International Relations

Cheap labor and the World Cup ball

06-11-2014 6:26 PM with no comments

‪The men and women who work in a factory in Sialkot, a town in eastern Pakistan, putting together the six curved panels of 2014 ‎World Cup soccer balls are making about $102 a month. A month.

Adidas is selling the Brazuca ("Brazuca" is the term Brazilians use to describe a positive attitude towards life) soccer ball for $160.

Pakistan's cheap labor has won the ball contracts over China manufactures, where labor costs have risen sharply in recent years. The workers in Sialkot are currently paid a minimum wage of 10,000 rupees per month. While Sialkot factories have taken significant steps to stop the use of child labor it has by no means been wiped out completely.

Above: Photograph by Sara Farid/Reuters

Discussion starters:

1.     What can or should Adidas do to share the profits of the Brazuca with the Pakistani workers in Sialkot?

2.     Will you see the game differently know that the men and women who made the ball are paid so little for their work?



Posted by robert.sterken

Is Pepe Mujica a model servant leader or a "veritable freak of nature?"

06-10-2014 9:33 AM with no comments

The ancient Chinese philosopher and poet Laozi wrote, "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves." It seems that for Laozi the best leader is one who does not seek the credit, riches, or rewards for her work.

Ego very often gets in the way leadership. A leader who is free of ego is free to be and do great things. I am currently writing a book about a great man (Governor Bill Ratliff). As I interview those who know him and research his work and life I have become convinced that a great leader is different from other leaders in that he is free (at least for the most part) of ego and takes the role of the servant. Great men have real and lasting impact on society because of what they do - for others. Being focused on others instead of oneself enriches everyone.

People tend to build all sorts of walls to try to protect themselves from the all too real vulnerabilities of human existence. From the garments we don to our houses and cars to our bank accounts. We tend to believe that things/wealth will bring security in this crazy vulnerable world we inhabit.

The 79-year-old Pepe Mujica is not such a person. Pepe Mujica is free of needing too much and free of ego.

Since 2010, Jose "Pepe" Mujica has served as Uruguay's president. Mr. Mujica lives in a one-bedroom farmhouse and donates 90 percent of his salary to charity rejects the notion that he is poor: "Those who describe me so are the poor ones. My definition of poor are those who need too much. Because those who need too much are never satisfied."

Above: Mujica lives in a small house instead of Uruguay's presidential mansion.

Belen Fernandez has written a thought provoking piece about leadership, service, and justice (click here for her article). Ms. Fernandez writes, "Amidst the global political class, Uruguay's Jose "Pepe" Mujica looks like a veritable freak of nature."

Discussion starters:

1.     What leadership traits should other global leaders learn from Mr. Mujica?

2.     What do you think allows Mr. Mujica to eschew wealth and ego and truly serve? 


Posted by robert.sterken

The GAP and the Struggle for life and dignity in Myanmar

06-09-2014 10:39 AM with no comments

If you purchase a vest and or a jacket from the GAP's Old Navy and Banana Republic brands you will likely be wearing Burmese made clothes as the weather turns cooler this fall.

Aung San Suu Kyi said, "The struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma is a struggle for life and dignity. It is a struggle that encompasses our political, social and economic aspirations."

Will the economic aspirations of the Burmese people be helped by the GAP? The US Company will be the first American company to open a factory in the struggling state of Myanmar. The GAP intends to employ over 700 people in its first factory in Rangoon.

According to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar, dozens of U.S. companies are exploring business opportunities in Burma. The following leading U.S. companies are among those that have established operations in Burma: APR Energy · Ball Corp. · Caterpillar · Chevrolet · Chevron · Cisco · Coca-Cola · Dell · DuPont · Ford · Gap · GE · HP · Intel · MasterCard · MetLife · PepsiCo · P&G · Visa · Western Union.

Myanmar is especially attractive to US firms like the GAP as because the abundant and cheap labor.

In the last three years, as the Burmese leadership has made steps toward openness and democracy, President Obama has eased the sanctions that had been imposed on the country during its half-century of military rule. The easing of sanctions allows companies from the US and Europe to begin to return to Myanmar.

Discussion starters:

1.     Will the GAP and other US factories help the Burmese people in their struggle for life and dignity?

2.     What advice would you give to the executives of the GAP about the working conditions and pay for the 700 people in the new factories they are about to open? 


Posted by robert.sterken

Global interdependence: Cambodian garment workers and you

06-08-2014 11:19 AM with no comments

Our global village is tightly linked. Your life and choices are directly and indirectly linked with those in far off corners of our village. Chances are the shirt you are wearing was made in one of Cambodia's garment factories.

Last week, the international union IndustriALL and a few major retailers (H&M, New Look and Zara) met with the Cambodian government to discuss better treatment of clothing factory workers.

Many of Cambodia's 400,000 garment workers have been campaigning for an increase in the national minimum wage and improved conditions. The workers protests and campaigns have been met with detention and intimidation by the Cambodian government. Few trade unions are organized and allowed to operate in Cambodia. The workers are seeking to double the monthly minimum wage to $160 (click here for more).

According to the Guardian, the Cambodian garment workers have faced brutal action by police. IndustriALL's general secretary, Jyrki Raina, said: "Despite assurances from the government in February, there have since been unprecedented levels of intimidation, violence and a declining respect for the rule of law, which together constitute a grave attack on union and worker rights."

Discussion starters:

1.     Are global retailers responsible for human and worker rights in Cambodia?

2.     Did the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 (in which more than 1,100 workers died) change the way you make purchasing decisions?


Posted by robert.sterken

The soft power of sport is revealed in the 2014 World Cup

06-06-2014 11:17 AM with no comments

A World Cup sporting event is never just about who wins on the pitch. Billions and billions of dollars are spent in the host state and around this global event. Global travel increased. Billions of people from all corners of our global village watch the games. People in nations all across the world learn about German coaches and culture, superstars players from Portugal and Nacogdoches, Texas, and witch doctors from Ghana. International relations scholars see soft power at work in many places and forms. As we watch our teams we learn about one another relations among nations...or do we?

As the national team from Portugal arrives in the United States this week to play two "friendly" matches with Mexico and Ireland the Portuguese are worried about a witch doctor in Ghana and their star player - Cristiano Ronaldo's knee.

The Brazilian government is concerned about its international business reputation and the threat of thousands of Brazilians who seem likely protest what they see as wasteful government spending for the tournament.

A witch doctor from Ghana is claiming responsibility for Cristiano Ronaldo's knee injury, which has put the Portugal star's ability to play in question for the 2014 World Cup (click here for more).

Later this month the Portuguese, Germans, Salvadorans, and the Americans will play each other in Group G at the World Cup in Brazil.


Discussion starters:

1.     What are the implications of "friendly" soccer matches in international relations?

2.     International relations scholars have long written about the effects of sport on relations among nations. What effects among nation-to-nation relations might we expect from the 2014 games?

Posted by robert.sterken

Our Global Village as 100 People

06-01-2014 11:42 AM with no comments

Regular readers of this blog well know that I very often refer to our existence on this planet as a "global village." Thinking of living in a global village better illustrates the close, interdependent, and interconnected nature of our existence. No matter what continent, state, or corner or street we inhabit we all share the very same planet and resources.

In a similar way, the NGO called the "100 People Foundation" seeks to help us all better understand the complex issues facing our global village by breaking down the numbers from just over 7 billion to a simple 100 person village.  By framing the picture of our global village as a simple 100 people, they hope to make education about global issues more engaging and effective.

Picture this complex world simply - the world as 100 people.

If the World were 100 PEOPLE:

50 would be female

50 would be male

26 would be children

There would be 74 adults,

8 of whom would be 65 and older

There would be:

60 Asians

15 Africans

14 people from the Americas

11 Europeans

33 Christians

22 Muslims

14 Hindus

7 Buddhists

12 people who practice other religions

12 people who would not be aligned with a religion

12 would speak Chinese

5 would speak Spanish

5 would speak English

3 would speak Arabic

3 would speak Hindi

3 would speak Bengali

3 would speak Portuguese

2 would speak Russian

2 would speak Japanese

62 would speak other languages

83 would be able to read and write; 17 would not

7 would have a college degree

22 would own or share a computer

77 people would have a place to shelter them

from the wind and the rain, but 23 would not

1 would be dying of starvation

15 would be undernourished

21 would be overweight

87 would have access to safe drinking water

13 people would have no clean, safe water to drink

Discussion starters:

1.     Does the picture of our global village as 100 people help your understanding of the global issues?

2.     Might some issues be under-illustrated or perhaps even exaggerated by the reduction to 100?


Posted by robert.sterken

A Preferential Option for the Poor: Working as a humanitarian in our global village

05-29-2014 10:57 AM with no comments

Are you an aspiring humanitarian looking to make a difference?

What approach should the aspiring humanitarian take to begin her work? How do we best accompany those in need across our global village?

Professor Bill Moseley (Macalester College Saint Paul, Minnesota) recently wrote, while "The world needs good international citizens who are willing and able to manage its global development and humanitarian institutions," we should rethink our approach to the task (click here to read Professor Moseley's complete article).

Dr. Mosley suggest throwing out most of the conventional career development wisdom and focusing on two important areas: 1) your own deep knowledge of the people, culture, and region of our global village you are interested in working and 2) approaching your work with a sense of partnership rather than a "saving the world" attitude.

Dr. Paul Farmer agrees with Mosley. Farmer argues that we need to adopt a policy of a "preferential option for the poor." In Farmer's latest book, he explains his "accompaniment model" (click here for the first chapter). 

Discussion starters:

1.     Why does Professor Mosley suggest spending a great deal of time learning and spending time in a culture?

2.     What problems might the "saving the world" attitude create for the humanitarian and or people involved?



Posted by robert.sterken

President Obama is bringing the US military involvement in Afghanistan to an end

05-28-2014 10:02 PM with no comments

President Obama said this week that the next US step in Afghanistan is to "bring America's longest war to a responsible end." The President said that 22,000 more troops are coming home by the end of the year, ending the U.S. combat mission in December 2014. 

Afghan forces have assumed the lead in security and combat all operations allowing the United States to draw down troops - from a peak of 100,000 U.S. troops, to about only about 32,000 at present.

"When I took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops in harm's way," President Obama said. "By the end of this year, we will have less than 10,000."

Obama said, "I think Americans have learned that it's harder to end wars than it is to begin them. Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century - not through signing ceremonies, but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who take the lead and ultimately full responsibility. We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America's responsibility to make it one. The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans. But what the United States can do - what we will do - is secure our interests and help give the Afghans a chance, an opportunity to seek a long, overdue and hard-earned peace."

Discussion starters:

1.     Is the US President correct about how wars end in the 21st century?

2.     After years of war is it the responsible action to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans?

Posted by robert.sterken

For Immigrants the United States in the top destination

05-27-2014 10:43 AM with no comments

According to the Pew Research Center, the United States is the top destination in the world for those moving from one country to another (

In 1910, Germany was the top country of birth among U.S. immigrants. Today, Mexico is the source of the largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States.

Immigrates come to the United States for many reasons. Some are fleeing conflict in their home countries while others are seeking opportunities.

Discussion starters:

1.     What changes occur when large groups of people migrate from one part of our global village to another?

2.     How might global relations change when large parts of one state have close ties to another state?



Posted by robert.sterken

The Power of Hope, the Power of One

05-24-2014 9:27 AM with no comments

Admiral William McRaven's recently said, "changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it."

McRaven is the commander of U.S. Special Operations and led Operation Neptune Spear, which resulted to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

In his recent Commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin. McRaven, wanted the graduating class to know that they will "affect the lives of 800 million people in the next century."

"If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person-Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandella and even a young girl from Pakistan-Mallah-one person can change the world by giving people hope," said McRaven.

Discussion starters:

1.     Do you agree with Admiral McRaven' in the power of one person to change the world?

2.     What leadership advice did you hear in Admiral McRaven's speech?


Posted by robert.sterken

Honoring Sir Nicholas Winton the man who saved 669 children from the ***

05-22-2014 11:28 AM with no comments

Our problems are so complex. What can one person do? Those in power make all the decisions. How can one person make a difference?

Sir Nicholas Winton celebrated his 105th birthday at the Czech embassy in London on Monday. There are birthday cards and a letter from the prime minister and the president of the Czech Republic announces that in October this year (2014) Winton will be awarded the Order of the White Lion, the highest order in the Czech Republic.

In 1938 Time magazine selected the Chancellor of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, as the man who "for better or worse" had most influenced events of the preceding year.

Hitler and his German government had established concentration camps all over Germany to handle the masses of people arrested as alleged subversives.

In 1938 Nicholas Winton was packing for a holiday trip in the Alps when he received a phone call. With urgency a friend described Hitler's creation of the concentration camps in Czechoslovakia and asked for help. Nicholas dropped everything he was doing, changed his plans, and immediately went to Prague with only one goal - to help the endangered people.

In Prague, Winton created an office and contacted international embassies to secure asylum for as many at risk Czechoslovak citizens as possible. Winton's Prague office, situated in an old house, began to fill with parents who wanted to save their children from the Hitler's death camps.

Nicholas Winton managed to save 669 Czechoslovak children before war was declared in September of 1939.

Discussion starters:

1.     What is special about NGOs that allows them to do work governments are unable or unwilling to do?

2.     How would you answer poet Mary Oliver's question: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"


Posted by robert.sterken

Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict to be held in London

05-21-2014 9:27 AM with no comments

The use of rape and other forms of sexual violence are widespread in armed conflicts across our global village. Sexual violence inflicts unimaginable suffering and destroys individual lives, families, and even communities.

International law prohibits of sexual violence in armed conflict. Sexual violence also represents one of the most serious forms of violation of an individual's basic human rights.

On 10-13 June 2014 in London, Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, will co-chair a Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Leaders from around the world will meet to discuss sexual violence in conflict and to establish a set of practical actions that can be taken to prevent and responding to sexual violence.

Discussion starters:

1.     How does sexual violence in conflict exacerbate situations of armed conflict and impede the restoration of international peace and security?

2.     What factors might contribute to sexual violence in conflicts and what steps should we put in place to establish a comprehensive security and justice?



Posted by robert.sterken

Leadership in our global village: NGOs focus efforts on peace-building, reconciliation, climate change and equality for girls and women

05-20-2014 10:39 AM with no comments

Speaking about his NGO's leadership role, The Elders Chairman, Kofi Annan says, "we have nothing to lose, we are not out to make a career, so we are free to raise our voices and make an impact." Can presidents and state leaders not make the same statement?

The Elders have created a Strategic Framework 2014-2017 for their NGO. In setting key goals and priorities they have decided to focus their efforts on peace building and reconciliation through high-level diplomacy in Côte d'Ivoire, Israel-Palestine, Myanmar and Syria; as well as public campaigning on climate change and equality for girls and women (click here for more).

Discussion starters:

1.     What limits have been removed from the leaders who work within The Elders?

2.     Why do NGOs, like The Elders, take on these major peace-building efforts instead of governments?


Posted by robert.sterken

Family Planning 2020: global summit seeks to empower 120 million women

05-19-2014 2:52 PM with no comments

In 2012, the leaders of 150 countries, IGOs, NGOs met in London at a Summit on Family Planning. These global leaders endorsed the goal of expanding access to family planning to enable 120 million women in the world's poorest countries to use contraceptives by 2020.

According to the United Nations, more than 220 million women around the world lack access to contraceptives they want and need to plan their families. The global partnership, called Family Planning 2020, has created global momentum on the issue of access to contraceptives and has spurred collaboration, innovation, and greater accountability in family planning efforts.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, "Too often the great decisions are originated and given form in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression."

Discussion starters:

1.     What power(s) is given to women when they have the ability to space their pregnancies?

2.     How do we give all women the opportunity to build a better future for themselves and their families?


Posted by robert.sterken

The Commodification of Everything: The Global System and State Relations

05-18-2014 11:43 AM with no comments

Using data from the CIA Factbook, Business Insider labeled every country in the world by its highest-valued export.

Professor Immanuel Wallerstein has argued that our modern global system (power structure) is shaped and controlled by dominating capitalist interests. Wallerstein theorizes that our economic system and global political relations are divided into peripheral and semi-peripheral world areas.

Wallerstein posits that the nation-state and the interstate system must remain strong in order to maintain the current global power structure.

Discussion starters:

1.     Are capital goods and services driving and supporting the relationship between the peripheral and semi-peripheral?

2.     Does Africa's wealth in natural resources, particularly precious metals and oil shape global relations?



Posted by robert.sterken

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