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The third change of the International Division of Labor

In recent years, globalization combined with robotization has considerably changed the International Division of Labor that began more than a century ago. On the agenda: relocating industries, relocating services, and more than ever workers to protect.


History of the International Division of Labor

The international division of labor is, as the economist El Mouhoub Mouhoud explains in a France Culture program, an extension of the division of labor in companies as theorized by Adam Smith. In the same way that a production line is broken down into different specialized positions, world production also specializes.



From the first globalization, at the end of the nineteenth century, the countries of the colonial South produced the raw materials while the countries of the North assumed industrial and technical performance. "The work is highly qualified in the North and very little in the South", summarizes El Mouhoub Mouhoud. Then, after the Second World War, new emerging countries began to massively produce low-quality products. This is called the "new international division of labor": in the 1970s, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Brazil and Mexico dominated this new wave. In the 1980s, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam emerged. These countries provided a skilled and cheap labor force, and the large multinational companies outsourced their production. For their part, "the so-called developed countries retain the products and services requiring high qualification," says journalist Florian Delorme on France Culture.

As a result, emerging countries have become richer, wages have risen and a real middle class has emerged. At the same time, robotization and automation, the surge of digital technology and the economy of platforms have "led to a gradual recomposition of the global productive process." Then the question arises: does the international division of labor come to an end?


 "the international division of labor is changing forms and characteristics, but it is not running out. Its sources are endless"


The work is "re-regionalized"

Since the 2000s, the rise in wage costs in emerging countries and the rise in transport prices have considerably reduced world trade: according to the IMF, between 1985 and 2007, it had increased twice as fast as world production, while it kept the same pace in the last four years. Automation of production and robotization has also undermined revenue sources for outsourcing countries: when it is cheaper to have home robots produce, Western companies are repatriating their industries - explained Michael Priddis, founder of Faethm, who anticipates the effects of technology on work. Offshoring is no longer the Eldorado it was.

However, according to El Mouhoub Mouhoud, "the international division of labor is changing forms and characteristics, but it is not running out. Its sources are endless", since, as Adam Smith said, the only limit to the division of labor is the development of the market. We are witnessing a re-regionalization of work. And while the industry's weight in world GDP is declining and services are exploding, "as the industry relocates to the North, services are relocating, not being affected by transaction costs, customs duties, transport costs", explains the economist. Another phenomenon: the division of labor is now broken down into tasks, within the same socio-professional category.



Protecting human rights

The remaining question, therefore, is whether this regionalization of the division of labor can erase the inequalities caused by globalization. El Mouhoub Mouhoud is not very optimistic: "The losers remain losers and winners remain winners, even at a regional level. The effects of globalization are combined with those of technical progress, which are biased towards highly skilled work: even skilled workers, such as engineers, who perform production tasks, are threatened”.

In reality, vigilance is more than ever needed, especially on human rights issues. As noted in an article recently published by Usbek & Rica on the mastodons of Silicon Valley, "slave-like" workshops that produce iPhone in China, including cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and even the toxic garbage dump in Ghana where our digital devices are landing, shows that the new tech economy is thriving on an international division of labor that is still wild.

For the researcher Christian Fuchs, quoted by Usbek & Rica, this phenomenon is neither more nor less than the extension of the exploitation of the industrial age, because it "includes all the modes of digital production; an agricultural, industrial and work information network that allows the existence and use of digital media. Today, most of these digital production relationships are shaped by wage labor, slave labor, precarious work and freelance work, making the international division of labor an interconnected and complex network of exploitative processes". The service industry is therefore not spared: the dynamics are the same for micro-workers who earn their living by performing repetitive tasks on platforms like Upwork or AmazonTurk. According to a survey carried out by a multidisciplinary working group of the Oxford Internet Institute on Upwork, "Northern countries are the main providers of micro-tasks, and in the South countries, it is the demand for work that predominates (mostly in India, the Philippines and Malaysia)", says the journalist. In short, the Asian tigers that contributed to the redefinition of the international division of labor in the 1980s are still not better off.

The solution? Always better to supervise the work and ensure that human rights are respected throughout the chain, of course. But also, as researcher Antonio Casili says in the pages of Usbek & Rica, that these tech workers, often isolated and marginalized, realize that they are not alone and organize themselves to assert their rights and emancipate. It calls to "make visible the invisible and analyze the mechanisms that produce this invisibility [...], to allow the emergence of critical reflections from the 'invisible' themselves." Direct conflicts or creation of cooperatives, for the workers at the end of the chain of the international division of labor, the union will do whatever force happens.


Education of the future will be technological… and social

Technological tools are changing the way we learn and train, from classrooms to online continuing education. But they are also valuable tools for democratizing access to knowledge.

In 1999, Edgar Morin wrote a small book for UNESCO entitled “Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future”, in which he called for teaching to serve "individuals’ vitality and free expression, [which] constitute our ethical and political plan for the planet." Eighteen years later, education is profoundly transformed by technology: it is increasingly personalized, interactive, transversal and flexible. Its purpose remains unchanged: to give everyone the tools for their own empowerment and, perhaps even more so than yesterday, to help them to constantly adapt to the changes of our time. In this respect, the future of the education is today structured around a few large axes in which technology plays a direct or indirect role.


Learning on platforms

Education and training are ideal playgrounds for innovation on the Internet. A few years ago, it was the fanfared arrival of MOOCs, the Massive Open Online Courses, a kind of contemporary CNED which allows you to follow distance learning courses. Some are free, some lead to qualifications and some are very prestigious since, in addition to specialized platforms such as the Khan Academy, the largest universities have also entered the niche market. In the corporate world, continuing education centers are more likely to use SPOCs, Small Private Online Courses, which are more suitable for small groups. If some people say that MOOCs are already losing momentum, it seems that the future of e-learning is crowd learning. Especially adapted to companies, crowd learning is based on the premise that skills and knowledge are "hidden" in all corners of the organization, and that facilitating interaction makes it possible to learn from each other better. Another major change brought about by e-learning is the concept of electronic "badges", whether you gain one after following a MOOC, a training course or simply thanks to your experience, you can display it on your LinkedIn profile or your personal site. Badges make it possible to valorize continuous learning without having to go through a certification process and reflects a less fixed and more progressive vision of training.


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The classroom of the future

It is perhaps with “face-to-face” learning that the most impressive innovations are beginning to emerge. Firstly, technology is making it possible to understand each other better and is even breaking down language barriers, so that foreign, deaf and hard of hearing students and posted workers or those in an international mobility program can follow discussions better. Very recently, Google launched its Pixel Buds, connected earphones which enable you to translate 40 languages in real time. Microsoft goes even further by adapting its translation service Translator to the classroom: Presentation Translator sub-titles teachers’ or trainers’ PowerPoint presentations live, while Microsoft Translator Live Feature transcribes conversations that take place in the room in real time and in the desired language on the screen of a smartphone, tablet or computer.

More generally, Bill Gates' educational products aim to make classes more collaborative, but also more immersive, notably by using virtual and augmented reality. PowerPoint’s main competitor, Prexi, is positioned elsewhere in this niche: the Hungarian company has recently demonstrated its augmented reality, which it hopes will be particularly useful for remote presentations. Instead of watching, on a screen, a person who is themselves in front of a screen where their presentation is taking place, the elements will appear around the person, as if he or she were in front of a cinema green screen. Obviously all this is done dynamically, as shown in this TED talk (from the fifth minute) and this video from the journalist Guy Raz.

Equal opportunities for all

Finally, training in the future, if not necessarily loaded with technologies, will enable everyone to find and to reveal their potential. In France, this is the objective of the Switch Collective, which offers an online and real-life program called "Take stock, calmly", to help "those who no longer find themselves in their job" to give back meaning to their activity or to change them. All this in six weeks, which helps to identify their strengths, weaknesses and especially their desires.

As for initial training, many initiatives are being created in the growing niche of digital professions. In France, the social and solidarity company offers free training to become "web site and mobile applications developers, integrators, digital advisors, data artisans, e-traders, and many other “hard-to-fill” digital professions which enable you to find a job quickly or to create your own business." The training courses are aimed at people who are having difficulty in finding a job and are offered openly under certain social criteria with a gender equality target. At school 42, 18-30 year olds are offered completely free computer training courses that operate through peer-to-peer learning: "a participative way of working that allows students to unleash their creativity through project based learning." Leaning on digital technology to fight unemployment among less privileged populations: this is the view of South African entrepreneur Luvuyo Rani, who we interviewed this summer. With Silulo Ulutho Technologies, he developed a network of training centers for digital tools to help township populations in their search for employment or professional development. "We want to have an impact on education, empowerment, technology and entrepreneurship", he told us. One more proof that technology is an indispensable tool for future education to fulfill its purpose of empowerment and fulfillment. 

A brief history of the common good

Is the common good the same as the general interest? Who defines it? Who ensures that it is respected? Following is a brief overview of the history of the concept, and the value it holds in the 21st century. 

From the general interest to the common good 

The common good as a philosophical concept appeared in the 13th century through the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas reviews Politics, in which Aristotle affirms that the city assumes "the existence of a common good [...]. Just as the whole is more important than the part, and takes priority [...], the city takes priority over the individual...and its overall well-being is of a higher importance...than that of each individual himself... " But for the Dominican philosopher, this concept contains elements of a religious approach: the common good is a political and social organization that allows humans to seek God. Salvation is the guiding principle of society, the one that guarantees the notion of "good" for all. 

there are two broad concepts of the general interest. On the one hand, there is the Anglo-Saxon vision, which postulates that "the general interest results...from the sum of the interests of each", a very liberal approach to individual rights. On the other hand, the French-style republican vision exists in which "the general interest is understood as an objective which exceeds the sum of individual interests."

In this sense, the common good could first be understood as a synonym for the general interest, which assimilates specific, sometimes contradictory, needs toward an end result that benefits all. As explained in a thought-provoking article by Chrystèle Basin for Solidarum, published by Usbek & Rica, there are two broad concepts of the general interest. On the one hand, there is the Anglo-Saxon vision, which postulates that "the general interest results...from the sum of the interests of each", a very liberal approach to individual rights. On the other hand, the French-style republican vision exists in which "the general interest is understood as an objective which exceeds the sum of individual interests." In this concept, the state plays a top down role: "The public power is progressively affirmed as the guarantor and the designer of the overall interest, knowing in theory better than anyone what suits everyone and distrusting individual desire, viewing it as something that should be contained or limited." The notion of the common good, as it is understood today, is precisely a response to the limits of these two meanings of the general interest - on the one hand, a libertarian vision that subjects individuals to the excesses of capitalism, and on the other hand, a notion that exists solely to curb individual desires. 

The need for engagement 

In the 20th and especially in the 21st century, the definition of the common good that prevails is much more horizontal. The common good is neither a sum of disparate individual interests nor an arbitrary direction fixed by the state; rather, it comes from the community, and pertains to the goods that the community can share. In 1944, in Authority and the Common Good, philosopher and theologian Gaston Fessard defined the common good in three dimensions, according to Alain Giffard, Director of the Group of Scientific Interest in Digital and Media Culture: "1. Community property: public or other shared assets; 2. the community around community property: the nature of everyone's access to the community property; 3. the well-being created by community property: the nature and balance of the relationship between the individual and the community." In the 21st century - an era in search of answers in the face of crisis, and of experimentation with the equalization of social relations through the advent of the internet - the common good is certainly the sharing of common resources, but it is also the way in which one aims to build a society. Chrystèle Basin identifies some contemporary definitions. As such, for the philosopher François Flahault, the common good is something that allows everyone to "see his place in relation to others and enjoy a well-being based on that." For Alain Giffard, "the common good (...) implies more than the respect of the law in expressing the general interest. It requires a commitment from everyone as an operating condition of the rule. The common good is not a norm; it is not defined by convention; but there is, nevertheless, the object of discussion among the people involved." In short, the common good is developed by the citizens themselves in a conscious way. "Being a citizen is less about one's duties in exchange for the guarantee of one's rights than about participating in a society through the contribution of one's intelligence, time, and skills, and in being able to decide the nature of one's contribution," writes Chrystèle Basin. 

Defining a common interest 

One of the most concrete definitions of this reinvention of "the general interest" is the return of the concept of "common goods" (i.e. goods in the economic sense). Common goods are natural, tangible, or intangible resources around which a community organizes in order to use. Perhaps the best known examples would be the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, or green spaces that exist in cities. According to American researcher David Bollier, cited in an Usbek & Rica article on common goods, it is a "new way of thinking and taking care of resources that do not belong to public or private citizens, but are shared and cared for by a community that defines the rights of use with respect to access, sharing, and distribution." The organizational efforts that are deployed in order to define access to these goods, therefore, belong to the common good. "To share common goods is to experiment with self-organization. It is the putting into practice a civic responsibility in a society that tends to expect everything from classic vertical channels," writes Usbek & Rica. It is, in short, to define one's place in society while building it; to expect more from "living together" than the guarantee of one's rights. 

The question is what do we want to build together, and how do we decide what is a common interest? For Hubert Allier, member of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, as quoted by Chrystèle Basin, "It is less a matter of seeking a definition than of identifying objectives." He gives three: the guarantee of personal fulfillment, the conditions of a collective well-being, and the responsibility toward future generations - a roadmap for truly sustainable development.

More on that topic : 

The common good

The concept of the common good

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