Global Challenges Facing Humanity

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15. How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?

Protesters around the world show a growing unwillingness to tolerate unethical decisionmaking by power elites. An increasingly educated and Internet-connected generation is rising up against the abuse of power around the world.

The world is still recovering from the proliferation of unethical decisions that led to the 2008 financial crisis. It clearly demonstrated the interdependence of economics and ethics. Although quick fixes avoided a global financial collapse and pulled the world out of recession (although Europe is entering one now in 2012), the underlining ethics has not been addressed sufficiently to prevent future crises. The moral will to act in collaboration across national, institutional, religious, and ideological boundaries that is necessary to address today’s global challenges requires global ethics. But public morality based on religious metaphysics is challenged daily by growing secularism, leaving many unsure about the moral basis for decisionmaking. Many turn back to old traditions for guidance, giving rise to the fundamentalist movements in many religions today. Unfortunately, religions and ideologies that claim moral superiority give rise to “we-they” splits that are being played out in conflicts around the world.

The acceleration of scientific and technological change seems to grow beyond conventional means of ethical evaluation. Is it ethical to clone ourselves or bring dinosaurs back to life or to invent thousands of new life forms from synthetic biology?
Should we invent anticipatory ethical systems? Just as law has a body of previous judgments upon which to draw for guidance, will we also need bodies of ethical judgments about future possible events? Despite the extraordinary achievements of S&T, future risks from their continued acceleration and globalization remain (see Chapter 3.5) and give rise to future ethical issues (see Chapters 5 and 11). For example, it is possible that one day in the future a single individual could make and deploy a bioweapon of mass destruction. Society will naturally want to prevent this, requiring early detection and probably invasion of privacy and abridgment of other civil rights. Is it ethical for society to impose sanctions before the fact? To reduce the number of such potentially massively destructive people in the future, healthy psychological development of all children should be the concern of everyone. Such observations are not new, but the consequences of failure to nurture mentally healthy, moral people may be much more serious in the future than in the past.

At the same time, new technologies also make it easier for more people to do more good at a faster pace than ever before. Single individuals initiate groups on the Internet, organizing actions worldwide around specific ethical issues. News media, blogs, mobile phone cameras, ethics commissions, and NGOs are increasingly exposing unethical decisions and corrupt practices.

It is quite likely that the vast majority of decisions every day around the world are perfectly honorable. Collective responsibility for global ethics in decisionmaking is embryonic but growing. Corporate social responsibility programs, ethical marketing, and social investing are increasing. Global ethics also are emerging around the world through the evolution of ISO standards and international treaties that are defining the norms of civilization.

By March 2012, a total of 160 countries and the European Union had ratified the international convention on corruption. This agreement established definitions and rules of behavior and is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument. The UN Global Compact—with 8,000 participants, including over 5,300 businesses in 135 countries—was created to reinforce ethics in decisionmaking; it has improved business-NGO collaboration, raised the profile of corporate responsibility programs, and increased businesses’ non-financial reporting mandates in many countries. The Compact encouraged corporations to urge their countries to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption. The International Criminal Court has successfully tried political leaders, and proceedings are Web-cast. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to shape discussions about global ethics and decisions across religious and ideological divides.

Yet 12–27 million people are slaves today, more than at the height of the nineteenth-century slave trade; organized crime takes in possibly $3 trillion annually; over $1 trillion is paid each year in bribes; and rich countries send some 50 million tons of waste to developing countries annually. Transparency International reports that 80% of those surveyed in their international poll said that political parties are corrupt, 25% of the respondents said they paid bribes in the previous year, and 50% said their government’s anti-corruption measures are ineffective. According to Transparency International’s 2011 Bribe Payers’ Index, companies from Russia and China, which invested $120 billion overseas in 2010, are seen as most likely to pay bribes abroad. Companies from the Netherlands and Switzerland are seen as least likely to bribe. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative backed by the World Bank, launched in 2002, to oblige companies and countries to make public the terms of oil, gas, and mineral deals with third world countries now has 14 compliant countries, 22 candidate countries, and 113 reports.

We need to create better incentives for ethics in global decisions, promote parental guidance to establish a sense of values, encourage respect for legitimate authority, support the identification and success of the influence of role models, implement cost-effective strategies for global education for a more enlightened world, and make behavior match the values people say they believe in. Entertainment media could promote memes like “make decisions that are good for me, you, and the world.” Ethical and spiritual education should grow in balance with the new powers given to humanity by technological progress. Challenge 15 will be addressed seriously when corruption decreases by 50% from the World Bank estimates of 2006, when ethical business standards are internationally practiced and regularly audited, when essentially all students receive education in ethics and responsible citizenship, and when there is a general acknowledgment that global ethics transcends religion and nationality.

Regional Considerations

Africa: Special attention will have to be given to millions of AIDS orphans in Africa who have had little choice about growing up in unethical environments. The North African uprisings in 2011 were calls for ethics in decisionmaking. Transparency International chapters in sub-Saharan Africa work to counter corruption. The Business Ethics Network of Africa continues to grow, with conferences, research, and publications. Most African government anti-corruption units are not considered successful. Eight African countries surveyed by Transparency International reported that 20% of those interviewed who had contact with the judicial system reported having paid a bribe.

Asia And Oceania: As China’s global decisionmaking role increases, it will face traditional versus Western value conflicts. Some believe the rate of urbanization and economic growth is so fast in Asia that it is difficult to consider global ethics, while Asians do not believe there are common global ethics and maintain that the pursuit to create them is a Western notion.

Europe: Global outrage at the manipulation of the Libor rate by Barclays Bank continues the pressure for more ethical management of the global financial system. Spain and France have the greatest number of businesses in the UN Global Compact. The financial crisis involving Greece and other Southern European countries raises moral issues about the interdependent ethical responsibilities among citizens, the state, and members of the Euro zone. The growing Muslim population in Europe will challenge European integration processes, ethical standards, and future immigration policies, all increasing discussions of ethics and identity for Europe. The European Ethics Network is linking efforts to improve ethical decisionmaking, while Ethics Enterprise is working to mobilize an international network of ethicists and organize innovative actions to attract attention for ethics in business.

Latin America: The Mexican Government has recently enacted the Anti-corruption Federal Law on public procurement to punish individuals and companies. The $24 million Walmart Mexican subsidiary bribery of government officials throughout the country and cover-up is being investigated for criminal prosecution by both the U.S. and Mexico. Problems such as lack of personal security, limited access to education and health services, lack of faith in politics, badly damaged institutions that do not fulfill their role (such as the Justice system and police), and the accelerated environmental degradation in some countries are aspects of a serious lack of ethical values. The prevalence of legal formality, in other countries, does not guarantee equal rights, as large sections of the population remain excluded from the guarantees of goods and people. It also manifests a serious lack of ethical standards in the mass media.

North America: U.S. plans to adopt legislation to make it compliant with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and the European Union is considering following suit. Although the U.S. has provided some leadership in bringing ethical considerations into many international organizations and forums, its ethical leadership is compromised—there is still no generally accepted way to get corrupting money out of politics and elections or to stop “cozy relationships” between regulators and those they regulate.

Graph using Trend Impact Analysis; it is part of the 2012 SOFI computation (See Chapter 2, SOFI 2012)

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