Globalization: Exploitation vs. Ethics:



Ethical Symbioticism:

An Ethical Framework with a Potential to Rid Globalization of its Exploitative Nature


by Dr. Francis C.L. Rakotsoane (UNESWA)

Associate Professor, University of eSwatini

Manzini, Kingdom of eSwatini




The debates on whether or not globalization has benefited the developing countries of the world are becoming rife and fierce. While some see globalization as providing opportunities to the developing countries in the form of access to global markets, accelerating technology transfer to the developing countries and improvement of productivity and efficiency, to mention but a few, others see it as an exploitative interaction between the rich and the poor in which the rich get richer at the expense of the poor. They cite such undesirable experiences in developing countries as increased volatility in financial markets, abuse of labor and pandemic environmental degradation, among others, as indicative of the exploitative nature of globalization. Challenged by this latter dimension of globalization as experienced in developing countries, this paper argues that there is a need for some kind of an ethical framework to guide globalization if all countries of the world are to benefit from it. Without such ethical framework in place to guide it, globalization will continue to wreak havoc by disproportionately benefiting the rich countries at the expense of the poor ones. As part of efforts to rectify this situation, the paper proposes what it calls ‘Ethical Symbioticism’ as such one ethical framework which, if adopted to guide globalization, is likely to change things for better for those countries that appear to be currently at the receiving end of exploitation by globalization. 



Globalization, which Wade Jacoby & Sophie Meunier (2010) define as “the increased flows of goods, services, capital, people, and information across borders”, is described by Collins as an economic tidal wave that is sweeping over the world unstoppably and on whose way is found both winners and losers (Collins 2010). From the winners’ perspective, it is seen as providing opportunities to the developing countries of the world in the form of access to global markets, accelerating technology transfer to such countries and improvement of productivity and efficiency. On the other hand, those who regard themselves as losers in it see it as an opportunistic exploitative interaction between the rich and the poor where the rich get richer while the poor benefit very little (if any at all) because of unethically unbalanced manner in which business deals are run between the developed and developing countries in the globalized world. The latter cite such undesirable experiences in developing countries as increased volatility in financial markets, abuse of labor and pandemic environmental degradation, among others, as indicative of the exploitative nature of globalization (Weidenbaum 2003; Bond 2007).


Supporting this view are also the following observations about globalization (Collins 2010):

·        Multinational corporations involved in globalization of economies engage in social injustice, unfair working conditions (including slave labor wages and poor living and working conditions). These also appear to lack concern for the environment, mismanagement of natural resources, and ecological damage. 

·        Multinational corporations which were in the past limited to commercial activities are now increasingly influencing political decisions. As a result of the power they have gained through globalization, the said corporations are today seen as posing a threat of ruling the world.

·        Globalization makes it easier for rich companies to act with less accountability. Poor Non-western countries’ individual cultures are becoming overpowered by westernization.

·        Globalization does not appear to be working for the majority of the countries of the world. The most recent period (1960 to 1998) of rapid growth in global trade and investment reveals that inequality has become worse both internationally and within countries. The UN Development Program reports that 86 percent of the world's resources is consumed by only 20 percent of the world's rich population, while the remaining 80 percent of the world's population is left to fight over the remaining 14 percent of the world resources.

·        Some experts accuse globalization of leading to the incursion of communicable diseases. Deadly diseases like AIDS and Ebola are being spread by travelers to the remotest corners of the globe.

·        Globalization has led to exploitation of labor in and from poor countries. Prisoners and child workers are used to work in appalling conditions that are not suitable for human beings. Safety standards are ignored in order to produce cheap goods. Connected to globalization is also the issue of human trafficking through which the world is experiencing a form of modern day slavery.


In rich countries like America, globalization is blamed for loss of high paying jobs like programmers, editors, scientists, accountants and medical technicians in the service industries due to outsourcing to cheaper locations like India (Collins 2010). This outsourcing has, in the long run, created a culture of job insecurity. People live in constant fear of losing their jobs to foreign competition and outsourcing. This increased job competition has led to poor wages and consequently poor standards of living (Collins 2010). Collins further states:


As manufacturing continues to decline, so does our ability to innovate. In the long term, this means fewer well-paid jobs, lower productivity, declining wages, declining living standards and low economic growth. Globalization is a big part of this decline and will affect all jobs and all sectors of the economy. From the point of view of multinational corporations and Wall Street investors, globalization is probably viewed as a wonderful phenomenon with many opportunities. But from the point of view of American manufacturers, manufacturing workers, the middle class, professional service workers and overall economic growth, I think the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages (Collins 2010).


According to Collins (2010), there isn’t much that can be done by the American people to stop the tidal wave of globalization but enforcing the trade laws, forcing the competition to play by the same rules, and stopping the habit of giving competitors the tools to ultimately win the global war might just do the trick. While what is proposed by Collins above may work well for the big powers like America with efficient law enforcement agencies in place, for smaller countries with generally poor law enforcement agencies in place to also benefit from globalization, there is a need to have in place, in addition to enforcing the trade laws, an ethical framework which may be globally applied to guide all players in globalization. Such a framework, if well thought through, should be able to successfully guide the practice of globalization in the same way those involved in the practice of medicine are guided by certain ethical frameworks to be able to function both professionally and ethically in their interaction with each other and their clients. 


Building on Collins’ idea of the need to have something in place to ensure that all play according to rules, this paper proposes what it calls ethical symbioticism as such necessary ethical framework. The paper argues that without such ethical framework in place to guide it, globalization will continue to wreak havoc by disproportionately benefiting the rich countries at the expense of the poor ones.



The word ‘symbioticism’ is a coinage from an adjective, ‘symbiotic’ which is derived from a biological Greek word ‘symbiosis’ (which is a combination of  syn-, which means together or with, and -vios, which means life). Symbiosis is thus generally used to express a kind of an interdependent relationship that exists between and among different species in which at least one of them benefit from its association with another (Martin and Schwab 2012). When originally applied in biological context (where it originated from), symbiosis was used to refer to a kind of interdependent relationship in which the species concerned mutually benefited from their association with each other (Douglas 1994). This sense of the word was generally referred to as mutualism (Bronstein 2015). However, with time the word acquired two more senses generally known as parasitism and commensalism respectively (Martin and Schwab 2013). For this reason, there exist generally three types of symbiotic relationships. These are mutualism (where the species association with each other results in the mutual benefit of both species), commensalism (where the association of species with each other benefits only one side while the other side does not benefit but remains, however, unharmed), parasitism (where the species association with each other results in one species benefiting at the expense of another)


Of the three senses in which the word is used, only mutualism appears ethical for it is the only sense of symbiosis in which no species is used by another for selfish purposes. In mutualism both species mutually benefit from their interaction with each other. No one is used as means to an end. Both species value the presence of one in another’s life. On the other hand, the same cannot be said about commensalism and parasitism in which one species appears to use another merely as means to an end.


Ethical Symbioticism


Globalisation, as a kind of symbiotic interaction (at least ideally considered) that takes place between different countries of the world, manifests itself in very much similar fashion with mutualism sense of it getting side-lined by day while commensalism and parasitism are becoming more and more of the order of the day. By the look of things, there is no way globalisation can reach its ideal sense of being a transaction of goods and services across borders in a mutually beneficial manner unless it is guided by one common ethical framework for all countries involved. For globalization to lead to such a mutually beneficial interaction, it has to operate in such a manner that it always leads to mutualism, away from the current commensalism and parasitism. Ethical symbioticism theory is hereby proposed as one framework with a potential to channel globalization towards mutualism, if globally adopted. Ethical symbioticism is to be understood as an ethical theory that opposes the use of one partner as mere means to an end by another during trans-border business dealings between countries and advocates mutualism in all such business deals. It is a theory that is characterized by dependability, relationality, mutuality, complementarity, cordiality, transparency and reciprocity as its constitutive principles.


According to ethical symbioticism, trans-border business deals in a globalized world are to be considered ethical and legitimate when they reflect the presence of the most if not all of the principles listed above. These are described as follows:


·        Dependability refers to a situation in which the interacting parties can count on each other because of the mutual trust they have in each other. It means that countries involved in global business deals should, in their interaction with each other, reflect the quality of being able to be counted on or relied upon as partners and avoid making promises which they are not able to keep.


·        Relationality refers to a situation in which the interacting parties see themselves as partners. It means that countries in their interaction maintain open and positive attitude that assures each of them that they are going to treat each other as they would treat a true friend. It means being considerate and not disproportionately placing one’s needs and desires above those of others.


·        Mutuality refers to a mutual interaction in which both parties are equally but proportionately bound by some obligations to each other. It means that burdens and benefits are fairly distributed between the two sides that engage in business.


·        Complementarity refers to a situation in which countries involved in business dealings with each other improve or emphasize each other's qualities in their business interaction together. It means each country offers to another that which the other is, for one reason or another, not self-sufficient in.


·        Cordiality refers to the quality of relating to another in a way that is not only friendly, but is also formal and polite. It means that the interaction between countries that are in business together should be characterized by mutual respect for each other.


·        Transparency refers to an open, free and accessible manner in which countries that do business together have to approach each other. It means putting all one’s cards on the table when striking a business deal with one’s ally. Each business partner’s intentions to enter into a business deal should remain clear to all signatories involved.


·        Reciprocity refers to an act of reciprocating one’s ally’s magnanimous actions in order to keep the alliance free of exploitation of one by another. It means acting in kind to every business transaction that transpires between the countries in a globalized world. None of the interacting countries should feel as though it is being reduced to a charity case by another.



Countries’ interactions with each other (without any framework for guidance) within the globalized world, like in the case of symbiosis, can lead to mutualism, commensalism or parasitism as an end product of the interaction. Of the three, only mutualism remains desirable as it leads to the benefit of all those involved. For this reason, if globalization is to result in interactions that are beneficial to all countries involved, and not in commensalism or parasitism, it has to take place within the perimeters of a special framework that can channel it such that it results in mutualism. Ethical symbioticism is hereby presented as one such framework which, if adopted by the globalized world, as an ethical framework for informing countries’ interaction with each other, can lead to mutualism.  For that reason, ethical symbioticism is presented in this paper as an ethical framework with a potential to rid globalization of its exploitative nature.


It is only when an interaction between countries concerned is characterized by the presence of dependability, relationality, mutuality, complementarity, cordiality, transparency and reciprocity that it can result in mutualism. Therefore, these seven principles are to be regarded as the criteria for determining whether or not any interaction that takes place between countries will, indeed, result in mutualism.




Bond, P. 2007. Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation. Pietermaritzburg: KwaZulu-Natal Press.


Bronstein, J. L. (2015). ‘The study of mutualism’. In: Bronstein, J. L. (ed.). Mutualism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Oxford.


Collins, M. (2010). ‘The Pros and Cons of Globalization.’ (As accessed on 13/03/2018).


Douglas, Angela (1994). Symbiotic interactions, Oxford University Press


Martin, B. D. and Schwab, E. (2012). ‘Symbiosis: 'Living together' in chaos’, Studies in the History of Biology, 4 (4): 7–25.


Martin, Bradford D., Schwab, E. (2013), ‘Current usage of symbiosis and associated terminology’, International Journal of Biology, 5 (1): 32–45., doi:10.5539/ijb.v5n1p32


Wade J. & Meunier, S. 2010). ‘Europe and the management of globalization’, Journal of European Public Policy, 17:3, 299-317, DOI: 10.1080/13501761003662107



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