Globalization and working conditions: how they affect employment in commerce

Journal of European Industrial Training

ISSN: 0309-0590

Article publication date: 1 March 2000




(2000), "Globalization and working conditions: how they affect employment in commerce", Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 24 No. 2/3/4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Globalization and working conditions: how they affect employment in commerce

Globalization and working conditions: how they affect employment in commerce

Keywords: Globalization, Working conditions, Employment

While globalization has led to consolidation of the commerce sector into fewer, bigger operators with better scale advantages and higher purchasing and economic power, this process is also responsible for the crowding out of smaller, independent community wholesalers and retailers in some parts of commerce, with attendant job losses and impacts on previously vibrant urban and rural shopping areas.

So said the conclusions of a tripartite meeting held in Geneva on 25-29 October 1999, to discuss the role of international labour standards in the huge commerce sector. Participants were told that wholesale and retail trade, stimulated by technology, evolving consumer demand and trade liberalization factors, saw a significant growth in new jobs worldwide during the 1990s. An International Labour Office (ILO) report (Human Resource Implications of Globalization and Restructuring in Commerce. Report for discussion at the Tripartite Meeting on Human Resource Implications of Globalization and Restructuring in Commerce, ILO, Geneva, 1999, ISBN 02-2-111761-8, price 20 Swiss francs) discussed at the meeting noted that commerce has become a prime engine for job creation worldwide, and cited estimates that retail commerce had produced some 53.5 million jobs between 1990 and 1997 in 93 countries reviewed.

Of the total, approximately 40 million jobs were added in the 17 Asian and Pacific countries reviewed, half of them in China alone; six million new jobs in 24 industrialized countries where statistics are available; another six million new jobs in 27 Latin American countries; and 1.5 million additional jobs in 19 transition economies.

Among the features of work in the sector, the report cites a large proportion of female employees, high labour turnover rates and a high proportion of workers in employment relationships that are neither full-time nor permanent. In most countries, women are the most affected by unemployment in the commerce sector - largely attributable to their "higher representation in low-skilled, part-time and precarious employment".

"The impact of globalization and restructuring on employment in commerce therefore clearly has important consequences for gender and equality-related policies and initiatives throughout the world", the report said.

Though there is no certainty as to the impact of electronic commerce (e-commerce) on employment, an estimated 760,000 jobs have already been created by the Internet in the USA alone. In Germany, recent estimates show some 200,000 new jobs will have been created in communication services between 1995 and 2005 - of which over half are in new electronic commerce services. E-commerce could also generate some 500,000 new jobs in the European Union by 2005, according to an EU study. While electronic commerce may lead to expanded employment in traditional retailing in the near term, as retailers maintain a presence in both physical and cyber channels, disintermediation and the changes in the value-added chain are expected to have a negative impact on employment in this sector.

Participants concluded that the commerce sector plays a central role in the satisfaction of consumer needs, as a major source of employment and as a catalyst for the economy as a whole. They also highlighted in the unanimously adopted conclusions to the meeting that "the ability of commerce workers to share significantly in the success of their companies through consultation related to restructuring, including issues of improved pay, job security and better working conditions, will be a decisive factor towards productivity and profitability".

The meeting adopted a resolution calling on the Governing Body of the ILO to request the director-general to set up a small tripartite forum to convene regularly and as often as possible for dialogue on global developments in commerce, and their implications for employment, working conditions and labour relations. Among the priority issues on the agenda of such a forum would be e-commerce, gender issues, flexibility, productivity, vocational training, job creation, employment security, social protection and issues specific to developing countries and countries in transition.

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