Taking the Zamyn approach of viewing issues from multiple perspectives, neither dominated by Western culture nor by any single section of society, there are three areas in which G8 governments may be able to look to create new alliances with other nations and business in a much wider context: to more effectively prevent the strains of ideological differences and differential growth leading to friction and conflict, engaging with rather than isolating, countries and regions whose practices are deemed unacceptable by others; to work to create an environment in all countries where businesses of all types, large and small, can work responsibly to create the wealth necessary for society to develop and eliminate poverty; and to combat corruption. In the coming years we face choices on all sides. Do we fight against the shift in economic balance from West to East or do we embrace it as something which allows the majority of the world’s population to aspire to and reach standards of living which the wealthier minority currently enjoy? This is not a zero sum game, but faster growth in parts of the world may create strains while Europe and North America grow more slowly.
Whether it is in relations between the United States and China, or differences based on historical political and religious antipathies in the Middle East, or between western liberal democracies and other systems which endeavour to take into account the wishes of individuals or sections of society to a greater or lesser extent, there is a great need for developing an understanding of the other point of view from a historical and social context. An argument can be made that the policy of engagement which the ASEAN and other Asian countries adopted over many years towards Myanmar in the end delivered more change that the Western approach of sanctions and isolation such as has been practised against for example Iran. This is not to say that the world should in any way condone or tolerate unacceptable behaviour such as that we see in Syria; it is merely to consider whether such unacceptable behaviour could be made less likely by the approach taken in the first place. Perhaps encouragement of investment and trade by responsible companies could slowly build conditions in different countries where an increasing number of people become committed to a well governed and participatory society. The problem is developing mechanisms to ensure that such investment and trade is in fact carried out by responsible companies.
It is plain that the unacceptable poverty in many parts of the world and the gross distortions of wealth between countries cannot be eliminated simply through wealth transfers from the rich to the poor.
Development aid is necessary to help provide the capacity building and infrastructure framework in which economic activity by businesses of all sizes can flourish. However, such businesses need to be developed with due regard to the environment, decent working conditions and fundamental human rights.
The UN Global Compact, to which some seven thousand companies across the world from China through India to Europe and the US are committed, is part of the answer along with the many other initiatives developed by civil society in conjunction with business. Global Compact signatories commit to embedding the principles of the major conventions of the UN – on human rights, working conditions, the environment and anti-corruption – into their day-to-day operations. They also commit to reporting publicly on their progress in this complex task, in the knowledge that they will be expelled from the Global Compact if they fail to report progress. The involvement of different sectors of society is essential if such initiatives are not to be captured and bent to favour one or other sector and above all that there is transparency and openness in all things. However eco-efficiently that growth is achieved it will require very large inputs of natural resources. Can we achieve that with the economic growth generated being more equitably spread within and between nations than we have achieved historically? To achieve this will require wider acceptance of some of the principles now being developed which take into account the embedded costs of development, of transparency of revenue sharing and of respecting the rights of different sections of society. Even if the G8, or for that matter the G20, are not truly representative forums, their members can do much to embrace and promote the wider community of nations, as for example in a UN framework where such matters can be developed, and not least through exemplary actions by G8 and G20 member countries themselves.
When one part of society, or a group of individuals, do manage to corrupt systems it is extremely difficult to restore balance because of the entrenchment of influence. Perhaps the greatest global threat is that of corruption. There are steps that can be taken to ensure that the beneficial ownership of property in G8 countries and elsewhere is transparent, ensuring that corrupt proceeds cannot be hidden in G8 banking and corporate systems and that the principles of the UN Convention against Corruption agreed by member states are ratified and fully implemented by all countries. There is no more egregious example than corruption in the international arms trade. Perhaps through misconceived perceptions of national interest this is able to reach into and distort even the most evolved political systems. Beginning to address these issues could also be somewhere where the G8 governments could demonstrate an initiative.
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