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16 August 2005

Globalizing the Workforce

The economics of Off-shoring in a global labour market appear to be clear-cut. Financially both the community losing and receiving the jobs benefit from the exchange, when done well. The remaining argument is the negative impact of globalisation on culture. As workers perform work for global organizations how will they and their local culture be affected?

Essentially globalisation is about removing barriers to free trade. It is being done to achieve development and improved quality of life generally. A basic assumption in this premise is that all parties have something to offer or trade, and that all parties want to develop, according to the development standards being pursued by globalisation. However, today’s model of globalisation is based upon the west’s vision, and not all parties have an equal base to work from.

UNESCO highlights on it’s website that for cultural exchange to be effective in a global environment the parties must trade as equals. In reality economies and cultures that already have a critical mass are able to grow their ‘market share’ at the expense of less developed cultures and economies. Think of our local film industry competing with Hollywood for viewers as an example. Without the same budgets the same quality of film can’t be produced, and as a result fewer and fewer people see Australian films, while large budget American films expand their audience each year.

This means that globalisation will reinforce established power relationships. To many people in the developing world it’s apparent that wealth today is not evenly distributed, and that market forces are not sharing the wealth in a fair way. Westerners might argue that their standard of living is derived from higher education and more efficient capital systems, but hundreds of years of colonialism was key to building the economic base the west has developed from. Now, the globalisation of labour markets, improved communication, and spread of knowledge means that the inequalities in power relationships Marx wrote about in industrial Europe are now apparent on a global scale, and that the rate of polarisation between the richest and poorest is increasing. A critical risk for these people is that culture is being commodified and will become another one of the things that they lose ownership and control of.

On the other hand, globalisation can have interesting affects. As cultures exchange experiences more frequently there will be more and more points where cultural exchange occurs. More people travel for work, more people study internationally, more global corporations share knowledge and experience across continents. As cultures intersect new contexts and experiences are created. The more frequently this happens the more opportunity there is for new things in the cultural milieu to enter global and local cultures. This should be a good thing. Albert Einstein wrote that inventions, new paradigms etc are the result of new associations of existing ideas or things. Umberto Eco wrote in the late 80s and early 90s on American expeditions into cultural acquisitions, and how the change of context brought new meaning and experience from old structures and objects. Increasing interaction between cultures is likely to bring an increasing rate of change to all our existing cultures.

Another factor is becoming evident also: the increasing importance of local culture. Global brands and products are customised at a local level and local products are becoming more important. An example of this can be found in Melbourne with the Ceres community farm and market developing branded products that are sold in local stores. The very local brand is doing well in its local area. We are also seeing a proliferation of sub-cultures that are cross border. Cultural identities are being formed around cultures that have little to do with nationality. Husted (2001) writes about this balkanisation as a new way of cultures developing and spreading.

Both globalisation and balkanisation push away from national identities, which is interesting considering the great popularity nationalism is currently undergoing in countries like Australia, the US and France. Interesting also that in each of these countries the divide between political spectrums is growing at the moment.

An African writer, Mahmoud Monsipouri recently critiqued the west’s homogenised view of how the world should develop. He quotes the International Labour Organisation; “There are deep-seated and persistent imbalances in the current workings of the global economy which are ethically unacceptable and politically unsustainable….Seen through the eyes of the vast majority of men and women, globalisation has not met their simple and legitimate aspirations for decent jobs and a better future for their children.”

He asks questions about what should be given up socially and culturally in exchange for physical improvements to living standards and comes to the conclusion that an answer can not be reached without dialogue, and that today the developing world is not invited to participate in one with the west, rather the colonial paternalists are handing out welfare, on the conditions that they can shape he future of these countries.

From a western point of view we have plenty to gain from globalisation, both culturally and economically, as the west is controlling the process. However in the interests of most of the world’s population, and in terms of fairness, our governments and businesses need to help the developing world maintain and assert their cultural autonomy while they develop. Obviously things must change, but the change shouldn’t be one that forces other parts of the world to become like us. The benefits of this approach are twofold; an easier transition for developing nations into the global community, and more diversity and opportunity for interesting and productive cultural intersections in the future.

Mike van Graan (March 2004) comments on colonialism and Africa and how economic growth and quality of life are not the same thing Identity and Human Rights in the Age of Globalization: Emerging Challenges in the Muslim World By Mahmood Monshipouri