Globalisation is a set of ongoing and uneven processes through which people and places across the globe have become increasingly interconnected. Because of the growth of information and communication technologies, we live in a globalized world where trade, investment, and distribution of production takes place on a global scale, and businesses now operate across different countries.
Every sector in the contemporary world is affected by globalization and international competition. If you look at a selection of items in your house or school, you will see that a variety of goods – from the clothes you wear, to the items in your school bag- have been manufactured elsewhere. A lot of goods are now being manufactured in China, but there are many countries involved in exporting goods and services for the UK consumer. Garments are made in many places in the world including Bangladesh, Thailand, Cambodia, Mauritius, and Egypt, as well as some Eastern European countries. Electronic equipment is increasingly manufactured by subcontractors in South East Asia and Mexico. Much of the food we eat originates in the more temperate climates of East and Southern Africa (eg., mangetout and beans from Zambia, grapes from Chilé, wine from South Africa and bananas from Central America). This process even affects trade in computer related services – for example, customer service call centres are increasingly located in India and other countries in the global South.
The processes of globalization have had other effects in the UK. Many multinational companies are involved in contracts which supply services such as cleaning and catering to schools and hospitals in this country.
In many countries where new multinationals have expanded, new jobs and opportunities have indeed been created. In some export-oriented industries such as textiles in Bangladesh, China and Thailand this has provided new employment opportunities for women. Women workers are often actively sought by the employers because of assumptions about their ability and willingness to work hard, often for wages that are lower than those that would be paid to male workers.
However, these new forms of work created by the global supply chain systems are mostly low paid jobs with poor working conditions, very little job security and lack of recognition for unions. They are therefore often termed “precarious work”.
Global competition leads to a “race to the bottom” resulting in ever lower wages and bad employment conditions. However, often as the result of consumer pressure some companies are now taking more responsibility for the working conditions and wage levels in the factories producing their goods, often spurred on by consumer activism.
One of the first times that the issue of the exploitation of workers in global industries hit the headlines was in June 1996. That month’s issue of Life magazine carried an article about child labour in Pakistan, with a lead photograph that showed 12-year-old Tariq stitching together a football - a task that would take him all day and earn him 60 cents. Over the next few weeks, activists across Canada and the United States were standing in front of Nike outlets, holding up Tariq's photo. Though the exploitation of workers by global industries was not new, it was finally beginning to receive public attention.
Organisations such as the Clean Clothes Campaign, Labour behind the Label and Women Working Worldwide have raised awareness and put pressure on large corporations such as Nike and Reebok to adopt voluntary Codes of Conduct which guarantee minimum levels of good practice. Some companies have worked with labour unions and NGOs (non governmental organisations) and have come together in organisations such as the UK’s Ethical Trading Initiative to agree a range of support such as better buying practices and training in order to raise standards in the factories which supply them.
Some of the issues that have become the focus of recent campaigns include working conditions, wages, right to join trade unions, child labour, human rights and environmental pollution.