Options for Influencing Businesses in the Global Economy

By Mark Nguyen

Due to the recent expansion of the global economy, corporations have come under a barrage of criticism and scrutiny due to allegations of unjust wages and abusive labor practices. However, the pressures of global expansion have not been isolated to the corporations themselves, as those groups and organizations that are either associated with or do business with these corporations are also under the "lens of the microscope," so to speak. As a result, more groups and organizations are attempting to find new measures of influencing the business practices of their corporate "partners." However, associates of global corporations do not hold this "pro-active" stance alone. Student groups, labor and human rights groups, and even the media have joined the fray to study the impact of recent economic globalization and to attempt to facilitate beneficial change, whether it is on the corporate or even cultural level. By taking a brief glance at all the players in this rather bizarre network one can gain a better understanding of the issues of the expanding global economy and also how each group can contribute to the change that is needed in the developing global exchange.

Actions on the University Level

Perhaps the most notably developments in influencing businesses in the global economy on the university level have arrived from the campuses of UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University. As a vanguard movement towards better understanding of the ethics and impacts of the new global economy, UNC Chapel Hill has committed a class to this subject by using the NIKE Corporation as a template case study. This class has covered broad topics that relate to this subject, such as textile development, the term "sweatshop" and a valid definition, the expansion of globalized production, and the industrialization of agrarian nations in Southeast Asia. By committing a class to such studies, UNC Chapel Hill has gained a better understanding of the globalized economy and the problems it faces. Hence, the university has developed a better foundation to provide credible suggestions to such corporations as NIKE to improve their relationship as globalization expands.

Other universities have take different approaches, for example, Duke University. In response to the allegations of unjust and abusive behavior on the parts of their corporate partners, Duke has taken the initiative to develop a working code of conduct (draft attached) for all corporations that desire licensing privileges with the university. Duke has recognized that the university name is in fact a very fruitful commodity that the university can use to impose certain standards upon its corporate partners. Certain stipulations that are noteworthy within the code include the application of the code to not only the corporate partner but also all of the contractors associated with the corporation and thereby partially associated with the university. This stipulation is important because it addresses the common relationships that corporations have started to develop in their production methodology, which is the contracting to over seas subcontractors that bear the direct responsibilities of production. This point is significant because most of the controversy involved in the issue of globalization exists on this level of the economic expansion. Other noteworthy stipulations include references to ethical practices, and compliance to environmental and legal regulations. The code also addresses the very important topic of wages and child labor. Overall, Duke is able to influence its corporate partners by establishing standards for which they must comply in order to perform business with the university by using the tradition and weight of the university name as leverage.

Other universities have followed in the steps of Duke. The participants from the pool of universities and colleges range from UNC Chapel Hill to Holy Cross College, all of which seek to redefine the collegiate-corporate relationship. The approach of using university image to produce leverage and influence on global corporation has become very beneficial to both sides of the contract.

The Influence of Student Groups

Activism on the student level have truly been a driving force behind understanding the problems behind the increase in globalized production and hence, student groups have tipped the first domino in furthering the changes that must be made to improve the conditions set by the impact of the globalizing economy. By organizing such events as the NIKE Speakout forum, and attracting media coverage of the issue, the NIKE Awareness campaign is a prime example of a student group attempting to influence the business practices of global corporations by protesting their behavior and educating the public to the allegations raised against global corporations. Student groups such as the NIKE Awareness campaign gain most of its influence on business practices by implementing strategic protests and events that gain the attention of the media and eventually the general public. These actions result in more public awareness that coerces corporations to address the allegations raised against them, and hopefully correct their errors.

Other student groups, such as UNC’s Vietnamese Student’s Association and UCAL VSA at Irvine, have taken a more cultural perspective towards educating the community to the problems of globalization. By using ethnicity as a unifying factor, UNC VSA and VSA Irvine have grabbed attention and awareness by appealing to people who have cultural connections to the allegations and problems. Because most of the allegations are taking place in the native countries, these cultural organizations can incite a deeper understanding of the problems at hand, and eventually influence change much in the same fashion as the NIKE Awareness campaign.

The Influence of Labor and Human-Rights Activists

Various groups have been attempting to enact or at least promote change within the activities of global corporations. Though there exist many groups that are noteworthy, two that can be taken under moderate consideration are Amnesty International, and the Vietnamese Labor Watch.

Amnesty International is of special merit due to its long record of uncovering, documenting and publicizing violations of the human rights’ guidelines set down by the United Nations. In addition to investigating and publicizing violations, Amnesty International attempts to influence governments and global corporations in a variety of methods. Yearly conferences, mass protests, and media coverage are just a few examples of the activities that Amnesty International participates in. Amnesty International also influences global corporations and governments by promoting mass letter writing drives to encourage violators of the human rights’ guidelines to amend their policies. By taking this approach, Amnesty International is able to influence global business practices by showing corporations that the consumer population is taking interest in their labor practices.

Organizations like the Vietnam Labor Watch (VLW) has taken a more general approach in influencing global corporations. By gathering and actively updating information and publicizing findings to the mass media, VLW has been able to grasp and maintain the attention of the general public to the issues surrounding global corporations. Again, by making information available to the general public, VLW is able to influence global corporations by sparking and retaining the interest of the general public by being an active source of current information.

How Can UNC Influence Businesses in the Global Economy

As the issues of globalization become more and more important to the public and as the university begins to understand how certain corporate associations may affect the university image, UNC and its students are attempting to find more and better means of influencing global corporations. The question of "What are our options?" becomes a central topic of discussion. Several possible avenues of influence come to mind as one scans the activities of the various schools and organizations mentioned above. Perhaps Duke and its policies in licensing is the most affective method of influencing the global economy. Even though the primary focus of a university if its academics, the market value of the university image cannot be ignored, both as a source of revenue and as a tool of leverage when dealing with corporations. The CLC task force is a prime example of the developing effectiveness of this approach. In addition to this method, UNC could attempt to take a more prominent role in changing athletic policies within the NCAA, whose policies will hopefully trickle into high school level athletics and the AAU. By setting high standards that address the relationships between athletes, schools, and apparel corporations within a unified front of other universities, UNC will be able to take a position of leadership that will affect not only collegiate athletics but also the developing global economy. Perhaps the most pressing issue is the fact that there is no set common standard for the practices of global corporations. As a leading university, UNC could that the initiative to start this move towards better relationships on the collegiate and global level.

Copyright, 1998
Mark Nguyen, INTS 092
UNC - Chapel Hill