Global Economy Needs Values, Says Top Trade Unionist
01 October 1997

'The world desperately needs business leaders whose moral values leave an imprint on every dicision they make' says Bill Jordan at the Caux business and industry conference.

It was a stirring plea from the world's most senior trade unionist. Bill Jordan, General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), representing 125 million trade unionists in 137 countries, called for morality in business leadership to meet the social challenges posed by economic globalization.

The world, he said, desperately needed business leaders 'whose moral values leave an imprint on every decision they make, leaders whose own morality gives them the strength to turn the tide of self-interest that seems to be driving the process of globalization'. Jordan was addressing the Caux business and industry conference on 'creating values-centred leadership' in July.

The free market, he said, had the potential to enrich many, but seemed 'incapable of halting the relentless growth in world poverty, unemployment and social exclusion'. A recent UN report had warned that gross inequalities within and between nations were creating a world 'with more losers than winners'.

The world's 40,000 multinational companies, concentrating billions of dollars in a few hands, now controlled the global economy far more effectively than governments. Jordan was careful, however, not to demonize individuals in positions of responsibility: 'Most companies are run by decent people who would boast of their standards and defend their principles.'

But individual morality was not being reflected in collective decisions because of 'intense and intensifying competition'. As a result, the 'huge impersonal forces of globalization' were leading to unfair distribution of investment around the world.

Most investment in the developing world was going to those countries, such as China, with the lowest wages and without social security and democratic protections. Wages for a metalworker in China, for instance, were 50 cents an hour compared with $20 in Germany. Africa received less than two per cent of the world's investment. 'It is little wonder that the people of sub-Saharan Africa are poorer now than they were 20 years ago,' commented Jordan.

He warned against the reassurances of 'those who ride the juggernaut of global trade' that everything will work out for the best in the end. Today's global market was 'without governance, global laws or rules'.

A threefold strategy was needed to meet the challenges of globalization: international rules to curb the power of the markets; an international investment regime to halt the widening inequality between continents; and 'a foundation stone of universally accepted human rights at the workplace'.

Jordan deplored the power of currency speculators who were able to trigger the movement of billions of dollars across the world. One massive flight of capital from Mexico, in a few hours had halved the income of every wage earner and had led to the loss of a million jobs. He called for a tax on currency speculation.

Jordan also wanted 'a bedrock of human rights at the workplace' implemented by all countries in the World Trade Organization. This would outlaw child and forced labour and guarantee freedom of association and collective bargaining. He dismissed the 'plausible but dishonest' assertion that poorer countries could not afford such minimum standards. The Indian government, for instance, had assured him it wanted to put an end to child labour which currently involved 40 million Indian children.

'We need standards,' he concluded. 'Whatever ideology or direction the world chooses to take, it must not lose its values. Although there is a difficult path ahead, not even the colossal forces of globalization are a match for the collective power of individuals to defend social values and justice. That power, that strength is in the heart and hand of every decent person we meet. Let's use it. Let's change the world.'
Richard Jones

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