Summary of the Statement of Conscience
While economic globalization has helped some people attain higher standards of living, it has marginalized and impoverished many others and has resulted in environmental degradation and the depletion of natural resources. The benefits of economic globalization have been inequitably distributed and have not reached many people around the world. Our vision of the world as an interconnected web challenges us to turn from self-serving individualism toward a relational sense of ourselves in a global community, and toward practices that help create economic structures designed to serve the common good. We are called to bring our Unitarian Universalist Principles to our understanding of economic globalization and to help mitigate its adverse effects.
Economic Globalization and Its Consequences
Economic globalization, broadly understood, is the growing global integration not only of markets but also of systems of finance, commerce, communication, technology, and law that bypass traditional national, cultural, ethnic, and social boundaries.
Proponents of economic globalization argue that it leads to more efficient division of labor, greater specialization, increased productivity, higher standards of living and wealth, and ultimately the end of poverty. Proponents also argue that recent economic growth has greatly contributed to the high standard of living enjoyed by many within the developed world and raised living standards of many people formerly living in abject poverty. Many others have not made such gains.
Opponents argue that economic globalization detaches markets from essential regulations meant to protect national sovereignty, the democratic process, human rights, labor rights, and the environment. Opponents also argue that the policies and practices of industrialized countries and transnational corporations drive the market forces of economic globalization. There is no effective global regulatory system controlling economic globalization.
The rules governing economic globalization have been created through trade agreements, international law, and institutions dominated by industrialized countries. These rules favor those with access to capital, legitimizing measures such as dropping tariffs, eliminating capital controls, enforcing intellectual property rights, privatizing public services, and weakening regulations that protect labor, health and safety, and the environment. Economic globalization is increasingly perceived by the rest of the world as American economic imperialism. Many Americans, accustomed to an individualistic and competitive culture, are insensitive to the realities of abject poverty, cultural erosion, and environmental degradation. As a result, systematic exploitation of labor and the environment goes unnoticed as do coercive monopolistic pricing of goods and services, criminal evasion of local legal controls, growing debt among developing countries, widening economic disparities, and devastation of traditional cultures. Unitarian Universalists are concerned about the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a corporate elite who are dictating the terms of major economic and social parameters throughout the world. Together these factors generate profound anger and despair that fuel ideological and religious fundamentalism, increasing violence, and international terror.
A Unitarian Universalist Response to Economic Globalization
As people of faith, we are challenged to find ways to promote global economic fairness while maintaining the dynamism of the marketplace. As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm and promote:
- The acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth, and a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. We are called to better understand the complexities of economic globalization, mindful that deeper global awareness enriches our individual and communal spirituality. We must resist the arrogance of supposing that our own experience of truth is universal. We affirm the value of congregational study groups devoted to a cyclical process of study, action, and reflection that includes monitoring our investments, the products and services we consume, the ways we consume them, the costs we bear to secure them, and the burdens we place on others in so doing. We must commit ourselves to actions that support and assist rural cultures that provide sustainable livelihoods adapted to the possibilities and limitations of the natural resource base. We must resist those who push unwanted globalization, industrial farming, or commodity agreements on nations and communities that wish to safeguard sustainable rural livelihoods and traditions.
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, and
justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Wealthy countries need
to open their markets to agricultural goods, textiles, and other products from
developing countries. We must become more effective advocates for increased
funding of international economic, environmental, and humanitarian assistance as
well as the expansion of educational opportunity. Existing debt of the poorest
nations should be forgiven as part of a strategy under which such countries
become self-sustaining. Certain public goods like water and education should
remain under the protection of the state for the benefit of all citizens. We
need to work to ensure that intellectual property provisions in international
trade agreements take into account the rights of all people to medications,
seed, fertilizer, and pest control.
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within society at large. We must commit to participate in local, state, and national affairs regarding economic globalization, and to partner with other progressive community organizations to advocate for just economic policies and laws. We need to hold our political and corporate leaders accountable for their policies and actions. We advocate the increased use of socially screened investment policies and participation in shareholder accountability initiatives. Trade agreements, such as The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), should safeguard democratically decided public policies, statutes, and regulations that protect children, labor, and the environment of all parties. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and other international financial and trade institutions must become transparent and democratic and support self-determination for communities and countries.
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person. We are called to participate in the work of organizations that advocate for human rights, fair employment standards, and environmental justice. Countries are responsible for requiring foreign and domestic companies to pay fair taxes, ensure their workers a locally defined living wage, provide a healthy and safe work environment, and respect the right of their workers to bargain collectively in independent labor unions and to engage in strikes and other job actions when necessary. The standards of the International Labour Organization of the United Nations should be incorporated in all trade agreements. We advocate measuring the success of an economy not only by fiscal performance but also by quality-of-life indicators such as child mortality rates and literacy and education levels. We recognize that developed nations, such as ours, need to reduce consumption of resources.
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. We open our minds and hearts to the ideas, ideals, and dreams of others pursuing a more equitable, sustainable, and environmentally sound global community. We advocate for trade agreements and other international accords that safeguard the environment, and we must monitor their enforcement. We need to hold corporations, as well as governments, accountable for the damage they do to the environment by their policies and practices. We need to guide our investments and consumption toward companies that produce, provide, and purchase goods and services that are in accord with environmental, health and safety, and fair wage standards. We acknowledge our own responsibility to refrain from disproportionately consuming natural resources or transforming resources into waste and pollution.
We are challenged by the reality that many of us work for the very institutions driving economic globalization. We acknowledge our fears and resistance to change as we benefit from the global economic processes that foster inequity. The transformation we experience as we move from ignorance to knowledge and from speech to action is not easy. Nonetheless, we are called to become competent advocates. Seeing the world as an interconnected web challenges us to turn from self-serving individualism toward a relational sense of ourselves in a global community, and toward practices that help create economic structures designed to serve the common good.
This Unitarian Universalist Association Statement of Conscience builds upon five previous social witness statements on economic, environmental, and labor issues adopted between 1972 and 2001. In June 2001, the General Assembly of the UUA selected “Economic Globalization” as the issue suggested to congregations for two years of study, action, and reflection. The Commission on Social Witness (CSW) received initial reports from congregations and districts in March 2002. In June 2002, the CSW held a workshop on this issue at General Assembly. A draft Statement of Conscience was distributed to all congregations and districts for their reflection and feedback in the fall of 2002. Comments were reviewed by the CSW at its March 2003 meeting. A revised draft was on the final agenda of the 2003 General Assembly. A Mini-Assembly was held on Friday afternoon, June 27, 2003, to receive proposed amendments. Delegates of the 2003 General Assembly passed this statement with a clear required two-thirds majority. This text is available for immediate media release but remains unofficial until confirmed by the Board of Trustees. The text of other UUA Statements of Conscience can be found at UUA.org and the CSW website.