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Essay On Global Village Our Environment Our Future


If climate change is the key process in the natural world impacting on sustainable development, then globalisation is the parallel process in the human world, creating both opportunities for, and barriers to, sustainable development.

Globalisation is the ongoing process that is linking people, neighbourhoods, cities, regions and countries much more closely together than they have ever been before. This has resulted in our lives being intertwined with people in all parts of the world via the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the music we listen to, the information we get and the ideas we hold.

This interconnectedness amongst humans on the planet is sometimes also referred to as the ‘global village’ where the barriers of national and international boundaries become less relevant and the world, figuratively, a smaller place. The process is driven economically by international financial flows and trade, technologically by information technology and mass media entertainment, and very significantly, also by very human means such as cultural exchanges, migration and international tourism. As one commentator remarked, we now live in a networked world.

While globalisation is not a new process, it has accelerated rapidly since World War II, and is having many effects on people, the environment, cultures, national governments, economic development and human well-being in countries around the world. Many of these impacts are beneficial, but Jimmy Carter, a former President of the USA, has pointed out that many people are missing out on these benefits:

Source: Jimmy Carter Quotes & Speeches

These issues make the development of an understanding of globalisation, its various integrated forms, its driving forces and its impacts a vitally important education objective. Such a understanding can provide young people with critical insights into the social, cultural and political impacts of the globalising impacts of economic integration and communication technologies – as well as provide them with capacities to assess the costs and benefits in their lives an communities and those of people in other parts of the world. This provides an important ethical, as well as analytical, dimension to the study of globalisation.


  • To understand basic concepts, processes and trends associated with globalisation;
  • To assess the impacts of globalisation and the wide range of reactions they have caused around the world;
  • To understand the interconnected nature of the major drivers of globalisation;
  • To appreciate the complexity of teaching about globalisation; and
  • To develop a rationale for integrating a global perspective in Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future.


  1. Growing Connections
  2. Circles and Systems
  3. What is globisation?
  4. Drivers of globalisation
  5. Evaluating globalisation
  6. Globalisation: Further Investigations
  7. Reflection


Anderson, S., Cavanagh, J. and Lee, T. (2005) Field Guide to the Global Economy, 2nd edition, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington DC.

Bardhan, P. (2005) Globalization, Inequality and Poverty: An Overview, University of California, Berkeley.

Bhagwati, J. (2004) In Defense of Globalization, Oxford University Press, New York.

Bhalla, S. (2002) Imagine There’s No Country. Poverty, Inequality, and Growth in the Era of Globalization, Institute for International Economics, Washington DC.

Broad, R. and Cavanagh, J. (2008) Development Redefined: How the Market Met its Match, Institue for Policy Studies, Washington DC.

Held, D. et al.(1999) Global transformations: politics, economics and culture, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA.

Hicks, D. and Holden, C. (eds) (2007) Teaching the Global Dimension: Key Principles and Effective Practice, Routledge, London.

Lash, S. and Lury, C. (2007) Global Culture Industry: The Mediation of Things, Polity Press, London.

Reich, R. (2007) Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life, Vintage Books, New York.

Richardson, R. (2004) Here, There and Everywhere: Belonging, Identity and Equality in Schools, Trentham Books, Stoke-on-Trent.

Steger, M. (2008) Globalisation: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Steger, M. (2009) Globalisation: The Great Ideological Struggle of the twenty-first Century, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham MD.

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalisation and Its Discontents, Norton & Company Inc., New York.

Stiglitz, J. (2006) Making Globalization Work, Norton and Company, Inc., New York.

Veseth, M. (2005) Globaloney: Unraveling the Myths of Globalisation, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham MD.

Wolk, M. (2004) Why Globalisation Works, Yale University Press.

World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation (2004) A Fair Globalisation: Creating Opportunities for All, International Labour Organisation, Geneva.

Internet Sites


Center for Global Development

Centre for Research on Globalization (Canada) – Global Research

Center for Strategic and International Studies (State University of New York) – Globalization 101

Focus on the Global South

Global Policy Forum

Brookings Institute Center for Global Economy and Development

Oneworld.net – Globalisation Guide

UN Millennium Development Goal Indicators Database

WIDER (World Institute for Development Economics Research)

World Bank – Inequality Around the World

World Commission on Globalisation: A Fair Globalisation – Creating Opportunities for All


We wish to thank the Yale Centre for the Study of Globalisation for providing the “Small Screen, Smaller World” to include on the CDRom version of this programme.


This module was written for UNESCO by John Fien.

The production of this module was funded by the Japanese Funds-in-Trust.

Globalisation, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing… you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers. This doesn’t affect two-thirds of the people of the world.

Growing Connections

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Good morning world!

All day every day we are linked to ideas, processes and products from all over the world. For example, consider the morning routine of a typical student.

Hover over any word in the story, which you think links the young person to a global connection somewhere in the world each morning. How many global connections can you find?

As I wake up, I throw back the sheetsSheets are made from cotton first domesticated in India but now grown, spun and sewn in China by a British owned company. and blanketsBlankets are made of wool from sheep first tamed and herded in the Middle East but whose forebears came from Spain to Australia where the wool was grown before being exported to Italy on a Liberian registered ship – crewed by men from The Philippines but with English officers – before being exported to your country where it is sold in a shop owned by a company from Sweden., get out of bedBeds are built from a design going back to the ancient Middle East and modified in northern Europe and, today, made from sustainably grown plantation pine in Norway before being exported to your country. and put on my slippersSlippers are much like the moccasins worn by native North Americans but today made in Thailand using a synthetic fibre made in Singapore on a machine made in Russia.. I then go to the bathroomToday’s bathrooms are a recent development of the washrooms of ancient Rome in Italy. where I wash with soapSoap was invented by the ancient Gauls from modern day France but made from Nigerian palm oil by a Dutch-English company with subsidiaries in almost every country of the world – and advertised on our Japanese-made televisions by a Spanish-born Hollywood movie star. and waterThe water is purified by chemicals from Canada at a treatment plant owned by a French company.. Returning to my bedroom, I take off my pyjamas and put on my clothesJeans and T-shirt, both made in El Salvador, but worn by people in almost every country. and shoesThe sneakers were made in Vietnam for a German company from skins tanned according to a process first developed in Egypt and rubber from Malaysia. for school. I look out the window to check the likely weather – cold and rainy – and decide that I had better wear a jacketMy jacket made from nylon fibre made from oil from Iraq by a New Zealand owned company but with a brand named after a city in Nepal. to keep me warm. Downstairs in the kitchen, I eat a bowl of cerealMuesli is based upon an original Swiss recipe made by a US owned company out of grains first domesticated in Mexico. and drink a cup of coffeeMy family buys Tanzanian “campaign coffee”; Sugar is a grass that was first domesticated in the Caribbean; Milk is from cows originally bred in Belgium. while watching CNNThe news today is about an election in Pakistan, a meeting of world leaders in Doha, Qatar, a new UN peace-keeping mission in Central Africa (with soldiers from Fiji, Denmark and The Netherlands), the results of a World Cup qualifying game between Uruguay and Argentina, and a famous Bollywood (India) actor who has just gotten married.. Realising I am running late, I rush upstairs to clean my teethThe modern tooth brush is based upon a custom developed in ancient China.. Downstairs again, I pull on my jacketMy jacket made from nylon fibre made from oil from Iraq by a New Zealand owned company but with a brand named after a city in Nepal. and hat, pick up my booksThe textbook was printed by an English publishing company but soon to be available on the global internet. and head out the door to the busThe bus is a Swedish Volvo running on Iranian oil and a big contributor to global climate change – but not as bad compared to those students whose parents drive the to school in private cars from Korea, Japan, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Brazil, USA, South Africa or England. stop.

Read the story again, this time with all the global connections included.

Q1: The story Good Morning World! was written to try to be “typical” and have some relevance to students in as many parts of the world as possible. Rewrite both forms of the story so that it more accurately described the typical morning of young people in your country.

Typically, these cultural, economic and environmental aspects of globalisation are the ones most often considered when people think about globalisation. These will also be a focus of this module as they strongly affect the prospects for sustainable development, both positively and negatively.

However, growing ideas about the need for international understanding and a global culture of peace. This is an important aspect of globalisation and Education for Sustainable Development.

The hat-maker’s son who became Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations

Robert Muller was born in a disputed area of Belgium in 1923, the son of a hat maker. He was raised in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, which endured so much political and cultural turmoil that his grandparents switched nationalities five times (French, German, French, German, and French) without leaving their village.

During World War II, Robert Muller lived under Nazi occupation and was imprisoned by the Gestapo. He then became a refugee, and later a member of the French Resistance.

On the night of the French liberation from Germany at the end of the war, he stood in a field and wept for all the young people whose lives were lost. That night Muller swore he would devote his life to peace.

In 1947, Robert Muller won an essay contest on world government. The prize was an internship at the newly-created United Nations in New York. He devoted the next 40 years to the UN, working behind the scenes on global cooperation to bring about a lasting world peace. He rose through the ranks of the UN to the highest appointed position: Assistant Secretary-General. He was nicknamed the “Prophet of Hope” for his spirit of peace and his many contributions to the United Nations.

The World Core Curriculum

Among the many honours for his efforts to build a global culture of peace, Robert Muller was made Chancellor of the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica. He was also awarded the Albert Schweitzer International Prize for the Humanities, the Eleanor Roosevelt Man of Vision Award, and the World Citizenship Award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

UNESCO awarded him the 1989 Peace Education Prize in recognition of World Core Curriculum that he wrote. This outlined four areas of essential knowledge:

  1. Our Planetary Home and Place in the Universe
  2. Our Place in Time
  3. The Family of Humanity
  4. The Miracle of Individual Life

Q2: Many people see globalisation as something to do with international finance and trade, multinational compaies the Internet, Hollywood and Boolywood movies and other threats to local identity and culture. Why do you think Robert Muller’s World Core Curriculum seems to be much wider than this?

The father of global education

As a result of his work on the World Core Curriculum, Robert Muller is know as “the father of global education”. This is the challenge he posed to governments and teachers:

Source: Muller, R. (1982) New Genesis. Shaping a Global Spirituality, Doubleday, New York.

Q3: When you read arguments as persuasive as this quotation, it is hard to understand why all school curricula do not have a strong global perspective. Yet, this is not the case in many parts of the world. What reasons do you think curriculum writers or teachers may have for neglecting the global perspective?

Q4: How would you answer them?

Save your answers to Questions 2-4 in your learning journal as you will return to them at the end of this module.

A child born today will be faced as an adult, almost daily, with problems of a global interdependent nature, be it peace, food, the quality of life, inflation, or scarcity of resources. He (sic) will be both an actor and a beneficiary or a victim in the total world fabric, and he may rightly ask: “Why was I not warned? Why was I not better educated? Why did my teachers not tell me about these problems and indicate my behaviour as a member of an interdependent human race?”

It is, therefore, the duty and the self-enlightened interest of governments to educate their children properly about the type of world in which they are going to live. They must inform them of the action, the endeavour, and the recommendations of their global organisations … and prepare their young people to assume responsibility for the consequences of their actions and help in the care of several billion more fellow humans on Earth.

Circles and Systems

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

UNESCO Peace Education Prize

As well as Robert Muller, many other global educators and peace makers have won the UNESCO Peace Education Prize. Some include:

1981   Helena Kekkonen (Finland)
1986   Paulo Freire (Brazil)
1990   Rigoberta Menchú Tum (Guatemala)
1992   Mother Teresa of Calcutta
1994   The Venerable Prayudh Payutto (Thailand)
1996   Chiara Lubich (Italy)
1997   François Giraud (France)
2000   Toh Swee-Hin (Australia)
2001   Bishop Nelson Onono-Onweng (Uganda)
2006   Christopher Gregory Weeramantry (Sri Lanka)

Two approaches to globalisation in education


One global educator who has not been awarded this honour yet is Robin Richardson. Nevertheless, he is one of the key thinkers in the world about globalisation and education.

Robin works in England as a consultant on multicultural and anti-racist education and, at one time, was Chief Inspector in one of the education regions of London. He has also worked as a consultant or lecturer in a range of governmental and other organisations in the UK, in most west European countries, and in Australia, Czech Republic, Israel, Kenya, Lesotho, India, Japan, South Africa and the United States.

As long ago as 1980, he was writing school textbooks with titles such as World in Conflict, Progress and Poverty and Planet in Crisis. So, whenever he writes anything about globalisation and education, you can generally be sure that it is not only very learned and wise, but also of value in day to day teaching.

In one of his latest books, Here, There and Everywhere: Belonging, Identity and Equality in Schools, Robin Richardson contrasts two approaches to learning about globalisation and its effects – the concentric circles approach and the systems approach. The differences between these are important as they underpin significant differences not only in thinking about the nature of globalisation but also in philosophies of education.

The concentric circles approach

Robin Richardson drew inspiration from a novel called Lark Rise to Candleford to describe the concentric circles approach. The novel, written by Flora Thompson, is autobiographical and paints a vivid picture of life growing up in a small English village in the 1880s:

Robin Richardson used this passage from Lark Rise to Candleford to depict the concentric circle view of the world.

Inside the innermost circle is the world we see and touch, hear and smell. It is our personal world and, beyond it, can be found the local region, national borders, oceans and the far-off countries of the world, each cascading out from the centre in concentric circles, just like when you throw a stone in a pool of water.

The concentric circles approach is very often used as a way of structuring school syllabuses in geography, history and other social science subjects.

Q5: Describe a school program you teach – or maybe studied as a student – that was based upon the concentric circles approach.

Q6: What do you think were its advantages and disadvantages?

The systems approach

Robin Richardson argues that the concentric circles approach has problems as a model of today’s interconnected world as it ignores the many different links across the scales. He wrote:

Source: Richardson, R. (2004) Here, There and Everywhere: Belonging, Identity and Equality in Schools, Trentham Books, Stoke-on-Trent, p. 12.

This means that we cannot adequately understand the centre circle or, indeed, any of those around it, unless we see it/them as part of something far larger and more complex than itself. Thus, there is a need to map onto the concentric circles the notion of world systems, with four of the most important of these being economics, politics, ecology and culture.

As the diagram shows, the systems act like drive-belts on a motor, turning and shaping our personal and local worlds in line with events and processes that are taking place elsewhere in the systems. Robin Richardson concludes that this is a more realistic basis for planning school curricula and suggests that “interdependence” be seen as a key word in curriculum planning.

Source: Richardson, R. (2004) Here, There and Everywhere: Belonging, Identity and Equality in Schools, Trentham Books, Stoke-on-Trent, p. 13.

In fact, the situation is even more complex than this because we can no longer see the school curriculum as made up of separate subjects. The major contemporary issues facing the world today – such as the topics of sustainable agriculture, gender and development, population, sustainable communities, tourism and so on in this section of Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future – are interdisciplinary.

Thus, there is a need to recognise that the systems that drive the world today demand new responses in education. If disciplinary specialists working on their own cannot solve these major contemporary issues in the real world then it makes little sense for teachers and students to study them in disciplinary boxes in classrooms. (See Module 6 Activity 2.)

Q7: Do you think the World Core Curriculum follows the concentric circle or the systems approach? Why?

Windows on Global Classrooms

What are teachers around the world doing to help their students understand this systems perspective on the increasingly interconnected nature of the world today? What processes, issues and implications are students being asked to explore?

Roll the mouse over the countries marked on the map to see how some teachers are answering these questions.

[Click here for a printer friendly version of these desciptions.]

Q8: Select three lessons that you would find interesting to teach and describe the systems that students are learning about. Also explain why you would find these lessons interesting to teach.

Beyond the garden in summer there were fields of oats and barley and wheat which sighed and rustled when the wind blew, and which filled the air with pollen and heavy earth scents.

The fields were flat and stretched away to a distant line of trees on the horizon. To the children at that time those trees marked the boundary of their world.

Beyond their world enclosed by trees there was, they were told, a wider world where there were hamlets similar to their own, and towns, and cities, and the sea, and beyond the sea other countries where people spoke languages different from their own. Their father had told them so. But for the children, in their small world bounded by the trees, this wider world was but an idea, unrealized. Whereas everything within their own world was more than life-size, and more richly coloured.

… it is no longer possible to understand your local world unless you see it as belonging to systems much larger than itself – systems in which skylines and national boundaries are largely irrelevant. “here” is not only the centre of concentric circles but also where various global systems meet, for example systems of economics, politics, ecology and culture.

Economic interdependence is an essential concept in geography. Ecological interdependence is fundamental in biology and chemistry. Political interdependence is central in all studies of causation in history. Cultural interdependence, involving fusion, cross-over and mutual influences and borrowings, is a recurring feature in art, design, drama, literature, music and technology.

What is globalisation?

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Globalisation describes a world environment in which there is relatively free and frequent movement of goods, capital, people, information and ideas internationally. The lessons in the previous activity were guiding students towards an understanding of some of the many consequences of globalisation. This activity takes a step backwards and provides evidence and examples of globalisation, clarifies the different meanings of globalisation and the drivers behind the many globalising processes in the world.

We saw in the World Core Curriculum and the examples of global education, that globalisation can emphasize the sharing of cultural experiences and building a global culture of peace. However, it is economic globalisation that is of concern to many.

Economic globalisation: A short history

Economic globalisation has made global market forces more important in the daily lives of the world’s people relative to nation state political forces. The economic processes of globalisation are not new, however. For thousands of years, people have been buying and selling to each other across great distances.

For example, the Silk Road across Central Asia connected China and Europe during the Middle Ages. The great Chinese navigator, Cheng Ho (or Zheng He), made seven voyages to Southeast Asia, India, the Persian Gulf, and Africa between 1405 and 1433 AD and established major trading ports. In fact, Africa was considered China’s “El Dorado” in the fifteenth century just like South America was for Portugal and Spain from the sixteenth century onwards.

However, not everyone benefited from these historical experiences of globalisation. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade saw over ten million Africans shipped to the Americas in 35,000 voyages between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. The British East India Company was formed to trade with the East Indies (Indonesia) but ended up trading mostly between the Indian subcontinent and China. While sending cotton, silk, indigo dye and tea back to England, the Company made its greatest profits forcing Indian farmers to grow poppy flowers which were manufactured into opium in company-owned factories and then sold into China against the will of the Imperial government. This eventually led to the Opium Wars between China between Britain.

The 19th and early 20th Centuries were also a time of very rapidly increasing free movement of goods, capital and people. New technology – in the form of the telegraph and steamships – made international communication and transportation much faster, easier and cheaper. By 1914, almost all of Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean had been colonized by European countries to advance their wealth and power. This was achieved by using military power to rule colonies as sources as cheap, near slave labour and abundant, nearly free natural resources. These resources were sent to the factories in the colonial powers, where they underpinned the industrialisation and economic growth Europe and North America.

Despite becoming politically independent in the years after World War II, most former colonies remained tied into the global economy as suppliers of raw materials, low-paid labour and markets for manufactured imports. Very few countries have been successful in breaking out of this pattern. This is the process known as neo-colonialism.

Economic globalisation has been advanced by five key factors in the past fifty years:

  1. To encourage economic growth and investment, governments have privatized many previously government owned services and industries and deregulated economic activity to allow market forces greater scope. The lending and development policies of international agencies and banks, to open their economies to international goods, services, practices and ideas.
  2. Large multinational corporations have replaced governments as the vehicle for economic domination and many have grown to be larger and more powerful than most countries.
  3. Rapid advances in technology, especially in manufacturing, communication and transport in recent decades, has seen the industrial revolution replaced by the information and services revolution.
  4. Advances in communication technologies and the media have intensified daily experiences of global connectedness and contributed to a “global consciousness” that normalizes and, thus, encourages more and more global connectedness.
  5. The rise in per capita income generated by these processes has fuelled a massive rise in consumerism and created a perpetual cycle – or a treadmill – of production and consumption.

These five factors are analyzed in detail in Activity 4. The important point to note is that they are mutually reinforcing. That is, rapid advances in information technology and computerisation, for example, have reduced the time and costs of global communications, thus reinforcing the effects of these economic factors. Faster, easier and cheaper communications have enabled the rapid transfer of huge amounts of money electronically and the organisation of production on a multi-continental scale. Thus, today, much of the world’s business is carried out on a global scale. For example, the typical family car now contains parts from all over the world.

Source: Ranson, D. (2001) The No-nonsense Guide to Fair Trade, New Internationalist Publications, p. 98.

See an animated film of the globalized supply chains involved in the manufacture of televisions, including case studies from Ethiopia, Turkey, China, India and Mexico. (Using TLSF CDRom? Please click here.)

More than just economies

Economic globalisation is a pervasive part of our daily lives – but globalization is more than just economics. There are many other examples and forms of globalisation, and evidence is found in all aspects of daily life, just as we saw in the story, Good Morning World!

What sort of evidence would convince you that globalisation is a pervasive part of daily life? Select six types of evidence for detailed analysis.

Q9: Match the examples of globalisation you analysed to the different parts of Robert Muller’s World Core Curriculum.

Q10: Summarise what you have learnt, this far, about globalisation in your Learning Journal.

Some definitions

Globalisation is a process in which the people and countries of the world are being brought closer and closer together, economically and culturally, through trade, information technology, travel, cultural exchanges, the mass media and mass entertainment. The impacts of these have been so rapid that they are the focus of much academic and popular writing.

The journalist and author, Thomas Friedman, is one of the most well-known popular writer on globalisation. His books include: The Lexus and the Olive Tree, The World is Flat, and Hot, Flat and Crowded. Friedman has parodied the Olympic motto of “further, faster, higher” to argue that that globalisation is moving so much “farther, faster, cheaper, and deeper” that “the world is flat”. This is what Marshall McLuhan called the “global village.”

Thus, globalisation can be defined as the:

Source: Held, D. et al. (1999) Global Transformations: What is Globalisation?

This is similar to the definition provided by Joseph Stiglitz, a former Senior Vice-President of the World Bank and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Stiglitz defines globalisation as:

Source: Stiglitz, J. (2004) Globalisation and its Discontents.

A number of scholars argue that these definitions are too narrow as they do not emphasise the many different aspects of globalisation. For example, the University of California Atlas of World Inequality argues that we need to recognize at least four dimensions:

Economic globalisation
… the greater global connectedness of economic activities through international national trade, financial flows and transport, and the increasingly significant roles of international investment and multinational corportions
Environmental globalisation
… the increasingly global effects of human activity on the environment, and the effects of global environmental changes on people.
Cultural globalisation
… the connections among languages, ways of living, and fears of global homogeneity through the spread of North American and European languages and culture.
Political globalisation
… including wider acceptance of global political standards such as human rights, democracy, the rights of workers, environmental standards, as well as the increased coordination of actions by governments and international agencies.

These different dimensions of globalisation often need to be studied separately in order to provide a detailed analysis. However, they are closely interlinked and have many interconnections and a full picture of each one must include its relationships with the others. Indeed, Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Friedman, two of the main writers about economic globalisation have, also written extensively about the relationship between globalisation and climate change. For example, Friedman’s next book after The World is Flat was called Hot, Flat and Crowded, while Stiglitz was one of the lead authors of the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Q11: Identify an example of each of the four dimensions of globalisation in Good Morning World! Also provide an additional example of each one from another aspect of your life.

… broadening, deepening and speeding up of world-wide interconnectedness in all aspects of life, from the cultural to the criminal, the financial to the environmental. At issue appears to be ‘a global shift’; that is, a world being moulded, by economic and technological forces, into a shared economic and political arena.

… is the closer integration of the countries and peoples of the world … brought about by the enormous reduction of costs of transportation and communication, and the breaking down of artificial barriers to the flows of goods, services, capital, knowledge, and people across borders.

Drivers of globalisation

We saw in the previous activity that globalisation works through many interconnected means. Some examples of the drivers behind globalisation that were identified included: the promotion of free trade, multinational corporations, transport, the media and communications technologies, and consumerism.

Promotion of free trade

Since World War II, and especially since the 1980s, governments have reduced many barriers to international trade through international agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

These agreements have led to many initiatives to promote what is called “free trade”, including:

  • The elimination of tariffs (taxes on imported goods)
  • The elimination of import quotas (limits on the amount of any product that can be imported)
  • The creation of free trade zones where there are only small or no tariffs as well as cheap land and skilled, but controlled, labour
  • The reduction or elimination of controls on the movement of capital out of a country so profits can easily be returned to the base country or a tax-haven
  • The reduction, elimination, or harmonisation of subsidies for local businesses so overseas companies can compete against them without any support for local industry and employers
  • The establishment of local subsidies for global corporations so that they can make things cheaper in oen country rather than another
  • The harmonisation of intellectual property laws and cross-border recognition of intellectual property restrictions (e.g. patents granted by China would be recognised in the United States and vice versa).

These economic and trade reforms are a central part of “free-market economics” which greatly increased opportunities for international trade and investment. Taking advantage of new opportunities in foreign markets, large corporations are able to source their raw materials from many different countries and establish factories and sales outlets all over the world. Thus, while there are many forms of globalisation as we have seen, one of its most significant aspects is its dependence on “free trade”. Free trade is strongly supported by the major international development banks and by economically powerful nations, such as US, UK and Japan, as they own 89% of multinational corporations. More recently, China and India are becoming strong supporters of free trade as their economies start to dominate global markets. This defining feature of globalisation is underpinned by a politico-economic philosophy known as neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberal trade policies are intended to encourage free trade but many people, especially in developing countries, argue that it has not produced fair trade. As a result, many development campaigners stage large demonstrations at international meetings of political and economic leaders, with banners and placards saying “Fair Trade – Not Free Trade”. While protesting about globalisation, these campaigners are very skilled in using one of globalisation’s major tools, the internet. Read more …

Q12: Where do you stand on the choice of “free trade” or “fair trade”? Why? Where did the ideas behind your position come from?

Multinational Corporations

It might seem impossible or, at least impractical, but every week four-wheel-drive trucks made in Japan bring crates of Coca-Cola to a remote Mayan community in the Yucatan of Mexico when the community lacks running water and electricity in their community. The same thing happens in villages in many parts of Africa and Asia.

Q13: How can this be?

One explanation is that carbonated soft drinks are very profitable to sell but water is not. This was explained in the module on Consumption.

Two processes lie behind this paradox. The first includes the neo-liberal trade and economic policies we saw in the previous section. Neo-liberal policies favour private enterprise and discourage government investment in the sorts of social infrastructure that support education, health, public transport, housing and housing that contribute to social well-being.

The second is the ever-increasing influence of multinational corporations. A multinational corporation (MNC) is a large company engaged in international production and sales. The largest MNCs have raw materials extraction and production sites in many different countries, even often manufacturing different components of a product in different countries where it has a cost advantage.

A growing amount of what we consume is produced from outside our own countries by MNCs whose purpose is to make a profit for their owners and shareholders. Many of these companies have active corporate social responsibility programmes to assist the communities where they operate. Nevertheless, of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations while only 49 are countries, based on a comparison of corporate sales and country GDPs. Read more …

Sometimes MNCs are so large that they transcend national boundaries in their operations and are know as transnational corporations (TNCs). Sometimes they merge with other MNCs or TNCs to produce one very powerful organisations. As a result, MNCs have the potential to strongly influence international trade and investment laws so that they can meet their need to make a profit.

Investigate the activities of five of the world’s largest MNCs:

Transport, the media and communications technologies

Technology has been another principal driver of globalisation. Advances in transport and information technology, in particular, have dramatically transformed economic life. Developments in containerisation and bulk carrier shipping have enabled rapid and cost-effective transport while innovations in logistics and air-freight means that many goods – from African flowers to Chinese-made computers – can arrive in markets over-night. However, it is the rapid improvements in information and communication technologies that have provided some of the strongest drivers of globalisation in recent years. The global Internet and its associated capacity for financial transfers have provided companies with valuable new tools for:

  • Identifying new and expanded economic opportunities
  • Faster and more informed analyses of economic trends around the world
  • Easy and instantaneous transfers of payments and profits
  • Speedy, often instantaneous, communication and decision-making
  • Partnerships with far-flung partners.

Read more on the role of the Internet and globalisation.

The rise of the Internet is only one of the many manifestations of globalisation and communication technologies. The mass media have and are having a major impact on linking people and ideas around the world – from newspapers, radio and television, to Hollywood and Bollywood movies through to the Internet, Google, Web 2.0, Twittter, Facebook and free international telephone calls via Skype. All serve to make contacts with other parts of the world a regular and almost unobserved or ‘normal’ part of daily life.

In normalising global experiences, the media have helped create a “global consciousness” or “global imaginary” as a “shared sense of a thickening world community, bound together by processes of globalisation that are daily shrinking our planet”. And, in so doing, the lived experience of globalisation and the mental and cultural models of the world it creates serve to further encourage even greater globalisation of the economy, culture and politics. Read more …

This can be an enriching process for many people, opening their minds to new ideas and experiences, and strengthening the universal values in a global culture of peace and understanding. However, some commentators have noticed that the concentration of major entertainment and advertising industries in the United States as contributing to the decreasing diversity of global cultures.

Terms such as ‘Coca-Colonisation’, ‘McDonaldisation’ and ‘Disneyification’ are used to refer to the way that the North American way of life becomes a universal ideal. Around the world, these brands are identified with the United States and represent its dominance around the globe. Coca-Cola, Disney and McDonalds have myriad sales outlets, hundreds of country web sites and billions of dollars to spend on advertising, thus spreading Western ways worldwide. Among the many results of this process are the loss of local cultural difference and the decline of world languages and the cultural experiences they contain. Read more …


One of the major dimensions of the mental models created by globalisation has been the commodification – or commercialisation – of daily life. The themes and underlying values of many American and European movies, television programmes and advertisements “normalise” materialistic assumptions about what counts as “a good life” or “a life worth living”.

As a result, one part of the cultural impact of globalisation has been to create a global consumer culture.

This aspect of cultural globalisation was analysed in Module 9.

Interconnected drivers

The important point to note about consumerism is that it is both an effect and cause of on-going globalisation. Itself a product of the media, new communication technologies and the resultant normalisation of Western ways of life, consumerism drives global demand for new and more products which, in its turn, drives the sales of products of multinational corporations and entrenches economic globalization. In this way the driving forces of globalisation become self-reinforcing.

Q14: Draw a diagram to illustrate the interconnectedness of these drivers of globalisation.

The global music industry is an example of how the four drivers are interconnected.

Up to 90% of music sales is by just five corporations: EMI Records, Sony, Vivendi Universal, AOL Time Warner and BMG. These ‘Big Five’ produce and sell recorded music in all of the major markets in the world, but have their headquarters in the United States, the largest of the world’s markets.

Vivendi Universal is the largest of the ‘Big Five’ with 29% of the world music market and wholly owned record operations or licensees in 63 countries. Its nearest rival is AOL Time Warner, with 15.9% of the market.

Each company also operates in a variety of fields beyond recorded music, including film making and distribution, publishing, electronics and telecommunications. This extends their influence to cover more markets within the global entertainment industry.

Research the global music industry further.

Q15: Explain how the global music industry illustrates the free trade, MNC, communications and consumer drivers of globalisation.

Theories of globalisation

Scholars have interpreted the interconnectedness of these drivers of globalisation in a number of ways. As a result, a number of different theories of globalisation has been proposed.

Read a summary and analysis of three different theories of globalisation:

Evaluating globalisation

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Globalisation is experienced in many different ways in many parts of the world, and there are many different opinions about it.

Ban-Ki Moon Secretary-General of the United Nations

More …

Yukio Hatoyama, Prime Minister of Japan

More …

William Clinton, former President of the USA

More …

Vandana Shiva, Indian environmentalist

More …

International Chamber of Commerce

More …

Review how globalisation is viewed in your country or a part of the world near, or like, yours.

Globalisation has many strong advocates and many critics. However, of itself, globalisation is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. Assessments of globalisation therefore depend on whose perspective is being expressed, their experience of globalisation, and its impact on their lives. Such perspectives also depend upon whether or not the economic status, government, access to telecommunications, etc. of the commentators enables them to enjoy the benefits of globalisation or not.

Q16: Summarise the major advantages and disadvantages of globalisation.

Q17: Where do you stand on globalisation: (a) as an individual, and (b) as a teacher?

Q18: What ethical dilemmas might you face if your views of globalisation as an individual and as a teacher are relatively similar?

Q19: What ethical dilemmas might you face if your views of globalisation as an individual and as a teacher are very different?

Review the principles that you could follow when teaching about a controversial issue such as globalisation, and compare them with the views of other teachers.

The last two years have witnessed a cascade of interconnected crises: financial panic, rising food and oil prices, climate shocks, a flu pandemic, and more. Political cooperation to address these problems is not a mere nicety. It has become a global necessity.

The intensity of global interconnectedness is stunning. The H1N1 influenza virus was identified in a Mexican village in April 2009. By July it had reached more than 100 countries. The effects of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 were transmitted worldwide within days: soon even the most remote villages in Africa, Asia, and Latin America were feeling the shock of reduced remittance income, canceled investment projects, and falling export prices. In the same way, climate shocks in parts of Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Americas in recent years contributed to soaring food prices that hit the poor and created instability and hardships in dozens of countries.

No nation or world leader can solve these problems alone …

Global cooperation was decisive in arresting the financial meltdown. While the world’s economic situation remains difficult, the benefits of monetary and fiscal cooperation among the major economies is clear. We saw a similarly effective collective response to the H1N1 pandemic. Cooperation works, but we’ve only just gotten started. Let us now bring the power of global partnership to bear on climate change, poverty reduction, and food production. Let us begin an economic recovery that is not only robust, but also just, inclusive, and sustainable – lifting the entire world. For if we do not do it now, at a moment of crisis, when will we?

The economic order or local economic activities in any country are built up over long years and reflect the influence of each country’s traditions, habits, and national lifestyles. However, globalism progressed without any regard for various non-economic values, nor for environmental issues or problems of resource restriction. If we look back on the changes in Japanese society that have occurred since the end of the cold war, I believe it is no exaggeration to say that the global economy has damaged traditional economic activities and destroyed local communities.

Capital and means of production can now be transferred easily across international borders. However, people cannot move so easily. In terms of market theory, people are simply personnel expenses, but in the real world people support the fabric of the local community and are the physical embodiment of its lifestyle, traditions, and culture. An individual gains respect as a person by acquiring a job and a role within the local community and being able to maintain his family’s livelihood.

Today, we must embrace the inexorable logic of globalisation – that everything from the strength of our economy to the safety of our cities, to the health of our people, depends upon events not only within our borders but half a world away … Globalisation is irreversible.

What we are doing, in the name of globalisation, to the poor is brutal and unforgivable. This is especially evident in India as we witness the unfolding disasters of globalisation, especially in food and agriculture.

Globalisation is about worldwide economic activity – about open markets, competition and the free flow of goods, services, capital and knowledge. … Globalisation has made the world economy more efficient and has created hundreds of millions of jobs, mainly, but not only, in developing countries. It generates an upward spiral of jobs and prosperity for countries that embrace the process, although the advantages will not reach everybody at the same time.

Globalisation: Further Investigations

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Supporters of globalisation point to many improvements in standards of living around the world. Examples include:

  • The percentage of people in developing countries living below US$1 per day has halved in only twenty years
  • Life expectancy has almost doubled in the developing world since WWII and is starting to close the gap to the developed world where the improvement has been smaller
  • Child mortality has decreased in every developing region of the world
  • Democracy has increased dramatically from almost no nation with universal suffrage in 1900 to 62.5% of all nations in 2000
  • The proportion of the world’s population living in countries where per capita food supplies are under 9,200 kilojoules per day decreased from 56% in the mid-1960s to below 10% by the 1990s
  • Between 1950 and 1999, global literacy increased from 52% to 81% of the world. Women made up much of the gap: Female literacy as a percentage of male literacy has increased from 59% in 1970 to 80% in 2000

However, critics argue that some of these improvements may not be due to globalisation but to national policies on education and land reform, for example. Others argue that these improvements may have been possible without the current form of globalisation and its negative consequences.

Investigate key questions about the social impacts of globalisation.

To try to address these concerns, the United Nation’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) established an independent World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation in 2002.

The role of the Commission was to investigate the needs of people faced with the unprecedented changes that globalisation is bringing to their lives, their families, work places and communities. The Commission looked at the various dimensions of globalisation, the diversity of public perceptions of the process, and its implications for economic and social development. The Commission’s final report, entitled A Fair Globalisation: Creating Opportunities for All, was released in 2004.

The Report acknowledged the benefits of globalisation but concluded that the inadequate regulation of globalization at national and international levels (i.e. due to the dominance of neo-liberal policies) meant that globalisation had “made matters worse” for most of the world’s people.

Source: World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation (2004) A Fair Globalisation: Creating Opportunities for All, International Labour Organisation, Geneva.

The report argues that this is the result of imbalances in the global economy, which are both “ethically unacceptable and politically unsustainable.” It warns that we have reached a crisis in the legitimacy of our political institutions, whether national or international, and that there is an urgent need to rethink current institutions of global economic governance, whose rules and policies, it says, are largely shaped by powerful countries and powerful players. The negative results of these policies, it argues, is due to the fact that financial and economic priorities of free trade have consistently predominated over social ones, including measures to support international human rights and the principles of international solidarity. The dire results of this have been seen in the impacts of the global financial crisis of 2007-2009, which has increased prices for food in the most vulnerable people around the world.

Q20: What can be done to help ensure that national leaders take better note of A Fair Globalisation: Creating Opportunities for All?

Impacts on food security and health

The United Nations World Food Programme has investigated food security will be affected by the global financial crisis by conducting case studies in five countries – Armenia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Nicaragua and Zambia. The case studies provided “on the ground” evidence of the effects of the financial crisis on families. The case study countries were especially selected to enable the findings to be generalised to other countries with similar socio-economic conditions. The major findings include:

  • All five countries have experienced a decline in exports, which has caused job losses. For example, in Zambia, the copper mining industry has retrenched a quarter of all workers while reduced exports of jute and clothing from Bangladesh have caused 300,000 job losses.
  • Overseas workers from these countries have not been able to remit as much money home to their families. For example, remittances which are the main source of income for a quarter of the population in Armenia fell by a third while Ghana saw a 16% decline in remittances in 2008-2009.
  • The currencies of these countries have been depreciated against major world currencies. For example, the Zambian Kwacha has lost a third of its value while Armenian Dram and Ghanaian Sidi have depreciated by 25% against the USD. This has led to inflation, and high food, fuel and fertiliser prices, especially for Zambia where food prices are increasing rapidly.
  • Overall, the most affected groups are: unskilled workers in the urban areas, families who rely on remittances, retrenched workers from the export sectors, miners and tourism sector workers and poor households.

The report found that families in these countries had to develop several strategies to cope with the global financial crisis. This included:

  • diversifying income sources
  • withdrawing children from school
  • delaying or reducing expenditures on health care
  • eating less nutritious but cheaper foods
  • reducing the number of meals eaten per day.

However, this is leading to higher malnutrition among children. For example, severe chronic malnutrition now stands at 20% in Bangladesh. Women are working longer hours and, therefore, have less time to take care of their children – and child labour is increasing. The loss of health care benefits for retrenched miners in Zambia is of particular concern given the high incidence of HIV/AIDS.

Q21: Compare and contrast the impacts of the global financial crisis on food security and health in your country and one of those studied by the World Food Programme.

Slowing progress towards the MDGs

A 2009 report by the World Bank predicted that global GDP will decline for the first time since World War II as a result of the failure of governments to regulate financial institutions and globalisation properly. Countries in the Global South are predicted to face a financial gap of $270-$700 billion caused by the global recession and mounting public and private debt and trade deficits.

The report also highlighted that the number of people living in poverty (ie. living below $1.25 per day) will increase by around 46 million people in 2009 (and by 53 for those living below $2 per day), caused by reduced wages, increased unemployment and slowing remittance flows.

The global financial crisis is also a major setback to progress on the Millennium Development Goals. For example, when poor households withdraw their children from school, there is a significant risk that they will not return once the crisis is over, or that they will not be able to learn what they have missed from months or years of poor or no school attendance. The World Bank also warns that infant deaths in developing countries may be 200,000 – 400,000 per year higher on average between 2009 and the MDG target year of 2015 than they would have been if the global financial crisis did not occur.

Source: Donnelly, C. (2009) Development: MDG Goals Face ‘Triple Crisis’.

Q22: What do you believe should be done to address the slow progress on towards achieving the MDGs?


The global financial crisis has increased calls for increased controls on globalisation.

At their meetings in 2009 to deal with the global financial crisis, the leaders of the twenty largest economies in the world (which account for 80% of global GDP), the G20 have replaced the narrow G8 group as the major international economic forum in the world. This has greatly increased the voice of the emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (sometimes known as the BRICs) and led to agreements to expand the membership of the boards of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The G20 meeting in September 2009 agreed to a set of key principles or core values as fundamental to strong, sustainable and balanced economic activities. These include:

Source: G20 Leaders Statement: The Pittsburgh Summit.

Q23: Consider the likely impacts of these principles. Identify (i) the two you believe to be most beneficial to the poorest people in the world and (ii) the two that might be least beneficial. Explain the reasons for your selections.

The prospects of globalisation has also been called into question by the fact that many governments have also established economic stimulus programs meant to accelerate national productivity, undermining imports and export-oriented growth. As a result,

Source: Bello, W. (2009) The Virtues of Deglobalisation.

Walden Bello is Director of Focus on the Global South, an international NGO based in India, the Phillipines and affiliated with the Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute in Thailand. Bello argues that a change in the “global imaginary” that underpins globalisation is occurring as a result of the global economic events of 2008 and 2009. While he notes the emphasis on free trade, private enterprise, and a minimalist role for the state, which characterize neo-liberal ideology, continue to be strong, and anti-globalisation trends “thought impossible a few years ago are gaining steam”.

Indeed, The Economist magazine has stated that “The integration of the world economy is in retreat on almost every front,” and while corporations continue their global supply chains, “like any chain, these are only as strong as their weakest link. A danger point will come if firms decide that this way of organising production has had its day.”

Q24: How seriously do you believe the drivers of globalisation will be undermined by these developments? Why?

“Deglobalisation” has been proposed as an alternative ideology to neo-liberal globalisation. Bello has identified eleven pillars of deglobalisation, primarily for developing countries, but argues that it “is not without relevance to the central capitalist economies”. The pillars are:

  1. Production for the domestic market must again become the center of gravity of the economy rather than production for export markets
  2. The principle of subsidiarity should be enshrined in economic life by encouraging production of goods at the level of the community and at the national level if this can be done at reasonable cost in order to preserve community
  3. Trade policy — that is, quotas and tariffs — should be used to protect the local economy from destruction by corporate-subsidized commodities with artificially low prices
  4. Industrial policy — including subsidies, tariffs, and trade — should be used to revitalize and strengthen the manufacturing sector
  5. Long-postponed measures of equitable income redistribution and land redistribution (including urban land reform) can create a vibrant internal market that would serve as the anchor of the economy and produce local financial resources for investment
  6. Deemphasizing growth, emphasizing upgrading the quality of life, and maximizing equity will reduce environmental disequilibrium
  7. The development and diffusion of environmentally congenial technology in both agriculture and industry should be encouraged
  8. Strategic economic decisions cannot be left to the market or to technocrats. Instead, the scope of democratic decision-making in the economy should be expanded so that all vital questions — such as which industries to develop or phase out, what proportion of the government budget to devote to agriculture, etc. — become subject to democratic discussion and choice
  9. Civil society must constantly monitor and supervise the private sector and the state, a process that should be institutionalised
  10. The property complex should be transformed into a “mixed economy” that includes community cooperatives, private enterprises, and state enterprises, and excludes transnational corporations
  11. Centralized global institutions like the IMF and the World Bank should be replaced with regional institutions built not on free trade and capital mobility but on principles of cooperation

Source: Bello, W. (2009) The Virtues of Deglobalisation.

Q25: Consider the likely impacts of these pillars of deglobalisation. Identify (i) the two you believe to be most beneficial to the poorest people in the world and (ii) the two that might be least beneficial. Explain the reasons for your selections.

Seen through the eyes of the vast majority of men and women around the world, globalisation has not met their simple aspiration for decent jobs, livelihoods and a better future for their children.

As a result, even though the global financial crisis began in the USA and Europe, it is hitting developing countries the hardest. In fact, it has caused a “triple crisis” as global economics, ongoing increases in food prices, and the impact of climate change affect the world’s most vulnerable people, according to the 2009 Global Monitoring Report on progress towards the MDGs.

If you take the period before the crisis, we were advancing very well in some areas, such as poverty reduction, education, child mortality and the decline of new infections of HIV/AIDS, but now the financial crisis has hit the developing world hard, and not all countries, both in the North and South, have properly integrated a programme for change.

The problems of the developing world are also the problems of the developed world. How Europe, for example, addresses its own recovery from the financial crisis, such as its trade regime, affects the whole world.

Global sustainability has to go hand-in-hand with human development; we have to avoid protectionism, and encourage productive opportunities in areas like agriculture, industry and services.

We have a responsibility to ensure sound macroeconomic policies that serve long-term economic objectives and help avoid unsustainable global imbalances.

We have a responsibility to reject protectionism in all its forms, support open markets, foster fair and transparent competition, and promote entrepreneurship and innovation across countries.

We have a responsibility to ensure, through appropriate rules and incentives, that financial and other markets function based on propriety, integrity and transparency and to encourage businesses to support the efficient allocation of resources for sustainable economic performance.

We have a responsibility to provide for financial markets that serve the needs of households, businesses and productive investment by strengthening oversight, transparency, and accountability.

We have a responsibility to secure our future through sustainable consumption, production and use of resources that conserve our environment and address the challenge of climate change.

We have a responsibility to invest in people by providing education, job training, decent work conditions, health care and social safety net support, and to fight poverty, discrimination, and all forms of social exclusion.

We have a responsibility to recognize that all economies, rich and poor, are partners in building a sustainable and balanced global economy in which the benefits of economic growth are broadly and equitably shared. We also have a responsibility to achieve the internationally agreed development goals.

We have a responsibility to ensure an international economic and financial architecture that reflects changes in the world economy and the new challenges of globalisation.

There is increasing acknowledgment that there will be no returning to a world centrally dependent on free-spending American consumers, since many are bankrupt and nobody has taken their place.

Moreover, whether agreed on internationally or unilaterally set up by national governments, a whole raft of restrictions will almost certainly be imposed on finance capital, the untrammeled mobility of which has been the cutting edge of the current crisis.


Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Completing the module: Look back through the activities and tasks to check that you have done them all and to change any that you think you can improve now that you have come to the end of the module.

Every year, UNESCO and the United Nations University (UNU) convene a conference on issues related to globalisation. The themes analysed at the conferences have included:

23 February 2012

Globalisation and the environment


Globalisation is the process by which all peoples and communities come to experience an increasingly common economic, social and cultural environment. By definition, the process affects everybody throughout the world.

A more integrated world community brings both benefits and problems for all; it affects the balance of economic, political and cultural power between nations, communities and individuals and it can both enhance and limit freedoms and human rights. Social workers, by the nature of their work, tend to meet those who are more likely to have suffered the damaging consequences of some aspects of globalisation.

Social workers approach globalisation from a human rights perspective as set out in the IFSW international Ethical Documents (1) for social work. Social workers recognise the benefits and disadvantages of globalisation for the most vulnerable people in the world. Our professional perspective focuses especially on how the economic and environmental consequences affect social relationships and individual opportunity.

The statement makes practical suggestions about how social workers, in partnership with local people and communities, can work to promote the positives of global interaction and minimise the harm which can be done.

The background paper explains some of the concepts linked with globalisation, sets the historical context and gives some examples of social work with the consequences of globalisation. Appendix 1 offers an agreed definition of social work, Appendix 2 notes that the term has many different definitions and can be used to refer to many different processes; some definitions of globalisation (globalization) are quoted. For one definition of globalisation, a discussion of the history of the use of the term and links to related themes, visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globalisation.

Appendix 3 presents quotations from a United Nations document summarising the main findings from the series of UN global conferences. Appendix 4 presents quotations from an International Labour Organisation report on a social dimension to globalisation. Social workers should be encouraged that these both endorse the humanitarian values and commitment to inclusive and democratic approaches which are inherent in the IFSW Ethical Document. However our daily work illustrates how far we are removed from these high ideals in practice!

Policy statement on globalisation and the environment

Globalisation is the process by which all people and communities around the world come to experience an increasingly common economic, social and cultural environment

Recognises that globalisation is a continuing process which, whilst advancing global technological development and communications, also has a negative impact on the balance of economic, political and cultural power between individuals and communities. Social workers see and work with the causes and consequences of these processes.

Recognises that the natural and built environments have a direct impact on people’s potential to develop and achieve their potential, that the earth’s resources should be shared in a sustainable way.

Recognises that pain and disruption in social, health and education services associated with structural adjustment policies has resulted in negative consequences for social programmes and the practice of the social work profession in many parts of the world.

Endorses the recommendations on social and economic development and on the environment from recent international conferences, as summarised by the United Nations and stated below, and calls on international organisations and nation states to implement these immediately.

Considers that social development programmes, whether linked to structural adjustment or other emergency economic recovery programmes, must have the following elements:

  • Education and lifelong learning programmes
  • Supportive work programmes for those whose physical, mental or emotional problems or caring responsibilities prevent them from taking standard jobs
  • Social protection to sustain those unable to raise income through work, with annual targets to reduce poverty
  • Respect for the UN Conventions on Human Rights and the Rights of the Child and arrangements to promote the education and welfare of children.
  • Consultation with local communities and civil society organisations and the active involvement of “excluded” individuals and communities in decisions which affect them.

Supports vigorous enforcement of existing environmental protection laws and standards as well as continuing renewal of necessary measurements as our knowledge base expands.

Calls on social workers and their representative bodies to make themselves aware of the positive and negative consequences of globalisation in their countries, and to support policies which uphold social justice, humanitarian principles and human rights and which increase social capital.

Calls on social workers and their representative bodies to recognise the importance of the natural and built environment to the social environment, to develop environmental responsibility and care for the environment in social work practice and management today and for future generations, to work with other professionals to increase our knowledge and with community groups to develop advocacy skills and strategies to work towards a healthier environment and to ensure that environmental issues gain increased presence in social work education.

Will conduct our own business to ensure that our concept of human rights includes the natural and built environment, with special focus on the needs of ethnic minority and indigenous people.

Globalisation and the Environment Background Paper

Human existence, rights and development in a global environment

People live and develop their potential in social groups. Throughout recent history, the ethnic group and nation state have been defining characteristics of human society. Throughout the late 20th century and into the 21st century, people have increasingly found themselves in a globalised world, with economic, social and cultural influences coming from many different sources. This process has challenged human and social rights and affected individual and social development. The nation state and ideas of ethnicity and social cohesion have been challenged by these influences. This process has become known as globalisation.

People cannot realise their individual potential and human rights in isolation; they need supportive circumstances to give expression to most of their rights and to realise their human potential. At its most direct, these circumstances need to recognise

  • the importance of peace and the avoidance of violent conflict,
  • the existence of an equitable social order, and
  • confidence in a sustainable natural environment which supports life

This is implicit in many international statements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Declaration on the Rights of the Child. Other international conferences and statements of special relevance to this policy include:

  • World Summit for Children – 1990
  • Conference on Environment and Development – Rio de Janeiro 1992
  • Convention on Climate Change – Rio de Janeiro 1992
  • Conference on Human Settlements – Habitat agenda and Agenda 21 – Istanbul 1992
  • World Conference on Human Rights – Vienna 1993
  • International Conference on Population and Development – Cairo 1994
  • Declaration on Social Development – Copenhagen 1995, Geneva 2000
  • Protocol on Climate Change – Kyoto 1997
  • The World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance – Durban 2001
  • World Summit on Sustainable Development – Johannesburg 2002

This is a universal truth witnessed by social workers in cities, towns and rural communities every day and therefore a fundamental element of social work ethical codes. Poverty, social isolation/exclusion, environmental degradation and violent conflict undermine the opportunity to make the most of human rights and are an affront to human dignity. They limit the life chances of those in poverty and inhibit their opportunity for personal fulfilment.

Yet, despite the fine words of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being) and the policy commitments from several World Summits [see above], the gap between rich and poor people continues to grow all around the world. The gap between the richest and poorest countries continues to widen, both economic and social exclusion are increasing, environmental problems worsen and violent conflict continues. ‘One billion, two hundred million of the world’s six billion – a fifth of the world’s population – still cannot fulfil their basic needs for food, water, sanitation, health care, housing or education and must try to subsist on less than US$1 a day and half the world – nearly three billion people – live on less than two dollars a day. In more than 30 of the poorest national economies (most of them in sub-Saharan Africa), real per capita incomes have been declining since the early 1980s. According to the United Nations, one child in seven in Africa dies before their 5th birthday and about 1.1 billion worldwide lack adequate drinking water’ (2) . This was recognised in the report of the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization (3) [See appendix 4].

Social workers see the effects of this reality in both the global South and the global North, among indigenous and minority populations, women, children, refugees, immigrants, displaced persons, rural workers without land, urban workers, older persons and too many others. This process of globalisation which it was claimed would bring the world together is in practice creating tension and division. These realities have provoked world-wide concern, protest and violence, much of which is directed at international bodies, such as the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund, and also at the G8 group of leading economic nations and at national governments.

Social workers have a duty to bring these realities to the attention of international bodies, governments and the wider world population and to contribute to the global debate about new solutions. IFSW does not claim to offer unique solutions but is committed to working in partnerships which aim to promote human rights and the social and environmental well-being of individuals and communities.

IFSW believes that a stable world order must be built on mutual recognition of human rights, a more equitable economic order, the enforcement of world treaties on a sustainable environment and a more determined search for non-violent solutions to national and international conflicts. IFSW welcomes evidence that these principles are becoming more widely recognised by national and international bodies. The World Bank has initiated discussions about a number of developmental issues significantly increasing development assistance whilst there is at least more open dialogue with the International Monetary Fund.

Global context

The last twenty years has demonstrated as never before the inter-dependence of life on the globe. The whole global environment is affected by changes in weather and land use which in turn have direct implications for individuals and communities. Economic developments in one continent can have almost simultaneous consequences in another. Conflicts in one area can provoke actions and reactions on the other side of the world which can be watched simultaneously on television or the internet by the whole world.

The natural environment

People share a common need for and a right to a fair share of the Earth’s resources, including a clean, safe and healthy environment. These basic requirements are under threat from climate change and environmental degradation. These challenges are widely recognised as presenting the greatest priority for global co-operation. The degradation of the global environment has observable social and economic consequences and therefore has an impact on the ability of people and communities to achieve their potential as human beings and to give expression to their human rights.

The IFSW-IASSW Definition of Social Work (Appendix 1) states: “social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments”. There is also a clear link to the Ethics of Social Work, in terms of our obligation to challenge unjust policies and practices and to seek solutions based on solidarity. Yet in recent years, social work has been mainly pre-occupied with people’s social environment and not so much with the natural environment (4). This was not the case in the 19th and early 20th century when the early social workers campaigned with others around the world for improvements in public health and the built environment [housing and public spaces]. Our communities have been rediscovering that a positive social environment is not possible without a sustainable natural environment. It is generally accepted that our natural environment not only influences but also is crucial for our social lives now and in the future.

The world’s resources are limited and threatened by pollution and consumption patterns all over the world. Pollution does not respect national boundaries, but is rapidly spreading its effects from one country or region to another. The critical condition of the physical environment demands a more holistic approach (5). The rapid global changes in the environment are complex and of a magnitude that significantly affect the planet and how its functions. The degradation of the natural environment calls for effective multilateral cooperation and policy measures which humanity needs to work on together.

We are all exposed to environmental degradation, but some more than others. There is evidence that poor neighbourhoods, communities and countries are more affected than others (6) . Lack of political and social power and limited access to economic alternatives increase the exposure of people to the dangers of environmental degradation. Children are more exposed than others because toxins concentrate more rapidly in smaller bodies; child workers are especially exposed. Large groups of the population in more fortunate circumstances are affected by Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) due to exposure to chemicals found in personal care products, building material, processed food, pharmaceuticals and plastics.

The very future existence of some communities and nations is affected by anticipated changes in sea levels, itself a product of increasing industrialisation brought about by globalisation.

The economic environment

From 1945 until the 1970s, conventional economic wisdom saw the improvement of living conditions for all as an economic, social, and moral imperative, built upon the lessons of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and ‘Keynesian’ economic theories. Improvement in living and economic conditions was considered fundamental to the promotion and maintenance of social stability, order, peace and prosperity. The construction of social welfare protection was an important component of building social harmony and integration. Programmes of public works and public investment were considered to be important ways to tackle the problems of unemployment. The idealism exemplified in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights was seen as an attainable objective for the world.

For the past 20 years, conventional economic wisdom has been pursuing a very different policy agenda, reflecting a number of influences:

  • there has been a real and rapid expansion of world trade, popularly referred to as the globalisation of trade, made possible by advances in transportation, technology and electronic information transfer;
  • the collapse of the former communist political systems has resulted in the need to rethink political and economic relationships;
  • there has also been a different approach to economic theory, under the influence of ‘neo-liberalism’.

Structural adjustment programmes
The neo-liberal theorists argued that the old social and economic consensus undermined economic energy for a number of reasons. They argued that the involvement of national governments in economic management undermined human rights by restricting individual freedoms, by increasing the potential for state and private corruption, by supporting the minority of producers at the expense of the majority of consumers and by undermining individual initiative and responsibility. They therefore emphasised the need to encourage personal initiative and responsibility and proposed that governments should significantly reduce their involvement in economic activity and regulation of markets. These neo-liberal policies, often called structural adjustment policies, have dominated international economic policy and have had a real impact in on millions of people in the countries where they have been applied.

Whilst this period has seen significant improvements in living conditions and opportunities for many, there have also been seriously damaging consequences which have primarily affected the poorest people. In practical terms, ‘structural adjustment policies have resulted in reduced public expenditure and state intervention in industry, cuts in taxation, which have tended to give most benefit to the richest groups, and cuts in social security protection, and limited the regulatory powers of states to protect individuals and communities. Deregulation, privatisation, and reductions in social welfare programmes have been implemented in most countries and have often been conditions laid down by the World Bank and others for economic assistance and loans to poorer countries in economic crisis.

Such ‘structural adjustments’ have had negative effects in many industrialised countries: an increase in the gap between rich and poor, lower per capita income for most, an increase in the number of women and children in poverty, an increase in the flows of refugees and asylum seekers and outbursts of public discord. There is also evidence of increased support for racist and nationalist political parties and a growth of intolerance. In less developed nations, these economic and social requirements, following after the impact of the economic consequences of the oil crisis in the early 1970s, were accompanied by rapid inflation and an escalation of the debt burden. In terms of social well-being, they have increased the level of unemployment, thrown households into poverty, reduced the fabric of social protection offered by the state, such as education and health services, exacerbated the problems of extreme poverty and driven more people into migration.

The policy usually recommended by international economic organisations seeking to promote economic development and to support nations in economic crisis has been ‘structural adjustment’ [see above]. The characteristics of these neo-liberal structural adjustment programmes include:

  • Liberalisation of trade in order to stimulate investment, meaning the abandonment of restrictive tariff structures on imported goods and the opening up of domestic markets to international competition
  • Reductions in taxes and public expenditure, usually involving cuts in health, education, and social security programmes
  • Devaluation of the currency
  • Tight fiscal [public finances] policy, including increased interest rates to dampen demand
  • Privatisation of state enterprises, often involving the sale into private ownership of natural resources and essential utilities such as water

The consequences of these measures have been mixed. In some countries, for example Chile and Mozambique, they have brought about sustained economic growth but have resulted in a dramatic widening of inequalities in society. In others, such as Zimbabwe and Kenya, the policies achieved little but a worsening of the plight of the poorest in society, aggravated at times by corrupt, insensitive and occasionally brutal political regimes. The social costs are invariably high in terms of increased unemployment as a result of the combination of reduced tariff barriers and higher interest rates, reduced purchasing power through devaluation and wage restraint, reduced access to health and education programmes and reductions in social security.

In addition to structural adjustment programmes in South America, Africa, and Asia, the process of transition from the command economies in Eastern Europe to market economies has imposed similar high social costs on citizens. In most cases, there has been a rapid rise in unemployment with the disappearance of traditional forms of employment. In Western Europe and North America, in addition to an increase in the poverty rate, globalisation has resulted in a reduction of average wages, reduced access to health and education through privatisation of payment options, major changes in retirement pension arrangements and unemployment.

Neo-liberalism in its pure form rejects any concept of social responsibility and views any restraint on these global forces as a hindrance to economic vigour and a restriction of human rights. Neo-liberal structural changes, in particular the free movement of finance and capital, have enabled major trans-national businesses to move their activities around the world to the place where they see the best economic benefit for themselves. For example, they can move production to parts of the world where labour costs are lower, with no regard for the workers discarded in the pursuit of profit. In practical terms, this has enhanced the interests of shareholders [those who benefit from profits] and reduced the significance of stakeholders [other people who are affected by the activities of the companies, such as workers and local communities].

International business has become aware of the potentially damaging impact of these developments, not least because companies have seen how shareholder value and economic viability can be undermined by bad publicity about unethical or unacceptable business practices. Many firms have published policies on ethical business practice, most major international businesses have ethical officers and many have ethical statements. However this has not prevented some major corruption scandals, such as the collapse of the US oil firm Enron and a successful legal challenge to Arthur Anderson, the international firm of auditors, among other examples. Nor does it stop the ‘hidden hand of the market’.

These global movements and economic policies also affect the natural environment as has been described in the section on the physical environment above.

Structural impoverishment, environmental degradation, pauperisation, and social and economic exclusion are contrary to basic, universal human rights and social work values, are economically unsound, and ignore the interdependence between the various sectors of society nationally and internationally. Social work cannot avoid confronting these realities and searching for solutions.

The war and peace environment

Some have argued that one reaction to the process of globalisation has been an escalation of tension and in particular the development of conflicts between religious and ethnic groups. These tensions have always been present but the speed of communication and travel brings the issues closer to more people and enables conflicts to be escalated around the world. Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, there have been constant local and regional wars. The attacks and significant loss of life in the United States in September 2001 (7), the response of governments and international bodies to those attacks and the launch of the ‘war against terrorism’, alongside the increase in religious and ethnic tensions world-wide, have highlighted questions of peaceful co-existence and the nature of global conflicts. IFSW addressed these matters in general terms in its Policy Statement on Peace and Social Justice approved in 2000 (8).

Examples of positive social work responses to globalisation

The following six examples of social work practice illustrate how social workers in different situations can support people to challenge the negative consequences of globalisation and realise more of their own potential.

1. In Latin America, a group of street children, one of the most marginalised inner-city groups, have lived together for several months. They survive by stealing from hotel kitchens, begging from passers-by, and stealing from cars. A social worker from the local Refuge befriends them and gradually wins their confidence, first by gifts of paper and crayons and helping them to draw and write and later by inviting them for occasional meals at the Refuge. The children grow in familiarity and stay overnight when it is very cold. With the help of volunteer teachers, an informal education programme is developed covering the basics of literacy and numeracy. Some of the children begin to lift their dreams and expectations beyond a lifetime of street life.

2. In India, a micro-credit programme was developed by social workers for poor, disadvantaged women working as weavers, dressmakers and small retailers. The co-operative lent money without security to its members at an interest rate similar to banks (who would not lend to these groups anyway). The repayments were monthly, and the surplus was then recycled into a larger lending pool. The co-operative approved (or rejected) loan applications from its members, thus taking collective responsibility for decisions and shared interest in business success.

3. In the Balkan conflict, a village was displaced by ‘ethnic cleansing’. All except the very elderly and weak fled to the neighbouring country where their language and religion was accepted. Instead of splitting up the community because of pressure for space in the refugee camp, a resettlement worker takes an audit of skills and talents. Many of the villagers had worked on textiles, weaving fine cloth. With a small grant, and begging and borrowing second-hand equipment, the worker is able to encourage the villagers to rebuild their skills. In addition to regaining confidence and self-respect, the villagers generate some income which they agree to plough back into improving the quality of materials and equipment.

4. In Nigeria, the Back to Land programme encouraged training in agriculture for young people whose families had migrated from the country to urban areas. It linked with a small scale credit programme to encourage the development of new rural enterprises. The emphasis has been on the development of co-operatives with skills in running small business. Social workers have worked closely with these initiatives to help build the skills and earning potential of the cooperatives’ members.

5. In the Philippines, a social worker is hired to develop a rehabilitation programme for ex-prisoners, most of whom had been detained for protesting exploitation of their villages or their people under various globalisation contracts. She set up a direct service programme, broadened linkages with other service-related institutions, and soon began lobbying nationally and internationally on behalf of not only the rights of the ex-prisoners, but on behalf of all of the human rights for which they struggled.

6. In the United Kingdom, in common with some other developed countries, one consequence of more open global travel has been an increase in the numbers of unaccompanied children seeking asylum. This has created a new area of work for social workers. These young people have a right to local council care whilst their needs are assessed and for as long as they need support. In some areas, the proportion of young people in care who are asylum seekers is now more than 25%. Some social workers have needed to develop new skills in assessing and supporting these young people, helping them to get into school and making contact with communities in the UK from their country or origin. This is in the context of an increasingly diverse ethnic and cultural society in general, which has also required social workers to extend their understanding of different cultures and their skills in assessment and support.


In order for social workers to counter the negative effects of globalisation and also to assist people to benefit from the positive opportunities which may arise, it is necessary to consider initiatives at various levels. The following sections of this paper suggest action which can be taken at international, national, regional, and local levels to implement a human rights and social development approach to dealing with the positive and negative consequences of globalisation.

International Commitments

The 1995 and 2000 World Summits on Social Development identified a number of commitments for all member governments. Particularly relevant for social workers are:

Commitment 2

‘ensure that national budgets and policies are oriented as necessary to meeting basic needs, reducing inequalities and targeting poverty as a strategic objective’,

Commitment 8

‘ensure that when structural adjustment programmes are agreed to, they include social development goals, in particular eradicating poverty, promoting full and productive employment, and enhancing social integration’.

Translating that rhetoric into reality is a difficult task. Social workers see little evidence of these grand commitments being applied in practice. The rhetoric seems to make little difference to the people affected.

International Action

International organisations, including the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies, need to make a continuing commitment to implement the objectives of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the World Summit on Social Development, the Kyoto Protocol and related international statements. This should be based on an understanding that the full implementation of human rights is not possible unless social issues are addressed. The over-riding objective to nurture a sustainable environment, the right to work, the right to housing, food, clothing and medical care, the right to education, civil and political rights, and the right to the protection of the law are all under threat for those in poverty. These social rights need to be affirmed at the international level.

The World Bank and international financial institutions need to have the protection of the environment, the reduction of poverty and the improvement of the living conditions of the poorest as their overriding strategic priority. This is not found in every action. For example, international financial institutions have made heavy investments in companies responsible for environmental destruction and the internal displacement of thousands of people in Nigeria, Columbia, and Indonesia.

International and national bodies need to recognise the overwhelming case for the relief of the debts of the most indebted countries, one consequence of which is that every child born in the most indebted countries is born into debt.

The report of the IFSW Europe project on social exclusion (9) (1997) argued for a treaty on social rights in Europe which should include the right to family life and relationships of choice, the right to be integrated or not according to personal choice, the right to housing, the rights to education, the right to health care, the right of children and young people to be treated as citizens and for their wishes to be heard and taken into account. It argued for an implementation plan to secure these rights and the commitments of the World Summit on Social Development. This approach could usefully be adopted by other international bodies. Words need to be backed up by policy commitments and action plans against which implementation can be measured.

National action

National governments need to be clear about the social impact of the policies which they are following so that the impact on employment, health, housing and income distribution is routinely assessed in the analysis of economic policies. Too often, economic measures have been produced which secure fiscal stability at the price of human suffering and devastating consequences for socially excluded families and individuals. These consequences have both personal and societal costs which need to be reflected in any true economic analysis.

In their role as advocates, national social work associations should press for government policies to be co-ordinated across different sectors of government to assess the impact of change in one area having a pernicious impact elsewhere. They should advocate for an action plan with annual targets to reduce poverty. They should insist that social impact statements be attached to new government initiatives. For example, having failed to force government to adequately to assess the impact of the 1996 welfare reform legislation, social work organisations in the United States worked closely with each other and with recipient organisations to monitor and document trends and case studies. They were able to challenge, refuting many government claims of the successful results of welfare reform in extensive reports and in the media.

Local action

Many of the initiatives in which social workers are involved are targeted at the local level. These individual, relatively small scale projects need to be integrated in a holistic approach co-ordinating a range of interventions. It is important to use these projects as examples of how social exclusion can be overcome and to create opportunities for other citizens to become involved. Social workers have a responsibility to publicise this knowledge and evidence through their agencies, professional organisations, and in other ways to advocate for the development of policy and action at the macro-level.

Social workers need to work closely in solidarity with those most affected by globalisation and structural adjustment policies in the struggle to bring basic change in their relationship to the rest of society and ensure their inclusion in the planning, performance and evaluation of social welfare and social work policy and practice. Individuals and communities can be engaged to overcome disadvantage and marginalisation

The overall approach needs five elements:

1. Education

Education is essential in order to break into the cycle whereby severe poverty and deprivation for the parents is replicated in diminished life chances for the children of the household. Educational opportunities need to be made available to all members of society. This will involve a conscious and deliberate attempt to create enhanced access for families living in deprived conditions to overcome the social obstacles which they face.

All States should therefore have the goal of securing universal access to primary and secondary education, necessary by gradual extension of the age of leaving full-time education. The annual Action Plan to combat poverty should record the proportion of those under 16 in full-time education, and develop strategies to combat those who do not fully participate in the educational structure.

2. Supportive Work Opportunities

Work enables people to support themselves and their dependants and to feel a part of their society. Social workers are in contact with many people who have difficulty returning to or entering employment or who have physical, mental, or emotional problems or caring responsibilities which prevent them from taking standard jobs. They need assistance in finding work and/or alternatives to standard paid employment. Supportive work programmes, for example to improve the environment or to improve levels of social support to marginalised groups, are acceptable only if they promote the dignity of participants and pay a realistic income above subsistence level. However effective the programmes of work creation, the community will always need to support some individuals who are not able to work because of disability or illness of themselves or family members.

3. Social Protection

Social protections are necessary in order to sustain those unable to work. To tackle a rapid widening between the rich and the poor, it is essential to use fiscal measures [taxes and benefits] to create a system of social protection for marginalised groups like older people, people with disabilities and people with mental health problems who are unable to sustain full time employment. The annual Action Plan of the state should set targets to reduce year on year the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty.

4. Children

Children are particularly vulnerable when living in poverty. Their education, their health and their vulnerability to abuse are much greater. The Convention on the Rights of the Child should guide policy initiatives.

5. Participation

All initiatives should be based on the principle of citizen participation. Citizens should have the opportunity to get involved in planning future developments and in participating about decisions which affect them. By making positive choices and decisions, individuals gain self-confidence and involvement in communities. Self help initiatives can be important in creating opportunities for personal development and growth. Empowerment is a basic social work principle.


This paper has presented a simplified analysis of dominant economic theories and strategies over the last fifty years and highlighted some of the adverse impacts of current policies of neo-liberalism/structural adjustment. It has identified the potential for change at international, national and local levels. It has set out the contribution which social work can make through work with individuals, social development and community action in enhancing the life chances for socially excluded individuals.

IFSW will play its part in building a global coalition to promote an inclusive society.



Definition of Social Work (10)


The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.


Social work in its various forms addresses the multiple, complex transactions between people and their environments. Its mission is to enable all people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional social work is focused on problem solving and change. As such, social workers are change agents in society and in the lives of the individuals, families and communities they serve. Social work is an interrelated system of values, theory and practice.


Social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals, and its values are based on respect for the equality, worth, and dignity of all people. Since its beginnings over a century ago, social work practice has focused on meeting human needs and developing human potential. Human rights and social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action. In solidarity with those who are dis-advantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion. Social work values are embodied in the profession’s national and international codes of ethics.


Social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognises the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organisational, social and cultural changes.


Social work addresses the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society. It responds to crises and emergencies as well as to everyday personal and social problems. Social work utilises a variety of skills, techniques, and activities consistent with its holistic focus on persons and their environments. Social work interventions range from primarily person-focused psychosocial processes to involvement in social policy, planning and development. These include counselling, clinical social work, group work, social pedagogical work, and family treatment and therapy as well as efforts to help people obtain services and resources in the community. Interventions also include agency administration, community organisation and engaging in social and political action to impact social policy and economic development. The holistic focus of social work is universal, but the priorities of social work practice will vary from country to country and from time to time depending on cultural, historical, and socio-economic conditions.

* This international definition of the social work profession replaces the IFSW definition adopted in 1982. It is understood that social work in the 21st century is dynamic and evolving, and therefore no definition should be regarded as exhaustive.

Adopted by the IFSW General Meeting in Montréal, Canada, July 2000


Definitions of Globalisation

International Federation of Social Workers

Globalisation (or globalization) is the process by which all peoples and communities come to experience an increasingly common economic, social and cultural environment; by definition, the process affects everybody throughout the world.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics (11)

A central part of the rhetoric of contemporary world politics and the subject of increasing volumes of academic analysis. It resists any single or simple definition. Although often associated with claims that the present world system is undergoing transformation, it is an old idea. There is a long tradition of writers emphasizing the external economic constraints that act upon nation states and the transforming impact of global economic processes, with Marx being amongst the most powerful and prescient. [A thorough analysis of the concept, different uses, academic and other criticisms and political significance.]

A Dictionary of Economics (12)

The process by which the whole world becomes a single market. This means that goods and services, capital, and labour are traded on a worldwide basis, and information and the results of research flow readily between countries. The rise of cheap sea transport and the telegram contributed to this process in the 19th century. Cheap air travel, the telephone, and the computer, together with the rising importance of multinational companies and general relaxation of controls on trade and international investment, continued the process in the 20th century. It is possible that the rise of the internet and the start which has been made on liberalizing international trade in services will continue this movement in the 21st century. The world has still a very long way to go, however, before its economy is fully globalised. In particular, international mobility of labour is tightly restricted, and poor transport and communications in most less developed countries (LDCs) mean that only the economies of the richer and more advanced countries are at all seriously globalised.

A Dictionary of Geography (13)

The concept of the interactions of natural and human phenomena on a global scale. Global warming, for example, is a world-wide phenomenon where human agency may have major repercussions on the atmosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere.

Globalization. A Very Short Introduction (14)

“Globalization refers to a multidimensional set of social processes that create, multiply, stretch, and intensify worldwide social interdependencies and exchanges while at the same time fostering in people a growing awareness of deepening connections between the local and the distant”

Wilkipaedia – the Free Encyclopaedia (15)

Globalisation (or globalization) in its literal sense is a social change, an increase in connections among societies and their elements due to, among others, the explosive evolution of transport and communication technologies. The term is applied to many social, cultural, commercial and economic activities.
Depending on the context it can mean

  • formation of a global village – closer contact between different parts of the world, with increasing possibilities of personal exchange and mutual understanding between “world citizens”,
  • economic globalisation – more freedom of trade and increasing relations among members of an industry in different parts of the world (globalisation of an industry),
  • negative effects of increasingly multinational businesses – perceptions of evasion of legal and moral standards through moving manufacturing, mining and harvesting practices overseas.

It shares a number of characteristics with internationalisation and is used interchangeably, although some prefer to use globalisation to emphasize the erosion of the nation state or national boundaries.

This definition is available in several global languages from this website.


United Nations New Approaches to Development (16)


“Since 1990, the international community has convened 12 major conferences which have committed Governments to address urgently some of the most pressing problems facing the world today. Taken together, these high profile meetings have achieved a global consensus on the priorities for a new development agenda for the 1990s and beyond. ”

The United Nations has published a briefing paper, with a chapter dedicated to each of the major conferences. The paper attempts to answer important questions, such as: What problems did these conferences address? What did they accomplish? What actions did they propose? What is the follow-up? Where do we go from here? What is the UN role in the new development agenda proposed by these meetings?

The challenges ahead

“The world conferences reaffirmed many long-standing principles and helped articulate new ones that reflect the experience — both the successes and failures — of the past 50 years of work in the principal areas of the UN mandate. Both the conferences and the parallel work on “An Agenda for Development”, the evolving proposal for a new approach to development, currently being revised by the General Assembly, have focused attention on problems of development and reflect the new thinking that has emerged over the past decade in the face of ever-changing circumstances. The Agenda’s call for a “common framework” for the various initiatives for development and the emphasis placed on integrated follow-up have been echoed in the conferences. The conferences also linked the themes and action plans to each other in a deliberate way. Although there is no universal prescription for successful development, the conferences reflect the growing convergence of views that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. There is also concern that the “top-down” approach to development be countered by genuine input from the community level to the policy-making process. These are concepts that mark major shifts in thinking, not simply among some development specialists or academics, but by government leaders and policy makers who are setting policy at the highest levels. These can be expected to have a far-reaching impact at all levels of society.

“There is increasing acceptance of a common concept of development, which is centered on human beings, their needs, rights and aspirations, fostered by sustainable global economic growth and supported by a revitalized and equitable system of multilateral cooperation. These major international conferences have played a key role in building this consensus and in identifying the actions needed to fulfill common goals.

New approaches to development

“A variety of guidelines and principles reflecting the new thinking about development are highlighted in the action plans of the world conferences. The action plans call for their integration into policy and programme formulation at both the national and international levels. These constitute the bases for evaluation of the Conference accomplishments over time.

“Development should be centred on human beings. Because an individual’s well-being is multifaceted, a multidimensional approach to development is essential. Therefore, any formulation of strategies, policies, and national, regional and international actions has to be based on an integrated and comprehensive approach.

“Central goals of development include the eradication of poverty, the fulfilment of the basic needs of all people and the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, the right to development among them. Development requires that governments apply active social and environmental policies, and the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of democratic and widely participatory institutions. Goals of economic growth and social progress in larger freedom must therefore be pursued simultaneously and in an integrated manner.

“Investments in health, education and training are critical to the development of human resources. Social development is best pursued if governments actively promote empowerment and participation in a democratic and pluralistic system respectful of all human rights. Processes to promote increased and equal economic opportunities, to avoid exclusion and to overcome socially divisive disparities while respecting diversity are also a necessary part of an enabling environment for social development.

“The improvement of the status of women, including their empowerment, is central to all efforts to achieve sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions.
n Diversion of resources away from social priorities should be avoided and, where it has occurred, be corrected. The formulation of structural adjustment policies and programmes should take these considerations into account.

“An open and equitable framework for trade, investment and technology transfer, as well as enhanced co-operation in the management of a globalised world economy and in the formulation and implementation of macro-economic policies, are critical for the promotion of sustained economic growth. While the private sector is the primary motor for economic development, the importance of an active role for governments in the formulation of social and environmental policies should not be underestimated.

“An acceleration of the rate of economic growth is essential for expanding the resource base for development and hence for economic, technical and social transformation. Economic growth generates the required financial, physical, human and technological resources and creates a basis for sustained global economic growth and sustainable development as well as for international economic co-operation. It is also essential to the eradication of poverty.


A Fair Globalization Creating Opportunities for All (17)

World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization
International Labour Organisation


Our remit, the Social Dimension of Globalization, is a vast and complex one. As a Commission we were broadly representative of the diverse and contending actors and interests that exist in the real world. Co-chaired by two serving Heads of State, a woman and a man, from North and South, we came from countries in different parts of the world and at all stages of development. Our affiliations were equally diverse: government, politics, parliaments, business and multinational corporations, organized labour, academia and civil society.

Yet, through a spirit of common purpose, we arrived at the shared understandings that are before you. As a collective document it is quite different from alternative reports each one of us would have written individually. But our experience has demonstrated the value and power of dialogue as an instrument for change. Through listening patiently and respectfully to diverse views and interests we found common ground.

We were spurred on by the realization that action to build a fair and inclusive process of globalization was urgent. This could only happen in the future through forging agreements among a broad spectrum of actors on the course for action. We are convinced that our experience can and should be replicated on a larger and wider scale, expanding the space for dialogue aimed at building consensus for action.

A vision for change

Public debate on globalization is at an impasse. Opinion is frozen in the ideological certainties of entrenched positions and fragmented in a variety of special interests. The will for consensus is weak. Key international negotiations are deadlocked and international development commitments go largely unfulfilled.

The report before you offers no miraculous or simple solutions, for there are none. But it is an attempt to help break the current impasse by focusing on the concerns and aspirations of people and on the ways to better harness the potential of globalization itself. Ours is a critical but positive message for changing the current path of globalization.

We believe the benefits of globalization can be extended to more people and better shared between and within countries, with many more voices having an influence on its course. The resources and the means are at hand. Our proposals are ambitious but feasible. We are certain that a better world is possible.

We seek a process of globalization with a strong social dimension based on universally shared values, and respect for human rights and individual dignity; one that is fair, inclusive, democratically governed and provides opportunities and tangible benefits for all countries and people.

To this end we call for:

A focus on people.
The cornerstone of a fairer globalization lies in meeting the demands of all people for: respect for their rights, cultural identity and autonomy; decent work; and the empowerment of the local communities they live in. Gender equality is essential.

A democratic and effective State
The State must have the capability to manage integration into the global economy, and provide social and economic opportunity and security.

Sustainable development
The quest for a fair globalization must be underpinned by the interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of economic development, social development and environmental protection at the local, national, regional and global levels.

Productive and equitable markets
This requires sound institutions to promote opportunity and enterprise in a well-functioning market economy.

Fair rules
The rules of the global economy must offer equitable opportunity and access for all countries and recognize the diversity in national capacities and developmental needs.

Globalization with solidarity
There is a shared responsibility to assist countries and people excluded from or disadvantaged by globalization. Globalization must help to overcome inequality both within and between countries and contribute to the elimination of poverty.

Greater accountability to people
Public and private actors at all levels with power to influence the outcomes of globalization must be democratically accountable for the policies they pursue and the actions they take. They must deliver on their commitments and use their power with respect for others.

Deeper partnerships
Many actors are engaged in the realization of global social and economic goals – international organizations, governments and parliaments, business, labour, civil society and many others. Dialogue and partnership among them is an essential democratic instrument to create a better world.

An effective United Nations
A stronger and more efficient multilateral system is the key instrument to create a democratic, legitimate and coherent framework for globalization.

References and footnotes

(1) International Federation of Social Workers Ethical Document

(2) Hall, Nigel 2002 Globalisation and Third World Poverty, paper presented to New Zealand Association of Social Workers annual conference, unpublished

(3) World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization 2004 A fair globalization: creating opportunities for all, International Labour Organisation, Geneva, www.ilo.org/public/english/wcsdg/docs/report.pdf

(4) See for example National Association of Social Workers 2003 Policy Statement on “Environmental Policy” in Social Work Speaks, 6th Edition, NASW Press, Washington, DC. www.socialworkers.org/resources/abstracts/abstracts/environmental.asp

(5) Hoff, M. D. 1997 Social Work, the Environment, and Sustainable Growth. In M.C. Hokenstad and J. Midgley (Eds.), Issues in International Social Work: Global Challenges for a New Century, NASW Press, Washington, DC.

(6) Rogge, M.E. and Darkwa, O.K. 1996 Poverty and the Environment; an international perspective for social work, International Social Work Journal 39, Sage, London

(7) See for example the news archives on the following site www.september11news.com (8) International Federation of Social Workers 2000 International Statement on Peace and Social Justice

(9) International Federation of Social Workers Europe 1997 Social exclusion and social work: facilitating inclusion

(10) International Federation of Social Workers 2000 Definition of Social Work

(11) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, Oxford University Press

(12) A Dictionary of Economics, Oxford University Press

(13) A Dictionary of Geography, Oxford University Press

(14) Steger, Manfred B. 2003 Globalization. A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press

(15) Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia 2004 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globalisation

(16) United Nations, www.un.org/geninfo/bp/intro.html

(17) World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization 2004 see above

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