9 April 2008 (Journal entry #4 – part of an assignment for “Key Issues in Peace and Conflict Studies”)

Something dawned on me this week while learning about security threats. My undergrad degree is actually relevant! When we learned about the inter-disciplinary nature of Peace and Conflict Studies, I categorised this as combining History, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Religion – Arts and Humanities subjects. Given the pro-Capitalist, money-hungry, selfish nature of Business, I didn’t think that my Bachelor of Business was very relevant to creating Peace.

It was while reading Rodgers’ “Losing Control – The New Security Paradigm”, that the thought struck me. Rodgers’ speaks about “Three successive ‘drivers’ of international wealth divisions, all inextricably linked to the liberal market: trade problems, the debt crisis and labour rights.” Rodgers quotes Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere (1971), “In 1963, we needed to product 5 tons of sisal to buy a tractor. In 1970 we had to product 10 tons of sisal to buy that same tractor”. These are Business and Economic problems requiring Business and Economic solutions.

Rodgers’ talks about the Sub-Saharan Africa who in 1997 owed $234 billion and had already paid $170 billion in debt servicing, with costing around four times the health and education budgets each year. If I’m interpreting this correctly, ‘debt servicing’ refers to interests payments. I didn’t realize that all the aid money Western countries provided the Third World countries, for development projects, was a loan to which they are charging interest! I thought it was a big gift – ‘aid’ means ‘help’ doesn’t it?

I have a friend who grew up in a hippy family, without what she calls ‘nice’ things. She has a job earning a regular income, and a credit card which she ongoingly max’s out, as she spends money on luxuries that she didn’t have growing up. “I deserve it” she tells herself. Her credit card company, finding her a ‘good customer’, responds by increasing her limit. She keeps spending and they keep extending, I don’t see this being helpful. I definitely wouldn’t call it ‘aid’. Her interest payments keep increasing, and every month a huge chunk of her salary goes to just to pay off the interest, which continues to accumulate.

It’s a trap.

I can’t believe that Western countries would do that to Third World countries. And then label it ‘aid’. Can’t our countries forget poor country’s debts? But then, what would the consequences of this be to our country’s government budgets?

How would this impact my life? The money has to come from somewhere, right? I don’t know.

I don’t know what is going to happen to the millions of people in financial crisis, with massive loans and massive interest payments. When you can’t pay, what can you do? Declare yourself bankrupt?

Why can’t poor countries declare themselves bankrupt and start again fresh? How do they allow us to operate with this double standard? I suppose we don’t give them a choice. But why is it us who gets to set the rules?

The economics of prices of goods and services, primary commodity prices in relation to prices of manufactured goods, wage levels, etc – all come from a formula of SUPPLY and DEMAND. This is a major contributor to levels of poverty in smaller countries. I only did two Economic subjects, and only know the basics. I suppose these trade problems are being discussed by Economics experts, by people who understand the rules but have a an objective of Peace rather than Profit?

I hope so… Are they having any luck? Have they identified areas that we, the public, or activists, can help? Looking at the big economic picture would help people like me and my sister, direct efforts to in the most effective way.

My sister witnessed poverty in India and Cambodia and now she plans to start a Fair Trade fashion company. That’s fantastic but before I dedicate my time to this I want to know the difference that setting up an initiative will make. Obviously it helps the families and community that she would provide a fair wage to, which is wonderful in itself. It also has positive impacts in increasing awareness about poorer countries, and sets a good example for other businesses to follow.

I wonder though, is this the best way to help? Maybe it is, but are there ways that the economics can be influenced on a larger scale?

I think all companies should turn to fair trade – I don’t really know how managers of companies can live with themselves underpaying people to the extent that they can’t even afford to live, making them work in substandard conditions, or employing child labour. It’s criminal. It’s inhumane. I guess it is hidden in the corporation identity – no single person can be held responsible. Each is doing their own job, judged by bottom number, ultimately reported to shareholders – which may even be you or I.

Bandura’s Model of Moral Disengagement (1988) gives a sense of how it can happen.

a) one’s perception of the reprehensible conduct – that they are only ‘doing their job’

b) one’s sense of the detrimental effects of that conduct – the poor people want to work

c) one’s sense of responsibility –the company owners and CEOs are responsible

d) one’s view of the victim – looking at the workers as numbers & dollars, not real people

Is this any different from the Bureaucratization in Germany which facilitated the Holocaust? Staub, E. (1989) “The Origins of Genocide and Mass Killing: Core Concepts” discussed the Holocaust, how functions and responsibilities were divided, each person do their job without seeing the whole. For example, one person’s job may be scheduling trains used to transport Jews to extermination camps without relationship to genocide being considered.

It’s quite easy to see how large amounts of violence can occur in this way. We need business-minded people to understand the dynamics of large business, to consult professionally with CEOs in large corporations, and discover alternatives that shareholders will be happy with. Research and resources will play a big part in helping all people look at their investments from a new perspective. One where their money is invested not only for pure profit, but as invested in people and development of products that contribute to the health of our planet and lives of ‘world citizens’. Evidently, these problems are not going to be solved by setting up a fair trade fashion label. Large problems need large solutions. Or at least a large awareness, and lots of fair trade companies. Still, my sister is on the right track. You have to start somewhere…


Clothes designed and styled by Rain Laurent

Photography by Wendell Teodoro