Leadership task in the era of globalisation.
At the United Nations Food Summit held earlier this month in Rome, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to world leaders to immediately suspend trade restrictions, agricultural taxes and other price controls that have helped fuel the food crisis. The dramatic surge in food prices threatened "to force more than 100 million people into the ranks of the world's chronically poor".
Globalisation is generally understood to mean the free movement of goods and services around the globe and the rise of neo-liberal economics: privatisation of public enterprises, reduction or elimination of government subsidies and retreat of the welfare state. Corporate profits came before people's needs.
In a recent article, Professor Immanuel Wallerstein writes that the neoliberal offensive of the 1980s, led by the right-wing governments of Roland Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and assisted by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, was known as the Washington Consensus.
It was symbolised by Thatcher's slogan TINA (There is No Alternative): a warning to the governments of the world, adjust to the neo-liberal economics or face isolation and refusal of international assistance.
Government after government around the world opened their frontiers to free trade and cut back on the welfare state. Wallerstein argues that this political success of the neo-liberal globalisation was not matched by economic success.
"The distribution of income worldwide and within countries," he writes, "became very skewed - a massive increase in the income of the top 10 per cent and especially of the top 1 per cent of the world's populations, but a decline in real income of much of the rest of the world's populations." (February 4, 2008. Yale Global Online)
That conclusion is borne out by the latest survey conducted by the Economist magazine. Its 2008 Global CEOS Study found that the combined revenue of the top 1,130 chief executive officers of the world was $2.224 trillion. Compare this to the 2 billion people who have to live on less than $2 a day.
Even champions of globalisation such as Pascal Lamy, the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, recognise the fact that globalisation produced inequities and aggravated already existing inequalities with serious social and political consequences. "It can be argued," Lamy wrote, "that globalisation has reinforced the strong and further weakened the already weak".
Global leadership is hampered by the limitations of our global institutions. They suffer from restrictions on their ability to provide global leadership that tackles common human concerns. This is reflected in their power sharing structures.
The influence of the United States over institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation reflects the global power of the United States. The more representative institutions, such as the UN General Assembly and the UN Economic and Social Council, are the least powerful organs.
There are, however, opportunities for global leadership. One example is the Global Compact launched in 1999 when the then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan invited companies and business leaders to join the UN and civil society to support basic UN enshrined universal principles.
The Global Compact, working with governments, corporations, labour and civil society seeks to promote responsible corporate citizenship. In this context it invites companies to voluntarily adhere to ten basic principles derived from internationally codified practices in human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption.
Today, hundreds of companies from all regions of the world along with civil society organisations are part of the UN Global Compact Initiative.
The United Nations enumerated the benefits of participating in the Global Compact. At the top of the list: "Demonstrating leadership by advancing responsible corporate citizenship."
Another example of global leadership lies in the growing interest in corporate social responsibility. It is based on the concept that companies have a responsibility not just to their shareholders but also to all stakeholders; that is people and communities whose lives are affected by the company's business and operations.
Investing in people and in the community creates a culture of dedicated - and therefore more productive employees -and of responsible corporate citizenship while helping solve common human problems.
Support for the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, offers another opportunity for global leadership. That is because the MDG are about commitment to tackling common human problems. The MDG range from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achievement of universal primary education, to reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and ensuring environmental sustainability.
The MDG 2007 report stated that some progress is being made: More children are getting into school in the developing world and child mortality has declined.
But serious challenges remain unaddressed: Over half a million women still die each year from preventable complications of pregnancy; half the population of the developing world lack basic sanitation; and income inequality is growing.
Furthermore, the developed countries regrettably failed to deliver fully on commitments to achieve the official development assistance goal of 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2015.
At the World Food Summit earlier this month, the world's more developed nations, noted the New York Times, "proved, once again, that domestic politics trumps both humanitarian concerns and sound strategic calculations."
We need leadership that promotes a model of development which reduces and eliminates the unfair advantages of the industrialised world, while helping build the productive and development capacities of the poor. Leadership committed to human development is the best guarantee against future global food riots.
Professor Adel Safty is the President of the Global Leadership Forum (www.glforum.org) and author of Leadership and Democracy, New York. 2004.
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