Magazine

The Price of Globalization


The debate over globalization's benefits and drawbacks grabbed the attention of the media last year. But the noise generated by the protests at the joint meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Seattle, Prague, and Quebec did little to reveal the actual conditions encountered by workers in emerging markets. To find that out required hard, on-the-ground reporting. So throughout the year, BusinessWeek sent out its reporters in Europe and Asia to learn the stories of the workers who labor to produce cheap goods for consumers in the West.

The resulting triptych of stories: "The Great Migration," "Workers in Bondage," and "A Life of Fines and Beating" was a winner of the 2001 Sidney Hillman Foundation awards. The U.S. awards are named after the founding president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, one of the predecessors of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees (UNITE). They recognize journalists, writers, and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good.

Everyone watching China knows that each year millions of peasants migrate to its coastal cities in search of a new life. But to most reporters, they are an abstraction. Beijing Bureau Chief Dexter Roberts delved into the lives of these workers by gaining rare access to a particular extended family. "The Great Migration" (BW--Dec. 11) reports on how globalization is transforming China's countryside as peasants flee their villages to chase big-city dreams.

"Workers in Bondage" (Nov. 27) uncovers the horrors of one of Western Europe's least-known but most severe human-rights problems, the trafficking in immigrant labor from the old Soviet bloc, China, India, Southeast Asia, and the Balkans--from anyplace where workers are desperate to escape destitution. Rome Bureau Chief Gail Edmondson and reporters in Rome, Paris, Berlin, and London produced perhaps the most comprehensive effort to date on the dimensions of forced labor in the European Union.

The investigative piece "A Life of Fines and Beating" (Oct. 2) showed how Wal-Mart Stores Inc. relied on an abusive sweatshop in China to produce handbags for sale in the U.S. The story involved a three-month effort by Dexter Roberts and Washington-based Senior Writer Aaron Bernstein.

These stories show in graphic detail how globalization has encouraged millions to risk their lives in the search for better jobs, trapped others in China's sweatshops, and delivered enviable prosperity to peasants bold enough to venture out to China's cities. We have long argued that a growing world economy is the best way to improve lives. But that must be balanced against the high cost of abuses. We're pleased to see our reporters cited for telling that side of the story as well. By Robert K. Dowling, Managing Editor International


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