Ideologically, the two projects of globalization and sustainable development are informed by totally different sets of principles and values. This article launches a thorough conceptual and theoretical juxtaposition of these two projects, which shows that these two phenomena overlap structurally but diverge ideologically on a number of economic, social, and ecological issues. In essence, the juxtaposition between globalization and sustainable development provides an illuminating insight into the structural affinity as well as the subsequent potential clashes between the two. This article examines the different aspects of affinity between these two projects, analyses the most significant differences and contradictions between the two, and analyses potential solutions to harness globalization forces to sustainability. By conducting such a critical comparative analysis of these two projects, a deeper insight is gained with regard to any potential that would make them mutually supportive rather than mutually exclusive.
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Statistics show, for example, that the percentage of services (including hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, public transport, water supply, airports, and gas and electricity utilities) provided by the US county government decreased from 15% in 1987 to 14.8% in 1992, whereas the percentage of these services provided by private contractors rose from 4.7% in 1987 to 7.8% in 1992 (López-de-Silanes, Shleifer, and Vishny 1997, 452).
IMF statistics show that many developing countries (including Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt Arab Rep., El Salvador, Fiji, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Korea Rep., Kuwait, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe) spent an average of 3.2% of their GDP on welfare services in 1972–1974 compared to only 2.5% of their GDP in 1994–1995 (Rudra 2002, 412).
Recent studies show, for instance, that because of the unsustainable activities of TNCs in “maquiladoras” on the American–Mexican border, the pollution rates are soaring in the whole region, resulting in children facial deformities and mental retardation as a result to prenatal exposure to toxic chemicals. Social consequences also include overcrowded areas with people settling in slums which lack sewage systems and wastewater treatment, and where rates of toxic contamination are extremely high (Ellis 1996, 630–33).
This term is often used in the literature to refer to “a distinctive green political ideology encompassing those perspectives that hold that a sustainable society requires radical change in our relationship with the non-human natural world and our mode of economic, social and political life” (Carter 2007, 6).
Statistics show, for example, that of the largest one hundred economies in the world, 52 are now corporations: Mitsubishi (the 22nd largest economy), General Motors (the 26th largest economy), and Ford (the 31st largest economy) are all larger than the economies of many countries such as Denmark, Turkey, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, New Zealand, among others (Mander 2003, 126).
For example, GATT/WTO’s resolutions against “environmental trade measures” (ETMs) which are defined as “import prohibitions, product standards, and standards governing production of natural resource exports” (Chasek, Downie, and Brwon 2010, 347) include its 1991 decision that the US ban of Mexican tuna was a violation of the GATT, the 1994 decision that the US ban of European tuna was a violation of the GATT, the 1997 decision that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s restrictions on fuel imported from Venezuela and Brazil was a violation of WTO regulations, and the 1998 decision that the US ban on the importation of shrimp from India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Thailand where shrimp was caught by vessels that kill endangered migratory sea turtles violated WTO rules. For a detailed analysis of these cases, see Chasek, Downie, and Brwon (2010, 347–52).
One of the most interesting new alternatives is what came to be referred to as the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), which departs from GDP in adding “non-market” contributions to welfare, such as household, charity, volunteer work, and different forms of unpaid work. A refined version of the ISEW, labeled the Genuine Progress Indicator, shows that the economic growth impact on the welfare of Americans since the early 1970s has been far less than indicated by GDP. Other attempts to devise more comprehensive measures than GDP were carried out by some economists and social scientists like Daniel C. Esty and his colleagues who developed a global Environmental Sustainability Index, which evaluates nations’ environmental performances not their economic growth. Still, another example is the Happy Planet Index which basically measures human well-being by multiplying a country’s life satisfaction score times its life expectancy, and then it divides this by the country’s ecological footprint.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon explains that this document “asks companies to embrace universal principles and to partner with the United Nations. It has grown to become a critical platform for the UN to engage effectively with enlightened global business” (as cited in the United Nations Global Impact website http://www.unglobalcompact.org/).
The term “civil society” is used in this article to stand for “the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values,” which is the definition given to this term by the London School of Economics’ Centre for Civil Society (as cited in Strange and Bayley 2008, 118).
For a thorough analysis and specific cases of TNCs’ endorsement of the sustainability agenda (such as the case with Interface Inc., Unilever, Philips Electronics, General Electric, and Wal-Mart), see Harmon et al. (2009, 101–05).
For more examples of industries related to electronics, tyres, oil, batteries, oil filters, paints, pharmaceutical products, and automobiles, see Gendron et al. (2008, 6–7).
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