The role of NGOs is to be the beneficial aspect of globalisation. Their vigilance around the world makes the great abuses which humanity once brushed aside visible for all to see. Together, they now represent billions of people - often the least powerful and the people whose voices are heard the least - determined that trade should be more equitable, fair and just. The NGOs face the suspicion of the left because they are too close to the corporate world, and the suspicion of the right because they threaten to change the way business is carried out. But, taken together with the terrifying rise in poverty, they represent an entirely new climate for business.
NGOs provided the only bridge between the different sides in Seattle. They were the only ones who could talk to everyone, to politicians, corporations, campaigners and protestors alike. It was a small example of how they have been able to get people to communicate, and a reminder of some of the most creative partnerships that NGOs are now creating. All over the world we can see these emerging: unusual alliances between human rights groups and education institutions, alternative trade associations, progressive consumer groups, and often they are in partnership with business too.
The trouble is that much of the corporate world still fails to recognise their significance, or what they represent, or the catastrophe of poverty. Open up a typical management book and you will find it hard to avoid words like leadership, team-building, culture or customer service. But you'll be lucky if you find words like community, economic poverty, social justice, ethics, love, care or spirituality - a word that is truly kept in the closet! Never mind a MBA curriculum that fails to include subjects such as social and ethical accounting, human rights or gender perspectives in the workplace and so just may be the rise of the NGOs will be pivotal in arranging this. There is a long way to go and in the meantime, we have to face up to some of the following problems.
If you look at the way some business is behaving with this newfound power in many corners of the world - the places most business leaders never travel - you can see them alienating humanity in so many ways. I have seen, and still see, corporate crimes in abundance. The globe is quickly becoming a playground for those who can move capital and projects quickly from place to place. When business can roam from country to country with few restrictions in its search for the lowest wages, the loosest environmental regulations, the most docile and desperate workers, the destruction of livelihoods, cultures and environments can be enormous. Industry after industry seems to remain perfectly happy to use sweatshops.
I spend much of every year travelling around the world, talking to the victims of globalisation, people like small farmers in the US - scores of whom go out of business every week. Half a century ago there were a million black farmers in the US; now there are 1,800. Globalisation means that subsidies go to the big farms, while the small family farms - the heart of so many small town communities - go to the wall. I have also visited dark, cramped factories where people work for a pittance for 12 hours a day without a day off.
"We are not allowed to talk to each other or go to the bathroom," one Asian worker in a garment factory told me. This wasn't in Seoul or Sao Paulo: it was in San Francisco.
One of the key problems of the business world is that greed has become so culturally acceptable that it's part of the system. In 1999, 300 managers and staff at Jupiter Asset Management, which looks after £2 billion in investors money and creates nothing but more money, shared between them £500 million in bonuses. Company founder John Duffield picked up £100 million. In US business today an estimated $17 trillion resides in the hands of investment managers, whose only values are in monetary terms - untaxed, hugely insensitive to any social justice or community concern. When Goldman Sachs floated in the same year, after 130 years as a private partnership, the 220 partners each received shares worth around £30 million. CEO Henry Paulson got shares worth £191 million while departing co-chairman Jon Corzine left with a holding of £206 million.
Copyright Anita Roddick 2000. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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