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Can Global Business be a Force for Good?

Experiences at the G8 Summit and elsewhere show how the forces which drive business globalisation can also help social progress.

By Vernon Ellis . 01 June 2001

The more extreme defenders of business have one belief in common with the antiglobalisation protesters: that the relationship between business and society is a zero-sum game where one can gain only at the expense of the other. 


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In this article, the author argues the opposite case. Recognising the validity of some of the protesters’ concerns, he summarises research and his own experience at the G8 Summit and elsewhere on how the forces which drive business globalisation can also help social progress.


Global business as a force for good”. To many people – and not only the protesters at Genoa – this sounds like King Herod writing a manual on childcare. However, although the advance of global business is inexorable, adverse consequences are not. Global business has immense potential to tackle the problems of global society and simultaneously serve its own interests. The question before us is whether, and how, that potential will be achieved.

We must start by acknowledging the fervour of the current backlash against global capitalism. We cannot dismiss the protestors as a naïve, misguided, unrepresentative, or even violent, minority – although some fit that description. For each protestor on the street, there are thousands more who privately worry about the power and influence of global business.

A common theme for many critics, in all parts of the political spectrum, is that global capitalism has been blind to its casualties and deaf to social concerns. They accuse it of ignoring the growing gap between the world’s rich and poor, and the destruction of local systems which provided a safety net against destitution. And the critics are right when they point out that it has not benefited everyone equally. There are excluded underclasses even in the most developed countries. While the poorest countries remain in relative poverty, the richest countries have raced ahead. In 1960 average income in the richest 20 countries was 18 times that in the poorest. By 1999, this gap had more than doubled to a shocking 37 times difference.

Global business also faces more specific criticisms. These reflect the highly disparate concerns of the interest groups who make up the anti-capitalist coalition: the third world, the environment, labour rights and standards, the welfare of local communities, democratic control and local accountability, and an eclectic range of cultural and spiritual issues.


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