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Globalisation, Yes, Globalisation, No

By Sirajul Islam

11 April, 2007

Globalisation was in discussion yesterday at a seminar at the World Bank Dhaka Office looking for making it work for the developing world, viz. Bangladesh and other similar countries. Many foreign and local experts including ministers, diplomats and economists explored the possibilities to get more opportunities from globalisation, and identifying the constraints. Our finance adviser said, "Inequality is increasing due to the global trading pattern… then, of course, we need a compensation mechanism on how do we compensate the losers" (The Daily Star, April 9th). He talked in the language of economics while the key-note speaker British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury highlighted the dark side of globalisation, saying it could bring threats of global crime and terrorism that could be organised and spread with devastating impact.

Yes, all of them, and other speakers, were perhaps right in their intentions to make globalisation work, but let me analyse globalisation with a different perspective. We know globalisation involves complete economic liberalisation, i.e., opening doors to big businesses. Multinational corporations are at the forefront. Globalisation wants the governments around the world to create an environment that is as conducive as possible to its growth of business. Regional groupings like APEC, GATT and WTO are totally committed to the same goal. The connection between big businesses, governments and regional and international institutions to create an environment for globalisation is not an accident. It has historic roots in colonisation, and as such, the dominant forces behind globalisation are based in the developed world. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to describe globalisation today as a replica of the Western colonial experience only. This is because one of the centres of power is based in Japan. Other centres of control in Northeast and Southeast Asia are emerging.

Globalisation, however, is not a process of capital, goods and savour flowing from certain centres to the rest of the world. While there are certain centres of control in the West, there is a reverse flow, as well as other flows at different levels. It is this complex process we should evaluate from a social and cultural perspective.

Globalisation is not all that bad either. There are some positive aspects of it. Some of them are:

- Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has helped to reduce poverty by creating jobs and improving incomes.

- The expansion of trade and foreign investment has accelerated social mobility and strengthened the middle class.

- New communications and information technology have helped disseminate knowledge in many fields of study and disciplines.

- Communication is cheaper and easier. Costs of telephone calls as well as travel have fallen. This makes it easier to understand one another. Communities although heterogeneous, can be more cooperative now that are more means of understanding each other.

- Globalisation makes it possible for humanity to have compassion for each other when calamities, natural or man-made, affect others.

- Issues such as human rights and public accountability are brought to the fore.

- The rights of women are highlighted and the problems many women face are now addressed.

However, with the positive aspects stated above, there are some negative ones. Those are:

- Environmental degradation due to unrestrained activities of multinational corporations whose sole aim is to multiply profits.

- Although poverty has been reduced to a certain extent, new economic disparities have been created. There are stark regional disparities in poverty.

- Basic necessities in life are set aside in favour of profits. Many developing countries have been occupied with facilitating foreign investment in industries that are lucrative to foreign markets and discarding the most fundamental needs of the people.

- Globalisation aids the removal of national controls over cross-border financial flows. Dramatic outflows of capital from one country to another have caused havoc in some currencies, particularly in Southeast, and South Asia including Bangladesh.

- Advances in technology aggravated by the outflow of capital to low cost production sites in the developing countries has caused growing unemployment in the developed countries, which is an cause offence to human dignity.

- Globalisation has popularised the consumer culture. Consumerism has given birth to materialism where people are more interested in what they have rather than the essential aspects of humanity.

Global consumerism is now forming a homogeneous global culture where rich indigenous cultures of many developing countries are being replaced by cultures with vibrant economies.

- Formal education systems are emphasising technical and managerial skills responding to market demands and leaving aside traditional academic subjects. This means that education is nothing more than acquiring specific skills and techniques to do business and less emphasis on development of social or basic sciences.

- Although the IT boom has given rise to an expanse of information there is a lot of information that is useless and meaningless causing people to be pre-occupied with unimportant things.

- Double standards are present in the human rights aspect of the present world where they are used as part of many governments’ policy but only when it suits them.

In reflecting on the good and bad sides of globalisation we find that whatever good has come out of it is actually a by-product. The very motive, maximising profit is responsible for its bad sides. So, globalisation may well be one of the most serious challenges ever to the integrity of human civilisation. As a citizen of an underdeveloped country, Bangladesh, how can we deal with this challenge? Since society and culture hold some positive aspects it is important that it is not completely rejected. Ethics and moral standards should be injected into some economic activities as a short-term and medium-term strategy. The market should be regulated by ethical principles. The challenge is to devise ethical economically-sound policies built into the globalisation process that are in keeping with values. I mean, the economic dimensions of globalisation are not the only factors that need reconsidering. Culture should be guided by moral universal values whereby a strong ethic of restraint is within one culture is applied to prevent the dominance of another culture. The internationalisation of the ethical values within the consciousness of the individual and the community could be the only hope for humanity. It is almost impossible to effectively censor all information through the Internet, satellite, etc. The individual who derives his/her value-system should be guided by time-honoured principles of what is right and wrong. Such individuals are the real antidotes to the bad effects of globalisation.

For such humans and societies to emerge, there must be a real makeover. It should be a long-term struggle but beginning with our own reversals practiced nowadays in Bangladesh. Justice, sanity and honesty that are part of all goodness should propel righteousness rather than appearance, formal procedure and representation. For the first time in our history we have the opportunity to convey to the world that we can do it. Instead of allowing the backboneless corrupts and people without ideals to monopolise, why shouldn’t our men and women with a universal outlook come forward?

Sirajul Islam is a social sciences researcher and consultant, and now works in INAFI Asia/Bangladesh as an Adviser (International Network of Alternative Financial Institutions), a global microfinance network headquartered in Dakar, Senegal and registered in The Hague. He worked in the NGO sector in Bangladesh for long 26 years, and has specialisation in community development, gender, environment and microfinance. He wrote three books, the first two were compilations of cases on local resource mobilisation practices of NGOs in Bangladesh, and on change management. His latest book is on microfinance, a compilation of articles he wrote in different times. He is also a columnist, and contributes regularly in a number of Bangladesh press. His present interests include microfinance, as well as politics and society. He can be reached at


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