Leveraging 'People' Power of Sustainability
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Professor Alan R Nankervis
Professor of Human Resource Management in the School of Management, Curtin Business School, Curtin University, Australia
Alan has more than thirty years’ academic experience at three universities in Australia, and in the UK, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, together with consultancies in Indonesia, China and Thailand. He was the Director of the Sydney Graduate School of Management, Research Director and Head of HRM at Curtin University. He is currently the Chair of the Australian Human Resources Institute’s (AHRI) National Program Accreditation Committee.
Alan has published more than 150 books, book chapters, international journal articles and conference papers for publishers such as Routledge, Palgrave Macmillan, Cambridge University Press, Pearson Education and Cengage Learning; and journals including Personnel Review, Thunderbird International Business Review, Asia Pacific Business Review and Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources. His research interests include the links between performance review and firm performance, comparative Asian HRM/Management, services management, and skills development in the Asia Pacific.
Alan’s most recent book is New Models of HRM in the Asia Pacific (Routledge), co-authored with Professors Malcolm Warner (Cambridge University), Fang Lee Cooke (Monash University) and Samir Chattejee (Curtin University).
It is often suggested that new digital technologies, ubiquitous social media outlets, and the ease of global travel in the twenty first century have effectively integrated all countries in the world, making it possible for closer and more accurate communication across the globe; more efficient and timely international trade; enhanced innovation capacities, and future opportunities for positive social, economic and cultural interactions consistent with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A smaller, more integrated, kinder and fairer world with equal opportunities for all!
Whilst on the one hand, technology has provided us with the tools to become increasingly more connected and integrated, in both work and personal domains, on the other hand, it can be argued that we are in fact more separated and isolated than we have ever been. To mention just a few issues which divide us, in the longer-term, trade wars, climate change, religious and ideological conflict and extremism, US isolationism and China’s expansionism, Brexit and the decline in the competence and quality of some of our global leaders accompanied by their increasing totalitarianism, creeping censorship in both the media and more broadly, and the concerns associated with data manipulation by behemoths such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. And in the shorter-term, concerns including the threats to many jobs associated with the extensive use of artificial intelligence and robotics technologies, and most recently, the adverse effects (and often incompetent management) of the global spread of viral pandemics such as COVID-19.
Encompassing all these issues is the continuing discussion about the spectre of globalisation. Initially heralded as the solution to all our problems, in recent years there has been a fierce debate about its outcomes, especially in relation to winner and loser countries and their industries with an emphasis (on the one hand) on its capacity to catapult economic growth across the world and thus to facilitate and social equality and sustainability, and (on the other) the looming reality that it will create the reverse outcomes, greater social inequities and reduced sustainability.Some commentators have suggested that we are already in a post-global world – ‘Globalisation is already behind us. We should say goodbye to it and set our minds on the emerging multipolar world. They will increasingly take very different approaches to economic policy, liberty, warfare, technology and society’ (O’Sullivan, 2019). Others dispute such observations and refute the anti-globalisation activists whilst acknowledging that there are downsides to both globalisation and integration – ‘the powerful political ground-swell behind these anti-globalisation arguments demonstrates that the case for openness has not yet been made clearly enough, with all the caveats needed to address its complexities. The positive lesson is that globalisation, for all its power to make our lives better, has not worked for everyone’ (Grenville, 2017).The latter author’s argument appears to be that whilst globalisation has both positive and adverse consequences, in order to provide more equity and inclusion all countries need to provide ‘open’ access in the areas of trade, migration and foreign investment. However, if these are the three fundamental pillars of a renewed push towards globalisation then the signs are not too positive. The trade war, to address alleged inequities in exports and imports between the two most powerful global players, together with the Chinese Belt & Road initiative and the exclusivity implied by the ASEAN Economic Union and Brexit seem destined to torpedo the first pillar, trade.
Terrorism, religious and ideological mistrust and conflict have the potential to lead to permanently restrictive migration laws and regulations.
Perhaps the only pillar of Grenville’s ‘open’ globalisation model which might stand the test of time is the third, foreign investment. However, it would be an extremely positive observer who thought that foreign investment will remain open, given some of the developments mentioned earlier in this article. In addition, foreign investment is very unlikely to provide the social equity and sustainable development outcomes proposed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals unless the governments and the multinational corporations involved and their competent and strategic leaders, rapidly develop social consciences to mitigate the adverse and divisive consequences of their global foreign investments. Good luck with that!