The images were as surreal as they were disturbing. Amid tear gas and rubber bullets, violent protesters brought last December’s World Trade Organization summit to a screeching halt. After one demonstrator destroyed a huge pane of glass at a Seattle storefront, he explained that he was simply defending himself. “From a window?” an outraged pedestrian demanded to know. Barun Mitra, president of the New Delhi-based Liberty Institute, watched in astonishment as hooligans strenuously kicked a sign torn from a Nike shop while wearing Nike sneakers.
The Seattle Surprise is the most vivid example of the growing left-wing movement against the alleged evils of “globalization.” More recently, the Mobilization for Global Justice marched on the International Monetary Fund. January’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, also featured window smashing by zealots at a local McDonald’s. And they weren’t just mad about their meals.
Anti-globalization activists offer an entire menu of beefs. Free trade threatens American jobs. Equatorial sweatshops exploit benighted women and children. “Possession obsession” threatens sea turtles, marinates baby seals in spilled oil, and drills like Drano through the ozone layer.
U.S. corporate leaders are trying to refute these charges. By accentuating the positive effects of global commerce, they hope to show that the left’s new bogey man has no clothes.
“The fact that trade benefits all of us is simply lost,” United Technologies CEO George David told the Council on Foreign Relations on March 15. A chief distraction is labor’s frequent lament that jobs are a key American export. (And yet, unemployment somehow hovers near 4 percent.) David’s answer is to develop “the best educated workforce on the planet” so that employees can prosper, even if dismissed. UTC finances tuition, books, and fees for study in any field for any staffer, full- or part-time, domestic or international. Those who complete their degrees earn 200 shares of company stock (worth about $12,000 today). Those whose jobs are relocated have four years from separation to take advantage of the Employee Scholar Program.
The forces of anti-globalization, meanwhile, might be intrigued to meet one Asian-Indian woman featured in a recent British TV documentary called “Against Nature.” She routinely gathers cow dung and dries it into briquettes she burns to heat a skillet on which she cooks thin flour cakes in her dusty little hut. She might be thrilled to see a U.S. shoe plant open in her village.
“The factories that make Nike footwear products provide canteens, health clinics, and schools for the workers,” says Nike CEO Phil Knight. “There are also soccer fields at most footwear facilities, and they hold regular athletic, karaoke, arts and crafts, and other competitions.”
But what about the notorious $2-per-day “exploitation wages” U.S. firms pay? As Knight explains, “Nike’s five Taiwanese and South Korean subcontractors in Vietnam pay an average monthly wage of about $65, more than twice what a teacher earns and considerably above the salary of a young doctor at a state-run hospital.”
Many CEOs hope that establishing Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) with China will reinvigorate trade liberalization. Boeing CEO Philip M. Condit led the chief executives of Caterpillar, General Motors, Kodak, and about 20 other major companies to Capitol Hill on April 5 to urge Congress to approve PNTR. As Condit says, “by engaging China commercially, the Chinese will be exposed not only to democratic ideals and values, but Western environmental and fair labor standards.” Condit works closely with the Business Roundtable, which last March aired pro-PNTR TV commercials in 106 congressional districts in 22 states.”
A February 16 Business Roundtable report also notes that workers at Daimler-Chrysler’s Beijing Jeep plant enjoy company-furnished day care for their children. Bechtel’s employees, even at remote job sites, enjoy access to the outside world via the Internet and free e-mail. U.S. companies in China “provide home ownership assistance programs to our employees and their families,” Honeywell CEO Michael R. Bonsignore told the House Ways & Means Committee last February.
The same militant left that decries “global warming,” “overpopulation,” “Franken-Foods” and other phony threats to humanity now has the entire global economy in its crosshairs. CEOs are doing the right thing by defending free markets worldwide. But they’ll have to shout even more loudly to be heard above the growing sound of shattering glass.
New York Commentator Deroy Murdock is a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in FairFax VA, and a media fellow with the Hoover Insitution at Stanford University.