companies advertise if not to increase consumption of their product!).
Advertising panders to societal constructions of perceived needs, self worth, success (i.e. conspicuous consumption), independence, self-reliance…the list goes on and on. Advertisings’ knack for exploiting insecurities has reached even the most personal realms of human life with monitors flashing advertisements above the urinals in many public restrooms. If you feel insecure, or even if you don’t, you can be sure that advertising will expose your insecurity and the product to go with it will soon arrive to fill your deepest voids.
American society often looks upon the developing world as being oppressed by poverty, unjust governments and outright war. But we as a society “often neglect to see our own domination by mass advertising, commercial brainwashing and corporate conspiracies” (Piccolo, vol. 4: issue 1). The concept of consumption is one in which American society imagines to be an individual behavior outside the scope of social concern and/or policy. As we know though, this view is exceptionally vulnerable when you take into account advertising or product availability (what actually makes it to the store shelf). The conventional view holds that consumers are rational and well informed.
What is “rational” though after three hours exposure to television advertising and an average of 3000 marketing messages per day? Much less the probable effects product placements in movies and on television has on the subconscious of our conspicuous consumption culture. Furthermore, how well informed is it possible to be when companies change names through the creation of subsidiaries and are “unaccountable for the policies of developing countries”?
The concept of simply consuming to fulfill needs and wants with quality durables has been surpassed. More and more, society is pushed through advertising and other forms of persuasion, to quickly discard the old and thus participate in a planned obsolescence. America is increasingly consuming mainly “disposable goods”, a trend that will only serve to increase the consumption of poor quality products. Both image and the temporality of goods feed into this cycle of purchasing. “Products are made psychologically obsolete long before they actually wear out” (Sklair, 2002: 62). Little attention is given to actual need, quality of product, where or how it is produced or what social, economic or environmental effects may stem from the production and consumption of a given good. Mainstream America has little conception that what they purchase has to come from somewhere and that the production of each and every little product has effects.
“We must ensure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global social needs, and that all the world’s people share the benefits of globalization.”
The concepts and realities of “globalization” have become esoteric, the word itself fuzzy with numerous interpretations. This chapter will make clear processes taking place as part of the overall effect of globalization. Some processes in particular that are clearly adverse to the growth of sustainable communities, whole countries and the overall health of humanity in general. The idea that we will somehow stop globalization is no longer plausible. We must focus instead on shaping globalization and the processes that will shape the future of our world.
Globalization, first and foremost an economic process, operates with the capitalist system as its single most significant driving force. The global economy currently demands the primacy of economic growth, absence of government regulation, an unrestricted “free market”, need for free trade to stimulate growth, a uniform worldwide development model and voracious consumerism. The institutions of modernity that support the global system tend to make ethical questions irrelevant (Richards, unpublished).
We now understand that “…massive poverty in the modern sense appeared only when the spread of the market economy broke down community ties and deprived millions of people from access to land, water and other resources”(Escobar, 1997: 22). The possibility of returning entirely to isolated, local living is a far-gone reality. But through better understanding of globalization and with conscious choices we can encourage a world that supports both the local and global in a sustainable and peaceful partnership.
Organizations Leading the Way (for better or worse…)
“If the hope of the world lies in human consciousness, then it is obvious that intellectuals cannot go on forever avoiding their large responsibility for the world…Intellectuals should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the misery of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden manipulations, and should be chief doubters of power and incantations.”
INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND
“Not only countries seeking their [IMF] help but also those seeking their ‘seal of approval’ so that they can better access international capital markets must follow their economic prescriptions, prescriptions which reflect their free market ideologies and theories.”
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were created in 1944 at a conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and are now based in Washington, DC. “Established after World War II as mutual assistance organizations through which all member countries could help each other with post-war reconstruction and development as well as with balance-of-payment problems”(Woods, 2003: 9). Since their origins the mandates of the IMF and World Bank have shifted dramatically, now lending only to developing or transition countries usually in deep financial trouble.
Decisions made by the IMF regarding whether or not to grant loans can have a tremendous effect on application countries. The IMF has become a benchmark for foreign private investors on the reliability of a country and denial of loans by the IMF or the refusal of a country to accept the terms of the loan may have severe and deleterious repercussions. The loans are levied heavily on conditions of multifaceted reforms in the borrowers economic policies. According to recent figures, over the last 20 years, both institutions have dramatically increased the conditions put on loans, now extending into the budgets and policies of such areas as health care and education.
The power that such multilateral bodies have in a climate of unbridled globalism is tremendous. Theoretically the IMF emphasizes three points: rigor and transparency, growth centered on human development, and government reform. Unfortunately the IMF and World Banks have very little in place addressing answerability. It is very difficult to ascertain whether or not these are the goals they are in fact pursuing. With the wide range of tasks now performed and broad spectrum of influence wielded, it is more critical then ever that these institutions be held accountable.
Unlike influential governments, international institutions are not elected by invested voters. There are no checks and balances. Rather there is an unequal representation of member states. Only eight countries (the United States, Germany, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China) are represented on the executive board and all other countries are grouped into constituencies represented collectively by just one executive-director (IMF, 2004).
More and more often it is the underrepresented collective that is affected by executive board decisions. For example, 21 Anglophone African countries, at least 11 of which have an intensive care relationship with the IMF and all of which are extremely vulnerable to the institutions policies, only have one representative and a collective voting share of 3.26 percent (IMF, 2004).
This unbalanced representation and a lack of checks, balances and transparency can lead to situations like the one that took place in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world and was approved by the board of the IMF for an ESAF (Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility) program designed to give eligible poor countries access to highly subsidized and therefore inexpensive rates. The program was approved in 1996 and then pulled in 1997. Why?
Previous to their IMF loan, Ethiopian Airlines, a state-owned enterprise, had purchased four new Boeing airplanes after securing a loan from a well-known American bank. Because Ethiopia had had a very poor credit rating prior to the IMF loans, the terms of the loan with the American bank were exceptionally burdensome to the airline and lucrative for the bank. After the IMF loans were granted the airline meet with the bank to try and renegotiate the financing. The bank refused. Instead of carrying the weighted loan the government of Ethiopia lent money to the airlines to pay off the loan in its entirety.
The American bank was furious and complained that the Ethiopians had acted in bad faith. Soon after, the U.S. executive-director began complaining to the Fund regarding Ethiopia’s ESAF status. The Ethiopians never pre consulted the IMF regarding paying off the loans because no one could argue that it was an economically unsound move. In fact According to Joseph Stiglitz the IMF should have recommended the move (Stiglitz, 2003). Unfortunately the lack of consultation ruffled the feathers of the IMF despite the fact that such monitoring of a sovereign state could very well be considered an act of neo-colonialism. The Fund began to make claims that Ethiopia had not reached the benchmarks required for the release of the 1997 funds. Despite no previous mention to the Ethiopian government about potential problems, the 1997 loans were denied. In an attempt to clear their name, and due to an even more desperate need for reasonable financing, the government convinced Joseph Stiglitz, chief economist and senior vice-president at the World Bank at the time, to review their case.
Stiglitz found on his visit to Ethiopia that the country was far from the “reluctant reformer” they had recently been coined. In fact he found that the country had met most of the Fund’s conditions to a degree that astonished Stiglitz and other World Bank officials, especially compared to other African countries in ESAF programs (Wood, 2003). “Ethiopia’s macroeconomic ‘results’- upon which the Fund was supposed to focus- could not have been better…Not only did Ethiopia have a sound macroeconomic framework but the World Bank had direct evidence of the competence of the government and its commitment to the poor”(Stiglitz, 2003; 27-28). Stiglitz began lobbying to top IMF officials in the name of Ethiopia. In particular through “intellectual lobbying” with Fund managing director Michel Camdessus. Pressure from the top finally had an effect and Ethiopia began to receive Fund access again in April of 1998.
In this case a neo-colonial outlook by the IMF coupled with the discontent of a prominent bank was enough to see that one of the poorest countries in the world was denied desperately needed funds. The amount of human suffering incurred due to such decisions is untold.
Finance is now the dominant sector in the United States and Europe and financial firms give top priority to securing access to emerging markets. Because the financial sector is a major component of the support base for the Fund, the U.S. Treasury and the World Bank, powerful financial firms secure a tremendous amount of influence on the decisions of such institutions.
Situations like these reiterate that we must hold such institutions more accountable and ensure they are transparent enough for us to do so. Reforms within the IMF and World Bank are beginning to emerge but huge gaps still remain. The Fund has yet to publish its internal rules, guidelines, and operating procedures and the Bank refrains from outlining its Operations Evaluation Department (OED).
Citizen outcry over the past four years has certainly helped to motivate the reform process. Financial flows have enormous potential to contribute to more efficient financing of productive investments. However, in order to ensure a fair financial architecture global responsibility must be a priority for governments, private institutions and civil society (Camdessus, 2001).
Due to the closed-door nature of the institution neither outside economists nor varying opinions reach inner corridors of the IMF. Little diversity of ideas exists hence inciting one of the biggest debates surrounding the IMF and World Bank: Structural Adjustment Programs. These programs detail structural changes in government policies required in order for borrowers to qualify for loans. Many argue that these requirements force countries that are in crisis to reform their governments in ways that are unhealthy. Much of the debate lays with the institutions strict policies of western capitalism and what IMF policy adversaries’ claim is a fundamentally flawed development model. The UN has estimated that 19,000 children die every day from preventable diseases because of international debt burden. Of course there is no guarantee that without crisis loans from the Fund and Bank that these rates wouldn’t be worse. But recently many top officials, including Camdessus and Stiglitz, at the Fund and Bank have conceded that many of the policies over the past 20 years have failed.
The Fund and Bank practice Keynesian models of economics; encouraging privatization, cuts in government spending, imposition of user fees, promotion of exports, higher interest rates and trade liberalization. Populations of many Southern Hemisphere countries must grapple with growing inflation, while their governments (urged by Western policy makers) cut what marginal subsidies were available for food etc; in order to create more market oriented economies (Powell, Udayakumar, 2000). Unfortunately, “…many of the fiscal policies pushed onto developing countries and adopted in northern countries exacerbate the problem of the most marginal while celebrating the wealth of the rich. Even as the United States and other western international players continue to discourage developing countries in the use of subsidies, at home, when it comes to agricultural subsidies and trade barriers the US shows itself as little more then hypocrite.
The U.S. gives over 3 billion dollars of tax- payer money to U.S. cotton subsidies annually. The unintended effect: total collapse of the economy of Burkina Faso. Cotton is subsidized in the US and then sold for far less then needed to produce it. This coupled with our ever-mounting surplus is responsible for the global drop in the price of cotton. Most Americans are not even aware the cotton subsidies exist, much less what their effects are on the small African country of Burkina Faso. But the average Burkinabe knows. “America wants us to comprehend the evil posed by violent anti-Western terrorism, and we do,” said President Blaise Compaore in an interview in the capital city of Ouagadougou. “But we want you to equally concern yourself with the terror posed here by hunger and poverty, a form of terrorism your subsidies are aiding and abetting. If we cannot sell our cotton we will die” (Schmemann, 2003: 6).
Americans must gain a better awareness of the effects of their consumerism at home and on the world at large. People in Burkina Faso draw a direct correlation between the US’s 10 year subsidy and their own impoverishment. In the US consumers recognize little else than the fact that it is now inexpensive to purchase cotton products such as t-shirts and jerseys. While abroad people in Burkina Faso starve to death. It is time the American public recognizes how its indifference to these situations produce the breeding grounds of hatred the U.S. government is now, ineffectually, attempting to stamp out.
The struggle between socialism and capitalism, and every form of economic policy in between, will continue. As for Fund and Bank policy we must encourage flexibility, with the potential to have various visions for various cultures and be prepared with a multitude of possibilities for development plans.
“Freedom is man’s capacity to take a hand in his own development.”
The dictionary defines development as “to make or become larger, more mature, or more advanced; begin to exist or to have. Munro’s definition in A Sustainable World states “development is any and all kinds of activities or processes that increase the capacity of people or the environment to meet human needs or improve the quality of human life” (1995: 28). The World Bank and the World Social Forum have all together different definitions. Each definition has merit in its own context. What is often lost though is the definition and context of the people who are being “developed” by the western world. We find that some types of development that are widely practiced today are, in reality, totally inappropriate and unfeasible. In order to be clear two examples of development follow, revealing that one single definition is impossible.
To achieve valid definitions of development each community must decide what development is for themselves while at the same time being conscious of how their own development may affect others. Why then is much of the “development” taking place today that of top down or “prescriptive” development? The assumption of the West is that the only path to development is in their footsteps and through industrialization. “Both imperialist and anti-imperialist discourses (modernization and dependency discourses) have tended to reduce the subjects of development to passive objects” (Tucker: 23). Prescriptive development is usually a western model of development decided upon by complete outsiders, upper level officials, elites in the community or some combination thereof. Infrequently does this type of development consult the peoples of the community or communities it will affect. One such example of this supposed “development” is the Tehri Dam in the Himalayan foothills of India.
Plans for the Tehri Dam project were first conceived in 1949 (designed by the former Soviet Union) and sanctioned by the Indian Planning Commission in 1972. The plans for the dam followed general thinking of the time in attempting to achieve the industrial conquest of nature. 206.5 meters tall and spread over 45 square kilometers the dam would displace over 86, 000 people. Builders claim that it will irrigate 2.7 lakh hectares of land and generate 2, 400 MW of power. At the time of conception this seemed like an enormous amount of energy but in today’s terms seems hardly worth the potential risks of a dam this size.
The people of Tehri and other surrounding villages were never consulted about their views or desires. Decisions that would unalterably change their lives were made without their knowledge by groups of Russian engineers from faraway lands and Indian elites who knew little and cared even less about their way of life. It is not surprising then that from its onset the project has faced resistance.
Although Tehri-Garhwal is one of the poorest districts in the country, the inhabitants had remained self-reliant farmers for generations. For every hectare of farmable land there has been 11 hectares of forest and communal land available for the collection of fodder, fuel and other produce (Seabrook, 1993). When the dam is completed it will submerge over 4200 hectares in the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana valleys. The villages of Tehri Garhwal will not receive any electricity or irrigation benefits from the dam and minimal resettlement provisions were built into the project. Most of the benefits from the dam will flow to wealthy landowners for the irrigation of sugarcane in an area that already has enough water to irrigate 90 percent of its land. The Himalayan region from which the water will be exported only has a current irrigation capacity of 12 percent. Due to construction there has been extensive land erosion and landslids have become a daily occurrence. Already there has been a decrease of vegetation and tree growth as a result of a lack of moisture due to the diversion of natural water flows (Seabrook, 1993).
The people of the community insist, that through a series of smaller non-invasive and sustainable dams, power generation and irrigation capabilities could be better achieved at far less cost and risk. India’s history of is one of irrigated agriculture. Traditionally its people have survived on rain fed cultivation combined with small-scale irrigation projects. Farming in a sustainable manner maintained soils and water resources for thousands of years.
Despite the protests and considerable evidence that the project is dangerous, environmentally unsound and carrying costs that outweigh the benefits, the government insists on moving forward with the project. All those who oppose the project are deemed backwards people who are against “development”.
The Tehri Dam Project is just one example of a very widely practiced form of “development”. Is this type of development actually fulfilling or helping the people of the Tehri community to develop? According to Galtung, development plays an important role in reducing direct violence by reducing suffering through the fulfillment of at least basic needs (1996:127). In this case not only does the dam not help to provide basic needs to the community, but instead degrades the natural resources and harmony of the community. A widely held belief by many Indians and voiced by Vandava Shiva is that “the degradation of the land goes hand in hand with the degradation of humanity” (Seabrook, 1993). Perhaps without even realizing it, this “development” has not only served the degradation of the land but also the very humanity of a community.
It seems as if this dam may doom the people of the Tehri community to a similar fate. The wealthy farmers, far away in the plains, will receive more water to increase the production of sugar cane for the export market. The Himalayan water will feed the global market economy and the people of Tehri will face ever-deepening poverty.
Surely this type of development cannot be the only way to move forward. There must be other realistic options available. One popular idea, now turned catch phrase, that has surfaced is that of sustainable development. “Sustainable development has emerged as a reaction to the highly technological and centralized processes that have governed thinking on development” (Mishra, 1997:19). Sustainable development, or development in which its benefits must be maintained indefinitely, offers a different perspective from that of the highly practiced industrial development. Not only does sustainable development aim to be environmentally harmonious but it also tends to be a “bottom up” model of development.
In India the idea of sustainable development, although new in terms, has a long-standing tradition. It is an idea of natural resource management with the concept that “human beings have a common destiny with other living creatures on the earth…the main concern of development is not growth at all costs but to render the lives of the majority of the people easier and more harmonious…and that there are thresholds of irreversibility which traditional economics does not take into account” (Mishra: 3).
Ralegan Siddhi is a small village in the Ahmadnager district in Maharshtra, India. It serves here as an example of a different concept of development and of a peoples ability to transform a community from one of poverty to one of plenty.
In 1975 the village of Ralegan was a shattered land of poverty, unemployment, alcoholism and environmental degradation as well as totally bankrupt of any social or community life. Due to economic reasons most villagers had faced the decision to either migrate to nearby Bombay, join the extremely low paying Employment Guarantee Scheme of the Government or illegally distill liquor (Seabrook 1993). The majority of children had no access to education with a less then a 10% attendance rate and women were highly discriminated against. A drought in 1972 had brought in humanitarian relief efforts from the Government and outside aid agencies but due to lack of local participation all initiatives failed.
Today Ralegan is unrecognizable as the same village. Local leadership became the catalyst for change when Mr. Annasaheb Hazare, a native of the village, returned with the intention of making a change through the dedication of his life to the village after years away working for the Indian army. Since Hazare was from the village he had intimate knowledge of the people, the community and the traditions while at the same time had experience from his travels and work with the army.
Immediately Hazare recognized the struggles between traditional and modern and violent and peaceful means of development. He recognized the monetary allure to illegal liquor distilling but also knew how to appeal to people’s traditional sense of moral codes. He led through example and included all sectors of society (including the untouchables and women) in all community planning (Seabrook, 1993). The recognition of key problems was central in bolstering community support and in these ways Hazare had what the outside aid agencies had lacked.
The community began to meet and mobilize. All decisions were taken as an entire collective and in this way reflected the needs and aspirations of the entire village. The first step was to address the total lack of any livelihood support system, which seemed to stem as the main cause of division and conflict in the village (Mishra, 1997).
The top priority became the harvest of rainwater and proper management of the four existing village watersheds. “Every drop of rain was trapped by developing a drainage system, trenches, check dams, drainage plugs, percolation tank etc. by developing and designing micro-watershed specific schemes. This initiative recharged the groundwater and now enough water is available year round…” (Mishra: 9). As most villagers were farmers but lacked an income that would allow them to take loans in order to have individual irrigation wells, the community established a cooperative system where two or more farmers “develop the source collectively, share the water equitably and repay the bank loan in proportion to the land irrigated by that source” (Mishra: 9). This system has proven very successful and now even the poorest farmers have access to enough water to yield a crop.
There has also been the development of solar streetlights, community latrines and an extremely successful school system. So successful in fact that students now come from Bombay and Pune to attend the schools. The literacy rate has skyrocketed and is now far above the national average.
Besides the local leadership of Hazare, another key component to the success of the village was the community initiative to have required “shramdan” or voluntary labor. According to Dinesh Kumar from the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi, free labor of the villagers is the biggest saver in the cost of development.
Ralegan is an amazing example of a successful bottom up development scheme realized through cooperatives and local initiative. There has been a complete regeneration of watershed resources, “a village where nearly three-fourths of the population was below the poverty line, has become self-sufficient and is surplus in food grains”(Mishra: 14) and the quality of life for women and the “untouchables” made a significant shift for the better.
Ralegan had rejected prescriptive development agendas from the outside, choosing to remain in poverty instead, but as soon as the opportunity arose to develop in their own way with their own concept of development, Ralegan flourished. Each person has a different idea about what their basic needs are and from this stems the concept of what their own development needs are. It thus follows then that each community must decide for itself how to develop based on its specific needs.
The problem is that for the West, poverty has become little more then the results of a comparative statistical analysis. “The treatment of poverty has allowed [western] society to conquer new domains” (Escobar: 23). This control is often justified by the term development. Some have even argued that we must “abandon the concept of development because of its use in legitimating domain” (Tucker: 23). As opposed to completely abandoning the idea of development, which most likely is unfeasible anyway, we would be better off rethinking development and opening it up to the diversity of ideas its due.
In order to address development one must first address needs. The word “need” here becomes problematic in that it also is difficult to define for anyone but oneself. The West has tried to make it simple: food, shelter, etc. but the reality is that we as humans have needs that are far less tangible as well. Needs as potentials; such as to have purpose, or to create, to feel loved or part of a community (Seabrook, 1993). The problem with prescriptive development is that it, often unintentionally, takes away a peoples ability to fulfill their more intangible needs. People are taken out of the process of their own development and hence development loses that diversity and input that it needs to be successful. This is not to say that the sharing of technology and assistance from the outside are invaluable but that there implementation without directive or need from the people is unhelpful at best and totally destructive at worst. We must be aware of the importance of the self-determination of people and respect the dignity of those in need (Yannis, 2002).
We realize that one definition of development is impossible not because the definition may be right or wrong, but because it will be different for everyone. The people of Tehri may have similar needs to those of the people from Ralegan, or they may not. Whatever they decide their needs might be, we know that they are not the needs ascribed to them by outsiders formulating prescriptive development plans. It is time that we begin to allow others to recognize their own needs without imposing the potential structural and cultural violence of our own ideas about what they are and how to attain them.
World Trade Organization (WTO)
“Our dream is a world without poverty.”
- WTO motto
The World Trade Organization (WTO) was established on January 1, 1995 as the culmination of extensive negotiations resulting from the Uruguay Rounds of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). As the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations, the WTO orchestrates the multilateral trading system through agreements signed and ratified by the parliaments of a large majority of the world’s nations. The WTO’s overriding objective according to the U.S.’s enactment of the WTO agreements is “to obtain open, equitable, and reciprocal market access, eliminate barriers and other trade distorting policies and practices, and [create] a more effective system of international trading disciplines and procedures.”
The WTO plays one of the most significant roles in the process of globalization. Unfortunately, the downfall of the WTO is that its binding provisions ignore non-trade concerns. There is no legal consideration of socially responsible factors such as labor, consumer, or animal rights nor the environment or state sovereignty. In this sense, the WTO is trying to create a truly free market economy where it becomes the responsibility of seller and consumer to regulate the market. Under the current setup of the WTO conscious consumerism is the most important and effective means of shaping the processes that affect both ourselves and others.
WTO settlements allow Dispute Resolution Panels to declare local and national laws and regulations as illegal to trade barriers therefore nullifying local control of products through legislation. Any member country of the WTO can bring charges against any other member country that any national policy or regulation is a trade barrier. For instance, if country X initiates legislation, in terms for instance of health, safety, or environment, with standards exceeding international standards then country Y can make a claim to the WTO that theses laws act as trade barriers. The claim is reviewed by an un-elected anonymous panel of three trade experts. Decisions may only be overturned by the unanimous vote of all member countries. So even if legislation is passed within a country, state or municipality, it can be declared illegal and overturned by the WTO.
One prime example is that of “dolphin safe” labeling regulations required in the U.S. for tuna companies. Despite the existence of some environmental exceptions in WTO legislation, a popular target of other WTO members has been U.S. legislative protection of marine animals. Dolphin safe labeling is intended to allow the conscious consumer to purchase products that do not practice procedures that inadvertently and unnecessarily lead to the killing of dolphins.
Tuna labeling measures have been challenged under WTO principals as discrimination against foreign companies. “The fair trade principals of the WTO dictate that states can only ban a product for safety or health concerns, but it cannot ban the process used to manufacture a product. A state cannot ban a product simply because it was manufactured in a way that was harmful to the environment or wild animals” (DiMatteo et al, 2003: 3). The Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) allows for states to set safety and health standards but it warns not to “disguise trade barriers” as standards set for consumer protection.
Criticisms over the WTO’s lack of consideration for the development of minimal safety and health standards are increasing. In a statement aimed at the WTO the EU proposed, “ we must ensure that the interests of civil society are adequately reflected in our present and future work”.
The amount of products available has become so numerous that it is almost impossible for each of us to remain informed enough to make good decisions in the marketplace. Therefore, it is of the utmost import to continue encouraging international organizations to take some responsibility in ensuring at least basic protections. “The WTO does important work and decisions taken in this institution affect the lives of ordinary men and women all over the world. It is right that the WTO be held accountable for its record” (Moore, 2000: 29).
EXPORT PROCESSING ZONES
As global South countries are forced into “prescriptive” plans of “development” and workers are forced by environmental degradation or industrialization off their farms and into factories, we see foreign multinationals move in to take advantage of the large, low-wage workforces. Cheap and abusive labor policies made ore severe by the eased mobilization of goods and capital have driven the cost of production down to once unimaginable prices. This is achieved partly though the use of inexpensive and sometimes abusive labor policies that are tolerated in many developing countries. Many of theses policies are, as least in part, due to standards-lowering competitions between developing economies to offer subsidies, tax holidays and little to no environmental or employment regulation in order to attract business. The following charts various types of zones and their characteristics:
Types of zones: An evolutionary typology
Special economic zone
Industrial free zone / EPZ
Information processing zone
Financial services zone
Commercial free zone
|Physical characteristics||entire city or jurisdiction||entire province region or municipality||enclave or industrial park||part of city or entire city||part of city or “zone within zone”||entire city or “zone within zone”||warehouse area, often adjacent to port or airport|
|Economic objectives||development of trading centre and diversified economic base||deregulation; private sector investment in restricted area||development of export industry||development of SMEs in depressed areas||development of information processing centre||development of off-shore banking, insurance, securities hub||facilitation of trade and imports|
|Duty free goods allowed||all goods for use in trade, industry, consumption||selective basis||capital equipment and production inputs||no||capital equipment||varies||all goods for storage and re-export of import|
|Typical activities||trade, service, industry, banking, etc.||all types of industry and services||light industry and manufacturing||all||data processing, software development, computer graphics||financial services||warehousing, packaging, distribution, trans-shipment|
|Incentives||simple business||reduced business taxes;||profits tax abatement and regulatory relief; exemption from foreign exchange controls. free repatriation of profits. Trade union freedom restricted despite the fact that EPZs are required to respect national employment regulations.15 years exemptions on all taxes(maximum)||zoning relief; simplified business registration;||demonopolization and deregulation of telecoms;||tax relief; strict confidentiality; deregulation of currency exchange and capital movements.free repatriation of profits||exemption from import quotas. reinvested profits wholly tax-free|
|Domestic sales||unrestricted within freeport outside freeport, upon payment of full duty||highly restricted||limited to small portion of production||limited to small portion of production||unlimited, upon payment of full duty|
|Other features||additional incentives and streamlined procedures||developed by socialist countries||may be extended to single- factory sites|
|Typical examples||Hong-Kong (China),||China (southern provinces, including Hainan and Shenzhen)||Ireland, Taiwan (China), Malaysia,Dominican Republic, Mauritius,Kenya, Hungary||Indonesia, Senegal||India-Bangalore, Caribbean||Bahrein, Dubai, Caribbean, Turkey, Cayman||Jebel ali, Colon, Miami (USA FTZ) Mauritius, Iran|
|Singapore, Bahamas freeport, Batam, Labuan, Macao|
Updated by AV. Approved PB/CDH. Last update: 28 November 2003. Taken from International Labour Oragnization
Export processing zones (aka: special processing zones) are relatively small areas within a country designed to draw foreign companies and investment. Aimed at attracting export-oriented industries, these areas offer incentive laden investment and trade conditions. There are in excess of 230 EPZs across 70 countries employing over 4.5 million workers. Additionally, China’s special economic zones employ over 40 million people.
GLOBAL EPZ EMPLOYMENT
= approximately 100,000
or = approximately 1,000,000
Updated by AV. Approved PB/CDH. Last update: 4 February 2004 Provided by International Labour Organization
Benefits to industry in these zones include duty free entry of goods for re-export, tax holidays, free land or reduced rents and foreign exchange freedoms. Amongst unspoken benefits are lax social, environmental and employment regulations including cheap labor. “Few governments in the developing world today refuse to accept that in order to industrialize foreign capital is vital. However, although EPZs have been successful in attracting such capital, bringing with it employment and some degree of stimulus to the domestic economy, they have their price and one has to ask whether the superexploitation of workers within the zones might be a price too high” (Abott, 1997: 239).
Human labor resources are often the keystone of success for EPZs with the use of women in particular as inexpensive labor. In many Asian countries wages for women are actually fixed at 10-20% less than men. Employers prefer young women for their “manual dexterity” and for the fact that they often live with parents or in poorly maintained dormitories implying they usually demand less in wages. Unfortunately, poor conditions and sexual harassment is common in these settings. Rarely are these incidents formally reported as complaints lead to automatic dismissal and oftentimes placement on blacklists that circulate among EPZ firms.
In fact, labor movements in EPZs experience Draconian restrictions on activity. In many EPZs unions are simply not allowed. American firms have resisted any worker representation. “Nine managing directors of American component firms in the…FTZs (free trade zones)…stressed that their presence in Malaysia would be seriously undermined if unions were allowed in their firms” (Rasiah, 1993: 130). Some governments openly advertise as anti union zones in order to further attract business. The magazine “Business India” refers to an EPZ north of Bombay stating “fortunately for the employers, most of the workers are not organized, a factor which according to the employers has helped them stay competitive at the international level” (World Economic Processing Zones Association, 2004). The finance administer of Pakistan recently assured businessmen that “the labor laws of Pakistan will not be applicable in the special industrial zones created by the government”.
Attempts by employees to mobilize are often meet with termination paper or even violence. In Jan. 2003, about 9,200 textile workers from a number of EPZ firms in Kenya were sacked for going on strike to demand better working conditions (Kenya Human Rights Commission, 2004). And according to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, it is not uncommon for activists to be greeted by batons and tear gas and movement leaders can often expect “personal visits”. Common means of dissuasion include abduction, torture and even murder.
Governments often openly ignore these occurrences, as well as social legislation, even when it does apply. The Organizer reports “in the Tijuana maquiladoras, it is standard procedure to assign difficult and dangerous work tasks to pregnant women so that they will quit before the companies are obligated to pay maternity benefits”. Child labor runs rampant and the incidence of workers killed in EPZ dormitory fires is absolutely atrocious; all the while governments turn their heads. The New Internationalist reports:
“In the south China EPZs fires have killed hundreds of workers who had been locked into their factories and dormitories. Some of these casualties, most of them women, occurred in illegal ‘three-in-one’ factories. Here workers live on the top floors with the storage facilities while production carries on downstairs – giving new meaning to the phrase ‘living for your work’. One such fire burned 80 young female workers to death in the Xingye raincoat factory in Dongguan in 1991. The fire started on the bottom floors while the women were sleeping in their quarters on the top. In 1993 nearly 2,500 workers were burned to death in Chinese factory fires.” (Francis, 1995: 263).
EPZs are the nucleus of export led growth in developing regions. One job within the EPZ almost always contributes to an added one job outside the EPZ but within the region. EPZs have impressive levels of contribution to total number of manufactured exports. The dangers must be weighed though.
International investors tend to be extremely fickle and, in a world where it is so easy to mobilize, this creates an atmosphere of “here today gone tomorrow” instability. This relocation threat also tends to put the bargaining power in the hands of multinationals forcing governments into continual patterns of negotiation in order to keep investors enticed. This type of haggling reverberates throughout the developing world inciting a “race to the bottom “ as various governments attempt to underbid one another in a drive to gain foreign investment at all costs (including the health of their own populations).
This new reality of highly mobile capital and goods in combination with immobile and unorganized labor creates a climate in which capital will dominate. “The proliferation of EPZs appears only to facilitate the nefarious activities of the worst type of capitalists. Challenging such practices requires concerted action to force multinationals to abandon such policies or pressure their sub-contractors to act more ethically” (Abbot, 1997: 241).
“The world’s problems seem to be only problems that you watch on TV, then you go on having dinner, and then you go to sleep… We cannot say that ‘I only take account of what happens in my country, and whatever is not happening in my country, what happens beyond the borders does not affect me,’”
Speak Truth to Power
Many of the problems emerging with globalization are market driven and the people purchasing products are the ones who drive that market. The increased ease in mobility of capital and goods has resulted in a tremendous increase in the growth of global criminal organizations. This, in conjunction with the availability of weapons and lack of suitable alternatives for many have-nots creates a situation that is very difficult to control (Burton, 1996). Often times, the fuel behind conflicts come from the profits gained by these organizations from the natural resources harbored in the areas under their control. Often times it is consumer demand that motivates many of the world’s conflicts.
Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia and Sierra Leone have all supported continuing conflicts through the sale of diamonds. Often, conflicts act as mere masks in order to allow rebel groups and/or governments to control resource rich lands without scrutiny. DRC currently reports official sales of diamonds at over 300 million dollars, none of which has gone back into the war torn country. The smokescreen of conflict allows for lucrative criminal activity while the humanitarian cost of the trade is almost impossible to comprehend.
In Angola between 1992 and 1998, over 500,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands more were wounded or mutilated. During this period it is estimated that the rebel group Unita made more then 3 billion dollars from the “conflict diamond” trade. Much of the income returned to the country…but only to finance arms in order to prolong the chaos of greed.
A societal construction, diamonds serve no purpose as a usable resource outside the aesthetic value placed upon them by society. Diamonds, a girl’s best friend. Diamonds are forever. If you love her, you’ll give her a diamond. Getting married? Better get a diamond. We have been taught by capitalism and advertising that if you want to show someone you love them, you buy them something. And if you really want them to know you love them, it better be a diamond.
What capitalism and advertising do not teach us is that there are effects, as a direct result of our consumption, on human lives all over the world. Capitalists will tell you that thousands of people have managed to make an otherwise unavailable living off the sale of diamonds. What remains unspoken is that it has cost many thousands more their lives.
Global Witness, a London based organization, was at the forefront of pressing for legislation requiring diamonds to be tracked and pushing for legislation that makes it illegal to purchase conflict diamonds. Global Witness demanded, through consumer consciousness, that industry be held responsible. NGO’s from around the world put together the “Fatal Transactions” campaign, encouraging consumers only to purchase diamonds that could be guaranteed as conflict free. Two days after the campaign began, De Beers, the world’s largest diamond company, announced that it would pull out of Angola and cease any further purchase of conflict diamonds. Global Witness activist Charian Gooch explains, “The aim was to change attitudes. Today everyone is talking about conflict diamonds and can see that something needs to be done, but when we started, the term ‘conflict diamonds’ didn’t exist”.
Governments have now signed agreements banning the trade of conflict diamonds and the industry itself has declared that anyone caught dealing in conflict diamonds would be banned for life from the Diamond High Council and all trading houses. Measures taken by the industry have now effectively made it impossible to continue in the trade after being banned, and few traders are willing to take that risk.
Alex Yearsley of Global Witness remembers early struggles faced by the group, when most in the diamond industry referred to them as “lunatics, idealists and unnecessary.” Fortunately the group gave them no heed and has instead led the world’s consumers in forcing an entire industry to operate in an ethical manner.
Over exploitation of natural resources is clearly unsustainable. “If the levels of consumption that several hundred million of the most affluent people enjoy today were replicated across even half of the roughly 9 billion people projected to be on the planet in 2050, the impact on our water supply, air quality, forests, climate, biological diversity, and human health would be severe”(Gardner et al., 2004: 4). Globalization must be re-envisioned to not only protect capital, but also human rights, the environment and other social concerns.
With the implementation of expanded trade the world is experiencing a decrease in biodiversity, an increase in pollution and a marked depletion of the world’s natural resources (DiMatteo, 2003).
Global Natural Resource and Environmental Trends
(Worldwatch, 2004: 17 1-7)
The impact of human consumption on global ecosystems, in particular that of the U.S., can be seen using the “Ecological Footprint Accounts” designed by California based Redefining Progress. National Ecological Footprint Accounts measure the land area required to support a nation, providing for its needs and absorbing its wastes. The Accounts are composed of six factors: energy use, grazing land, pastureland, fisheries, built land and forests. Currently the ecosystem of planet earth can support the use of 1.9 productive hectares of land per person. The current average of per person use is 2.3 hectares. This average although unsustainable in itself does not represent the huge disparities that exist in current resource use (Worldwatch, 2004).
The United States has the world’s largest Footprint at 9.57 hectares (23.7 acres) per person – a sustainable Footprint would be 1.88 hectares (4.6 acres). At the other end of the scale, developing countries like Bangladesh and Mozambique have Footprints of 0.53 hectares (1.3 acres) per capita – just over 1/20th of the US Footprint. Humanity’s combined footprint represents an overuse of the earth’s natural resources by 15% (Redefining Progress, 2004).
High levels of consumption combined with the use of fossil fuels are significant factors in a nation or individual’s footprint. Globalization, along with decreased transportation costs has made possible the transfer of even the most perishable goods from one market to another. It is no longer uncommon to eat Sushi in landlocked parts of the world such as Colorado USA or Vienna, Austria. The ecological expense of such luxury generally goes unmentioned. Although in this example it may be impossible to seek out local alternatives, it is certainly not always the case. Items such as Argentinean grapes or apples from New Zealand often appear on grocery shelves right next to their local counterparts.
Decisions to consume locally produced goods when available, use of renewable energy sources and raised consciousness about consuming products whose production uses minimal resources can have an enormous impact on the ecological health of the planet. The WTO has created an effective global marketplace, but one which is unstable for the world’s environment.
“Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.”
ONE DOLLAR ONE VOTE
The concept of conscious consumerism has played both a long and significant role in the United States of America. The Boston Tea Party is one of the earliest and best known (at least for U.S. citizens) historical movements utilizing the power of consumerism, or lack there of, to send very clear political messages. During World War II, women “held down the home front” both as factory workers and some of the most conscious consumers this nation has ever seen. From the Office of Price Administration (OPA) all the way down to individual households, a relationship evolved between a nation at war and responsible consumption at home. The Wall Street Journal, so impressed by consumer commitment during WW II, warned readers that the consumer could only be “’pushed so far.’ What happens when aroused consumers assert their sovereignty, albeit salutary, is invariably unpleasant” (WSJ, May, 24, 1946). The “invariably unpleasant” that the business oriented journal refers to are consumer demanded changes to industry and business.
In the almost 50 years since the publication of that article, the world has changed dramatically and the power of the consumer has only increased. Trends currently shaping the world are diminishing the significance of geographical boarders; information flows more widely and freely then ever before, governments as guarantors of public are no longer a given and NGO’s assume larger roles as authors of public agenda and policy. According to Rafeal Pagen of the World Future Society “activists are becoming increasingly influential in their efforts to force corporations to cooperate in their vision of social change, and governments are left in the ineffectual middle” (Pagen, 1999: 2).
We now live in a world where 49 out of the 100 largest economies are those of single corporations. As noted by Powell and Udayakumer in their book Race, Poverty and Globalization: “This style of globalization disempowers average Americans in every way, except as consumers”(2000:3). Multinational corporations that control the purchase, sales and production of goods also control global policy. These companies, regardless of their international power, have major vulnerabilities: if their products are not purchased they will not survive.
Businesses, large and small, all have to meet a bottom line. Companies must make decisions based on fiscal viability. Without profits they go out of business. It follows, then, that the trends and demands of a society cannot be ignored. If societies are to affect global change in a positive way they must force companies to address their trends and demands for a more just and human global community. Consumers must choose to make good business practices economically viable. Everyday each person chooses to vote “yes’ or “no” for a company. With every purchase de facto leaders are empowered. Essentially everyone votes, with the products they choose, for both global, and local policies and control.
CULTURAL and NATURAL CAPITALISM, CARE ETHICS
and the NEW PARADIGM
The word “ethics”, coming from the Greek ethos, refers to what we might also call habits, customs and norms for judging conduct. The goal is to move from a system based solely on capitalist ethics to one of social democracy or enlightened capitalism; a system that brings into account care ethics, in part through the utilization of conscious consumerism and asset based community development. The new paradigm needs to be one in which an x exists in the formula for ethics.
Working towards a better future does not mean destroying all the institutions of modernity. In particular, it is not a move to reject market economics but instead to utilize important principles and powerful mechanisms. Cultural economist Howard Richards asserts: “It is making modernity work. It is not arguing that some previous age was better. It is working to solve today’s intractable problems while acknowledging that what makes them intractable is modernity’s backbone, it’s, mainspring, its moral and legal first premises…. It is working to solve our present problems, given the system we presently have, and seeking a realistic appraisal of its possibilities for transformation” (Richards, 2003: notes). In order to make institutions such as democracy and the market economy function well you must have responsible citizenship to provide the balance necessary to check those who might benefit from exploiting the systems.
Simply recognizing that capitalism and the global economy are malleable social structures, although a big first step, will not alone improve the system. Components of the structure must be addressed part-by-part, and transforming the way in which society consumes is just one part of transforming the system. “The progress of the human species requires a critique and a transformation of the constitutive rules that govern life in a capitalist society”(Richards 2000: 138).
In the book Natural Capitalism, its authors argue that the market economy has never properly accounted for natural resources, made available by mother nature, in the final cost of products (Hawkins, Lovins, 1999). Howard Richards contends that human resources and assets are not appreciated or utilized fully enough under the current market economy. Both illustrate adjustments that must be made to shape structures of modernity in order to better serve society. Inherent in that must be mechanisms that better serve our environment as humans are inalterably attached to the health of the planet.
Options currently exist, and are constantly being expanded, that work to better both societal and environmental health. A number of governments are encouraging companies to factor in environmental costs of production by incorporating “extended producer responsibility” laws that require companies to take back products at the end of their useful life while at the same time banning incineration or landfill options.
The idea is to require that companies assess the full lifecycle impacts of their products and ideally, remove unnecessary components and packaging. Eventually designs will shift toward creating products that can be re-used, recycled, or easily disassembled and used in other products. BASF, a large German chemical company, has “invented a new material made from an infinitely recyclable nylon-6 fiber; it can be taken back to its constituent resins and made into new products” (Renner, 2004: 106).
At the same time, better appreciating and caring for humanity in general must also be an important part of improving modern institutions if there is any hope for a more just and peaceful society. Human assets from the elderly to the young and from the farmer to the EPZ factory worker must be better appreciated. In the web of globalization humanity is connected and citizen responsibility now requires supporting both locally based community assets as well as being deliberately conscious about the consumption of global products and services.
Learning to utilize both local community and global resources in healthy, sustainable, and socially responsible ways must be an intentional endeavor of all global citizens. People are already begging to recognize the power of their purchases within their own communities. More and more people are returning to the idea of supporting local business. The beauty is that both the local and global can exist together. If there is a good local bookstore, for instance, then there is no need to buy books online. But if there is no bookstore or it is lacking particular resources then the consumer is able to utilize global resources. Either way, as long as the buyer has the ability to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible sellers and chooses to purchase responsible goods and services, then all of society benefits.
Transformation is a step-by-step process. “It is not reasonable to expect that people will easily and rapidly change attitudes that they are not even aware they have, and norms that are nowadays so much second nature that people are not even aware that they follow them” (Richards, 2000: 222). The move toward enlightened or conscious consumerism will play an important role in encouraging business, both locally and globally to act in more socially and environmentally responsible ways.
Conscious consumerism is currently experiencing reenergized momentum and is mobilizing large segments of the population to shop intelligently and boycott products or companies with unacceptable policies. Previously, it was estimated that approximately ten years were necessary in order for a boycott to be successful. That time line has been stripped down to about one year.
With new technologies, such as the internet, activists have the ability to communicate throughout the globe with speed and ease. It has become easier then ever to bring information to the mainstream and onto the public agenda. Rainforests are no longer fairytale lands of Tarzan, in fact mainstream media now regularly covers the depletion of rainforests, displacement of indigenous peoples, the threat and/or extinction of species and disastrous development plans. Because this information is available groups like the Rainforest Action Network are able to boycott a company as big and popular as Burger King and force them, in just over one year, to stop buying “rain-forest beef” (cattle raised in cleared rain-forests).
In past decades, many environmental campaigns have been successful. One of the greatest successes was the implementation of legislation requiring companies to label their packaging with well-known recycling symbols. In this way, consumers are able to identify, just by looking at the package, whether or not it is recyclable.
The animal rights cause has also followed a similar path with many products now displaying a “cruelty free” bunny signifying that product production does not involve animal testing. This development emerged after consumer groups began a boycott on some of the more prominent companies employing animal testing techniques. Conscious consumerism has forced many companies to change the way they develop products in order to meet the demands of society.
Human rights recently emerged into the limelight of mainstream media as an issue over which consumers can exert influence. No longer a government only concern, U.S. based international labor rights campaigns have evoked positive change, due to consumer pressure, in the working conditions at factories and maqiladoras in developing countries and EPZs that are often used by large corporations such as Target. New organizations promoting fair working and trade conditions are emerging everyday alongside the process of globalization and the proliferation of EPZs and sweatshops.
One such NGO is the Fair-trade Labeling Organization (FLO), which includes California based Transfair USA. These groups license primarily agricultural items, such as coffee and chocolate, in an effort to ensure that farmers receive fair prices for their produce. More and more people are becoming familiar with their trademark and are now able to make the decision to purchase responsibly bought and sold coffees.
A 1996 survey by the Institute for Consumer Responsibility reports over 70 percent of the U.S. public would refuse to buy a product if they knew it were made by exploited persons or child labor. Consumers are “basically saying, ‘If we had this information we’d use it,’” says Todd Putnam, founder and director of the Institute for Consumer Responsibility in Seattle, Washington. According to CEO Carol Cone of Cone Communications one-third of United States citizens say that, after price and quality, a company’s responsible business practices are the most important factor in deciding whether or not to buy a brand. The goal then must be to harness the energy that is developing and further provide tools, education and rationale as to why companies’ social responsibility must be first in considering which products to purchase.
One proposal is that given choice and information consumers would willingly modify their attitudes and current patterns to make choices that will benefit not only themselves but others as well. It is time to align values with the expenditure of time, money and energy. Through the power of purchasing, consumers have an ability to cast their moral vote in support of companies that act in ethically conscious and socially responsible ways. It will take active participation in shaping the process of globalization to inspire positive interactions as a global society.
CHALLENGES TO BEING A CONSCIOUS CONSUMER
Currently consumers remain, for the most part, unaware that it is in fact their demand to save a buck, don the latest fashion or buy a cheap cup of coffee that drive companies to continually cut wages or move to altogether different locations in search of cheap labor. By unwittingly consuming products that destroy industry, the environment, traditional means of life-support, etc. consumers are at the same time helping to foster environments where conflicts are likely to arise due to instability or a general sense of communities and countries loss of self empowerment.
Stephen Roach writes that a “US-centric world” is unsustainable for the world-economy and bad in particular for the United States. US citizens have the power and willingness to make needed changes, but only if they are educated on how and why.
Unfortunately even the highly informed consumer, attempting to purchase in ethical and conscious ways, faces a multitude of challenges. The most daunting is perhaps as simple as the enormous selection of products available. This, coupled with the average time constraints of U.S. citizens, indeed creates a formidable challenge. One must have incredible veracity to sort and cipher through the array of information and “mis-information” currently available. Often, most people simply give up before trying (a response some corporations are most pleased with).
Further complicating the issue, subsidiaries and work contracted out in names other then that of the parent company can make products nearly impossible to track. Without spending hours upon hours researching, the average person can have the best intentions and still be unable to make good consumer choices.
In order for conscious consumerism to be successful these challenges must be alleviated. The new paradigm must be one in which the average citizen is empowered with the tools necessary to make responsible decisions incorporating care ethics in conscious consumerism and hence motivating a transformation of the institutions of modernity towards cultural and natural capitalism.
TOOLS OF CHANGE
“It is about recognizing that every piece of our high gloss culture comes from somewhere. It is about following the webs of contracted factories, shell-game subsidiaries and outsourced labor to find out where all the pieces are manufactured, under what conditions, which lobby groups wrote the rules of the game and which politicians where bought off along the way. In other words, it’s about X-raying commodity culture…”
- Naomi Klein
Creating change, through conscious consumerism, on a global scale, will require reaching vast numbers of the general public. People must first have the tools necessary to evaluate products and understand the importance of purchasing ethically produced products in order initiate transformation. A variety of different techniques implemented with an aim toward various groups of the public are necessary. Approaches must include media such as print in the form of a guidebook as well as broadcast mediums of advertising. Most importantly a unified trademark organization must be formed in order to evaluate and label products available in the market.
Focusing on a holistic approach will show the consumer all aspects of a company or product instead of just highlighting one aspect, such as efficiency, and allowing the rest to go unnoticed. Through the use of a holistic approach, the consumer not only sees the whole picture, and therefore has a better understanding of the problems, but also deters the consumer from categorizing issues. For instance some segments of the population may not be very interested in environmental issues. If they think that that the environment is the totality of what a campaign represents, then they will most likely ignore it. But if the consumer understands the connected elements, each campaign is not trivialized as one thing or another and movements will harness even greater support.
While most past campaign efforts have focused on particular issues such as the environment or fair labor, nothing is currently available that allows people to access detailed information about all the products available to them. A holistic approach needs to include 1. Where the products come from 2. How they are transported 3. How they are produced 4. The policies for the companies and factories that own, produce, process or transport them (i.e. raw goods extraction, farming, fabricating, environmental, labor, employee benefit policies etc.).
Equipped with this knowledge a large segment of the public will not only decide to make socially responsible decisions to buy ethical products, but they will also begin to support more local enterprises. Through comparison people will realize that by utilizing community based assets people will be better able to keep track of exactly what goes on with, and in to, their products. This in turn helps to enable natural and cultural capitalism on both the local and global scale.
In order to enable a group of people, lacking both the time and energy, to purchase socially responsible products it must be made very simple. Three trademarks have already experienced considerable success. The recycling symbol representing recyclable products, the bunny symbol representing cruelty free products and the dolphin symbol representing dolphin safe tuna fishing. The general public has come to recognize these symbols and make purchases according to their own set of buying standards. The symbols do not of course guarantee that everybody purchase only products displaying the symbol but it does empower everybody familiar with the symbols to make choices.
Through the creation of a non-profit NGO all products available would be independently evaluated and certified. Every step of the production process would be taken into consideration. Beginning with raw material extraction and following all the way through to store shelf delivery, every sub-contractor and factory, including their labor rights policies, energy usage, waste output and every material or ingredient used along the way will be evaluated. The evaluation model would include different levels of certification so that companies complying with some trademark standards but not all could at least be partially recognized. Following evaluation companies would be granted permission to display, on products that comply, the trademark symbol on their packaging.
All data regarding product evaluation would be entered into a web-based system. With this data avaliable, anyone interested in specifics could access the details of each product and the companies producing them. Although the overall company profile will not determine the evaluation of individual products, information regarding companies will be available on the web site. Along with previously stated details, this information will include investment and political goals of each company (i.e. company Xtra Friendly donates 10 % of profits to Feed the Children).
Individual products would be evaluated based on a detailed spectrum of criteria deemed to be socially responsible. These criteria would include but would not necessarily be limited to:
- Social Stewardship: Labor Rights; including wages, working conditions, ability to unionize
- Environmental Stewardship; efficiency of production, type of material usage and packaging (including supplier evaluation), chemical and/or hormone usage, animal testing
Establishing such a company would take a great deal of commitment and even more energy. Due to expected resistance by irresponsible companies, the research would be arduous and perhaps, at times, even dangerous. The benefits of an organization committed to social responsibility and advancement are potentially enormous. A company such as this could empower literally millions of people to make socially responsible decisions.
In order for an endorsement agency to have an impact, people must first; know it exists, second; understand what it is promoting and third; know how to recognize its trademark. This involves use of the advertising machine as a tool of education. A campaign aimed at presenting the vision of a world where people participate in social responsibility, in particular through the products purchased, would help show people the potential they have to participate in a positive global process. People will understand through the advertisements that by choosing products with a symbol of social responsibility that they are helping to shape a more just and sustainable world.
Advertising much like consumerism has positive and negative potentials (advertising: manipulation, consumerism: human rights abuses). Once again we must learn to use the tools of modernity in ways that holistically benefit all humans as opposed to specific groups only. Advertising has the potential to inform and used in this way the potential to eventually help shape global process in a more positive way. Particularly by filling the conspicuous consumerism vacuum with truly fulfilling ways to represent self in an advertising culture dependent society.
“Democracies require ceaseless political vigilance and informed citizens to prevent them from being subverted or distorted by those who wish to turn them to other ends”
- Natural Capitalism
Everyday, every human being alive makes choices. From small children to the very elderly, decisions confront us. From the very mundane to the most exciting, choices are a constant. Learning to make good decisions is one of the most important skills we may learn, but without tools to make theses decisions we are helpless.
As the technological skills of society progress, and the options available to us expand, we are asked to both understand and decide more. The scope of our decisions and the effect of these choices are no longer limited to the “family” or “local community”. Previously, in simple terms, the concept of inter-dependency might have been easy to grasp because it was obvious that individual decisions affected others (i.e. choosing to buy milk from your neighbor instead of the farm in the next town over).
In today’s world though, the concept that products actually come from some place and that someone actually produces those products, has been lost. Wendell Berry, philosopher and farmer, recently noted: “One of the primary results – and of the primary needs- of industrialism is the separation of people and places and products from their histories.” Mega stores with endless shelves of goods that appear from nowhere on trucks in the middle of the night pervade the consumer conscious. The process of production is mostly lost on the average consumer. Unfortunately, average people no longer posses the tools to make good decisions. The connection between how individual purchases affect other people and communities is a distant concept. Packaging often now plays the role of informer or persuader. There is no other context, outside of advertising, for people to look to. Simply too much information exists to understand everything society now demands be decided upon.
Instead of being discouraged, we must empower each individual of society with the knowledge that, actively or passively, they play a key role in shaping our quickly changing world. Some argue that simply changing how we consume is not enough, that in fact we must focus on drastically reducing the rate of consumption altogether. While I will not disagree with this claim I will argue that we will not change society overnight. That in fact we must utilize elements present in society today and transform the system in ways that allow us to work towards a better future. This approach may feel dreadfully slow and compromising but it actually works in today’s societal framework and will initiate the momentum of further and faster change in the future. Globalization is first and foremost and economic process and each and every individual in society constantly contributes to that process.
All successful movements for positive change have started small and grown to meet the challenges presented. We now live in a global society and eventually we will grow to meet the challenges of worldwide inter-dependency. The concept of the “whole world” may seem too overwhelming to address but as technology continues to advance our whole world continues to shrink.
Perhaps for the first time, U.S. citizens are increasingly aware of what is happening around the world. In a time of global tumult citizens are beginning to ask why the U.S. has become a target of terrorism as well as wondering how they are involved and what, if anything, they can do. In essence, creating better systems is dependent on consumers gaining a better understanding of global interconnectedness, having the tools to do so and supporting better practices. There has never been a timelier proposal then we are now faced with; to provide a means of helping the average citizen make choices that lead to positive global change. In providing these tools we will begin to shape the process of globalization in a meaningful, positive and peaceful way.
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