Reconciling Globalization and Human Rights

Article excerpt

Expanded trade, investment, capital, and technology has had an enormous impact, especially in developing countries. Are the forces propelling this globalization consistent, however, with the advancement of social progress, democratic development, and human rights? There are a number of positive signs, including a "new openness" which has led to economic growth, higher standards of living, increased education levels and life expectancy, and political democratization. Still, all countries are not winners and the negative effects of economic liberalization include high unemployment, income disparity, and social dislocation. While governments and international agencies have roles in lessening these negative effects, businesses should also be involved. Companies can adopt voluntary codes of conduct, agree to "advance the cause of social progress, democratization, and human rights," and work to ensure greater economic equality on a global basis. Speech delivered to the Academy of International Business, annual general meeting, Banff, Alberta, September 27.

It is a singular pleasure for me to be asked to launch the 1996 annual meeting of the Academy of International Business in the company of my friend and colleague, Jean Monty.

You have chosen him "Executive of the Year" and I compliment you for your decision. His outstanding leadership at the helm of Northern Telecom - a remarkable enterprise -- is deserving of special praise. Thanks to his vision, his competitive spirit, his tenacity, and his uncompromising commitment to excellence, he has made this flagship company a global champion -- and we in Canada are proud to count him as one of us.

When I was asked to address the Academy today, I was tempted to speak about traditional aspects of the subjects that have been at the centre of my working life for almost 25 years -- the legal and economic aspects of international trade and investment, competitiveness and the regulation of multinational enterprise. But the risk-taker in me said that in choosing the familiar and predictable I would squander an opportunity to engage you in a subject that is not yet at the centre of debate in international business but that nevertheless is gaining ground rapidly. I am referring to the impact of globalization on social progress, democratic development and human rights, and to the responsibilities and strategies of companies that find themselves caught up in debates surrounding this issue.

Let me begin by asking two important questions.

To what extent are the forces propelling globalization consistent with the advancement of social progress, democratic development and human rights?

And what should be the responsibilities of companies in reconciling their global trade and investment activities with these goals?

Addressing the first of these questions draws us into a debate about the most extraordinary phenomenon of our times -- globalization and the forces propelling it forward, paramount among them trade, investment, capital and technology. In modern history, not since the invention of the steam engine and the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the mid 18th and early 19th centuries, followed by the spread of electric power, mass production and democracy, have we witnessed such a transformation.

The signs of the transformation are all around us: the collapse of the Soviet empire, exploding capitalism in China, Mandela at the helm in South Africa, toppling dictatorships in Latin America, the onset of the digital revolution, the startlingly rapid advance of the Internet, and fibre optics transmitting billions of bits of data per second to every corner of the globe.

With this transformation is rising a new economic, social and political order. The embracing of freer markets by a great part of the developing world is leading to an ever-accelerating expansion of global commerce and international investment. Advances in information and transportation services and networks are forging stronger and stronger links between countries, regions, cities, organizations and peoples. …