It is the best of times it is the worst of times: it could get better it could get worse.
In Asia, globalisation is raising income levels and tax receipts, bringing better education, advanced technology and unprecedented levels of investment, which has brought hundreds of millions out of basic poverty; raising their expenditure to $2 a day or more with a middle class income at around $5 a day, and now enjoyed by half the Asian population.
Productivity has grown and civil society is increasingly effective in providing social protection in the gaps left by governments, but these increases are not uniform and even when in employment ten percent of the population is vulnerable, badly paid, insecure in their employment and unable to negotiate the terms and conditions of their working lives.
These statistics come from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that forms a bridge between labour organisations, employer’s representatives and government ministers. Yet, the sign up by governments to all the ILO’s eight core conventions, which are very basic such as forced labour, child labour, etc, has come from only 14 of the 47 Asia Pacific ILO members. Without governments setting the social rules for work there is little chance of employers really believing they cannot get away with pay too low to live on and appalling conditions of work.
Turn now to the UK, and you can see that the basic standard of living for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, has fallen even below the standards we expect of the developing world. With food banks keeping even working families from starving, zero hours contracts rampant and the minimum wage set below the rate for a living wage there is a huge need for the multiple social organisations that seek to ameliorate these conditions. Whilst half the world has been steadily advancing, we, like slowly cooked frogs, have slid backwards despite our immense wealth as a country. It is not that Britain has become poorer, but that money has trickled ever upwards into the hands of a very small minority, and one not assaulted by that cruel hoax austerity.
There is now a surprising commonality of interests between the world poorest in whatever country they live. They have seen rising prosperity and personal wealth and ostentatious expenditure enough to make old style avarice blush. This is perhaps now leading to disengagement and despair which is fuelling the voting patterns against established parties and toward the hard and right wing views expressed by demagogues today and over the ages.
The answer to that cry may be to build on the commonality of interest internationally to enhance or even create movements which are strong and convincing enough to actually ensure governments do not let businesses simply drive down wages and conditions, as mega forces such as globalisation and advanced technology disrupt our lives, but instead build more caring societies based on human rights and compassion for others. The faint traces of this can be seen in the globalisation of NGOs, who today are increasingly not just raising funds in the so-called first world and distributing them in a developing third world; but raising funds from governments, wealthy people, foundations and corporates in all parts of the world, opening up new markets for income generation and considering what they can do for people whatever country they live in.
We have seen this process begin to flourish in our work at the IFC helping INGOs to research and open up new markets for income generation from Latin America to Africa to Asia and we look forward to playing our part in the growth of these organisations in the years to come – hopefully also building a better world for all.