The Human Face of Globalization

by Paul J. Dejillas

Professor of Anthropology


That globalization has become an unstoppable force is not the cause of so much alarm today. What is worrying many is that its supposedly “human face,” promised many years ago by the United Nations (UN), has not yet taken shape, much less felt by the people in the developing and least developed nations. Why has this been so? Was the human dimension of globalization left behind or wiped out in the process? Was there really somebody in charge of and responsible for infusing such a face? Are there still efforts to make globalization as human as possible at all?


Without it, the future for many of us will remain grim and ominous. Globalization will indisputably continue to unleash its havoc, making today’s realities even harsher. The world will continue to witness widespread poverty, to be divided into rich industrializing corporate globalists and the powerful political elites, on the one hand, and the poor, impoverished masses of people living in filth and squalor, on the other. Globalization will continue to exclude a great majority of the world’s populace and, without its “human face,” it will continually drag the people down to abject poverty and misery, this time, much deeper and faster, as well as intensely more ferocious and more vicious as has never been experienced before by mankind.


Is there still hope for the human face to be imprinted on today’s process of globalization? If so, who will lead and ensure the carving of such image?


In spite of their avowed promise of increased growth, high employment, greater income, and increasing standard of living to those who would embrace globalization, the individual corporate globalists cannot be totally relied upon to lead. Their main goal is pure and simple economic gains in the form of profit, increased rent, and higher income on their part. Striving for loftier and high-sounding goals as public welfare or common good is not in their priority agenda and they are not simply concerned of others. Neither can transnational political institutions like the IMF, WB, UN, and national governments be totally relied upon to imprint the human image, notwithstanding their self-proclaimed role as protectors of freedom, democracy, and equality. While they may be chosen or democratically elected by the citizens to represent the interest of the populace, their more obvious agenda is to attract more foreign investments and open national economies for the world to plunder. Globalization, as it is operating today, is becoming a new variant of colonialism in the past.


To deviate a little, colonialism used to be a nice word, as is globalization a few years back. Colonialists built roads, buildings, schools, hospitals, Churches and employed a lot of native people. They were teachers, doctors, engineers, agriculturists, ministers, political leaders. Colonialism became the transmission belt that brought to Asia, Africa, and South America the blessings of Western culture and civilization. But the colonialists were also carving an empire. They were building banks from the money of colonized countries. They were heavily excavating gold, copper, silver, nickel, coal, and other mineral deposits of the colonized countries. They plundered archeological sites, art, and historical records of the colonies to fill and adorn their huge museums and libraries.


Today, the globalists are not much different. They come employed by big multinational corporations as chemists, physicists, bio-technologist, geneticists, pharmacists, managers, engineers, software specialists, computer technicians, financial investors, and so on. They come to establish subsidiaries, buy out or collude with our big domestic firms and farms, invest in our money market, lobby in parliaments and congresses, and they come mainly for one noble reason---profit. While it took decades for colonialists to plunder an economy, the globalists take only minutes because of the speed by which today’s technology can transfer physical and financial resources across countries worldwide. The effects are more devastating and widespread because of the domino or contagion effect. The financial crash experienced in Thailand in 1997, swift and massive as it was, immediately triggered capital flight out of the neighboring economies eventually causing the Southeast Asian crisis. This crisis, in turn, was transmitted to Russia, then, to Brazil, and from there to almost all the major economies in the world, including the U.S. markets.  In all this, it was the people who suffer most of the heavy brunt.


This seems to be the accepted view today, the reason why the civil society, now emerging as “a coalition of the excluded,” take it upon itself to pick up and carry the cudgel that would ensure the birth of globalization that bears the human mark. The battlecry is “global solidarity of the excluded for a more humane world.” Judging from its past performance, the human dimension of globalization might as well emerge, sooner than expected, primarily because of the intervention of the civil society.

The “Battle of Seattle” from November 30 to December 3, 1999 was no small and insignificant event. Tens of thousands of protesters from all over the world, estimated to be more than 60,000, gathered together to hold teach-ins, marches, and civil disobedience to denounce what they call as the “WTO takeover of the management of the international economy.” The conference had to be cancelled when only 500 of the 3,000 delegates could get through the blockade organized by the civil society. Scheduled to talk during this event were US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.


The Seattle gathering was not the first success reaped by the civil society group. In 1997, it had already claimed victory in blocking the secret move by powerful corporations and nations to adopt the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Today, solidarity among labor, peasant, environmentalist, peace activist, faith-based, human rights, and women’s groups has grown to global proportions with the formation of the World Social Forum (WSF) in 2001. Now, a global force to reckon with, the civil society movement has come of age.


Successes like these encourage us---poor and marginalized---to look within ourselves, realize the richness and potential power within us, and harness these inner resources in an organized and collective manner. Yet, to do so, we---in the civil society sector---must act in solidarity with each other. In spite of our divergent and at times conflicting ideologies, we need to see our common interests and pursue these relentlessly to achieve our common goal. Only then can our voices be heard globally, and only then can we really take active part in shaping a more caring and compassionate world.#