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Globalization’s Challenges

Davos Meeting Brings Concerns to the Fore

DAVOS, Switzerland, JAN. 28, 2006 ( The annual talkfest of more than 2,000 business executives, politicians and assorted celebrities got under way in Switzerland this week. The World Economic Forum, as it is formally known, ends Sunday.

“The process of globalization creates vast opportunities for individuals, companies and societies,” the Financial Times observed in the introduction to a supplement it published Wednesday.

Martin Wolf, the newspaper’s chief economics commentator, wrote that the volume of world merchandise trade rose by 9% in 2004, compared to only 4% growth in overall global production. And, last October, the World Trade Organization projected the growth of world merchandise trade at 6.5% in 2005, faster than the growth of the world economy.

But globalization has not benefited everyone equally. “Much of Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa has failed to thrive,” Wolf stated. This means that countries comprising up to 1.5 billion people are falling ever further behind. “This is itself a serious threat to the long-run sustainability of globalization,” he warned.

The opening sessions heard good news on economic growth in both India and China, the Associated Press (AP) reported Wednesday. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel predicted her country’s economy would expand by 1.4% in 2006, fast enough to reduce its high unemployment.

Nevertheless, a survey of participants of the meeting, released by organizers on Jan. 20, found that while a majority think the next generation will live in a more economically prosperous world, over half of them also believe it will be less safe.

Among the main themes being discussed are globalization, the emergence of India and China, and the price of oil. As well, international trade is an important topic, with nearly 30 trade ministers present in Davos. Other topics covered in the sessions include AIDS, nationalism, human rights, terrorism, environmental problems, and collapsing trust in politicians and public institutions.

The large-scale protests at Davos by anti-globalization groups are a thing of the past. This is, in part, because their efforts are concentrated on a parallel meeting, the World Social Forum, being held in Caracas, Venezuela. Most participants appear united by strong opposition to the U.S. government and the Iraq war, the AP reported Monday.

Indeed, the Caracas gathering has drawn about 100,000 people, according to a BBC report on Wednesday. Activists have called for action on poverty, an end to war in Iraq, and have criticized free trade, the AP reported Thursday. A parallel, smaller meeting was also held under the banner of the World Social Forum in Bamako, Mali. Another will be held later this year in Pakistan.

Opportunities for all

The Church has frequently offered its own reflection on the ethical aspects of globalization. One recent example is a booklet published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. It contains, in several languages, two speeches given at an encounter held at Rome’s Lateran University last Feb. 25.

The event was held to present a report prepared by the International Labor Organization, “A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All.” ILO Director General Juan Somavia and Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, spoke at the event.

Somavia said that in an ever-more-connected world it is essential to seek solutions based on dialogue and common values. We do not need to invent new values to deal with the challenges of globalization, he said. Many existing values, such as the dignity of the human being, and the need for social justice, must be applied to deal with today’s problems, he added.

Ensuring decent work has a lot in common with the social teaching of the Church, Somavia noted. Work is a source of dignity and is fundamental to family stability. It is also linked to peace and stable societies. To this end, globalization must ensure better jobs in all countries, not just cheaper products, he argued. As well, globalization must be guided by principles such as fairness, equity and dignity.

Cardinal Martino started by noting the aptness of the report’s title. Creating opportunities for all is indeed an ideal line of action, he said. This aspiration is in accord with what Pope John Paul II had spoken of many times, when he referred to the need for a globalization in solidarity, avoiding marginalizing people.

The Vatican representative praised the work of the ILO in promoting cooperation between governments, employers and workers. In this way the world of work can be approached within a frame of shared values, even when there are conflicts of interests, the cardinal said. In fact, the report has an underlying methodology of worth, namely, that there exists a common good for all humanity that is right and reasonable to pursue, he observed.

Too often the public debate on globalization is fragmented into a multitude of special interests and ideological positions. Instead, the cardinal recommended, we need to remember the social dimension of globalization, based on universal values, a respect for human rights, and individual dignity.

One need highlighted by the ILO report relates to the area of local communities and markets. Globalization has concentrated on the international sphere, but relatively little attention has been paid to the problems at the level where people work and live.

An ethical framework

In the debate over ethical aspects of globalization, Cardinal Martino noted that the Catholic Church has an important contribution to make, that is, a fully humanist perspective. “The reality of globalization,” he said, “is not known in detail without a true vision of man and without an ethical framework.”

Globalization, the cardinal explained, is not some kind of uncontrollable, natural phenomenon. Rather, it is a human phenomenon, tied to the exercise of liberty and responsibility. To cope with its challenges, he said, we need a common code of ethics, a code based on the common humanity of all people.

The Church, he continued, announces that all humanity is called by God to form a single family in which the rights and responsibilities of all are recognized. As a consequence the political communities are called to the service of all persons.

In this context it is vital that globalization does not lose sight of the issue of human work and its dignity, the Vatican official added. The possibility of work transforms a poor person, who needs to be provided for, into a resource able to provide for both personal and community needs.

Ensuring sufficient work for everyone is a part of what is meant by the concept of globalization in solidarity, the cardinal observed. Thus, the call for solidarity is not just a vague sentimentalism. It is a policy of shared responsibility, and a stimulus to coordinate resources for the common good.

The globalization that the Church is interested in, Cardinal Martino commented, is one involving reciprocal assistance. In such a system, all collaborate to achieve what is good for every human being. A globalization that leaves no one behind.

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