The term corporate globalization is a way of describing the current situation in which transnational corporations dominate key social, economic, and political institutions and steer human culture, government policies, and international trade and investment in ways that prioritize corporate profits above all else. Some call it “the McDonaldization of the world.” This situation has also been called “empire,” a new form of colonialism dominated by the United States, which uses its political, economic, and military power to extend free-market capitalism around the world.
Others call it corporate rule. Because of their wealth, political influence, and global reach, huge transnational corporations drive the accelerating movement toward corporate globalization. They are expanding their reach and accelerating the pace at which they exploit the world’s resources as they seek to integrate all of humanity into the global marketplace.
If corporations continue to amass greater wealth and power, poverty and inequity will also grow. More and more people around the world will be deprived of the basic necessities of life. Communities that have been self-sustaining for generations will continue to disintegrate, as local artisans, small businesses, and small farmers lose out to competition by transnational corporations. Native peoples will continue to be driven off their lands. Jobs will continue to be lost and labor standards will spiral downward. Places of beauty and diversity will continue to be devoured to create wealth for the few. The resulting social upheaval will require increasingly repressive police forces and ever more jails and prisons. Rich nations, especially the United States, will continue to enforce the corporate colonization of the world through military power. These patterns are already well underway, and are leading to growing poverty, social upheaval, repression, terrorism, war, misery, and ecological collapse.
It has been said that great evil requires great resistance. Struggles for justice have always required people who were willing to stand up with courage and to step out in faith. Will we be successful in stopping the global consolidation of corporate power and the empire it supports? No one knows what the outcome of this struggle will be. But as Gandhi said, “You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no results1
In addition, the movement for global justice is strong and growing. People who have been working passionately on various issues for years are seeing their causes converge. They are coming together in the struggle to resist global annihilation and to develop creative alternatives for a hopeful future. People are rising up. This is a global movement, largely nonviolent and deeply democratic. As a popular book on the topic proclaims, “We are everywhere.”
The seeds for an alternative, hopeful future are being planted even now by individuals and groups around the world who are working for a world in which each person’s work contributes to the common good and provides dignity and a living wage, everyone has the right to basic necessities of life, corporations are accountable, widespread use of poisons is prohibited, nuclear weapons are dismantled, and wilderness is protected as a common heritage of all creatures. The seeds for widespread spiritual, social, economic, and political change are being planted as people participate in nonviolent resistance and develop alternative ways of living, often modeled on indigenous and traditional ways of life. We are living at a pivotal time of the earth’s history and this is a worthy struggle, a struggle for the very body and soul of the earth itself.
In his book The Great Turning, David Korten points out that although global civil society is diffuse and self-organizing, an implicit strategy is revealed through its many and varied expressions that includes the following four “essential imperatives:”
Through prayer and other spiritual practices we repudiate the values of domination, violence, and greed and are equipped for resistance against social, political, and economic “death forces” in the outer world. Through simplifying our lifestyles and practicing simplicity, we exercise our moral agency and develop our integrity, both of which are necessary if we are to rise to the challenge of taking action in the larger world. As Hendrik Berkhof puts it in his classic work, Christ and the Powers, “We can only preach the manifold wisdom of God to Mammon if our life displays that we are joyfully freed from its clutches.”
Local churches or small groups within churches can form “communities of congruence” that are grounded in the Spirit as an alternative to the dominant culture. Small groups within churches can provide spiritual support for lifestyle change and for taking action in the larger world, while Bible studies, book studies, workshops, and educational forums can raise peoples’ consciousness about relevant issues. Faith communities can sponsor creative, celebratory events that nourish the spirit, demonstrate alternatives to consumer culture, and bring hope and joy. Such experiences are spiritually renewing and enable us to stay in the struggle for the long haul. Worship services and rituals can be held outside in places of natural beauty or can incorporate story, symbol, and art to cultivate reverence for God’s creation.
Local churches can institute programs that enable them to be a witness and model of institutional conversion by eliminating toxic chemicals, creating a community garden, landscaping with native plants, or becoming more energy efficient. At the same time, churches can provide space for support groups, present educational forums, host community meetings, provide tutoring or job training, and offer food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless. Congregations can serve fair-trade coffee, provide sanctuary for immigrants, support conscientious objectors to war, host interracial or interreligious gatherings, offer interfaith services for peace, or organize meeting for local campaigns. Congregational members can work within their denomination to raise issues of concern.
In this age of globalization, no matter how involved we are in alternative local structures we cannot avoid the larger issues of our world. The global political/economic/military juggernaut can destroy local movements, ignore them, or simply reframe and seek to contain such movements as a niche within the dominant paradigm. For this reason, it is imperative that we educate ourselves on global issues and speak out on public policy. Although campaigns can focus on any aspect of public policy there is an overarching issue that ties all these issues together: the domination of life by a powerful network of undemocratic institutions that restrict human freedom and prevent governments from acting on behalf of the common good. While the challenge posed by this reality seems far greater than with any single issue it also has the potential to unite us all in a single purpose: to resist spiritual, cultural, economic, political, and military domination by the institutional Powers and to demonstrate an alternative reality based on nonviolence, justice, compassion, and the beauty of creation, which includes human love.
In resistance to the institutions and systems that destroy the earth and crush the life out of people, hope comes alive. As we withdraw our consent to these Powers, practicing noncooperation, finding or creating life-supporting alternatives, what has seemed impossible becomes possible because we are willing to pay the price to make it so. In nonviolent resistance, we leave behind not only our validation of the ruling Powers, but their “stratagems,” which are violent to the core. In faith-led resistance, instead of reacting out of old patterns into which we have been socialized and acculturated, we go deeper. We open ourselves to the Spirit of Love that resides in our hearts and at the heart of the universe. (Nonviolence)
Several common themes unite people who are working to resist corporate globalization and to create alternative, life-affirming social structures. The International Forum on Globalization (IFG) has identified ten principles for sustainable societies:
Participatory Democracy: Systems of governance must ensure that people can hold their governments accountable and that their governments serve people and communities rather than corporations.
Subsidiarity: Governments must be able to set policies that protect their people and the environment. The current top-down system must be reversed to favor local self-rule; decision making should move up to the next level only when necessary.
Ecological Sustainability: Economic, social, and operating systems such as transportation, communication, agriculture, and manufacturing must enable people to meet their genuine needs while preserving the earth’s biodiversity and its ability to support future generations.
Common Heritage: The commons must be protected. The earth’s water, land, air, forests, and fisheries, upon which life depends, are part of a natural heritage that must be available to all and preserved for future generations. Likewise, health care, education, and other basic services based on culture and knowledge constitute a cultural heritage that must be available to all.
Human Rights: Governments are responsible to guarantee human rights as stated in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights. These include civil and political rights, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights of all people.
Livelihood: The right to a means of livelihood must be protected, along with the right of workers to organize independent trade unions. Policies that cause unemployment and displace people from communal lands upon which they subsist must be reversed.
Food Safety and Food Security: Nations must have the right to protect local food production, limit food imports, set and enforce food safety standards, and restrict the sale of foods based on the precautionary principle.
Equity: The inequity caused by corporate globalization must be reversed so that wealth is distributed more equitably both within and among nations. This will require the cancellation of the debt of poor nations.
Biological and Cultural Diversity: The rules of the global economy must be changed to protect the world’s cultural, biological, social, and economic diversity.
Precautionary Principle: Products or practices that are potentially harmful to human health or the environment should be restricted, even in the absence of scientific certainty, until they are proven safe. (Cavanagh and Mander, eds., Alternatives to Economic Globalization, Berrett-Kohler, pages 79-100).