Fair life advocate Klaus Stieglitz: For more than 20 years I have been going to South Sudan – to try to help the people there. And now these people are coming to me.
Like the rest of the people of the North, I summoned them.
By purchasing products and services whose affordability stemmed from companies’ swindling their workers and other residents of the South out of their rightful due: living wages and livable environments.
The prosperity of our society on the northern half of this planet stems from the exploitation and ensuing suffering of the southern part, states the Munich sociologist Stephan Lessenichi.
I agree with him. The constituent elements of our prosperity include cheap energy and clothes and high-capability communication devices. This affordability stems from the pumping of oil in countries such as Nigeria and South Sudan, in which companies earn and pass along excessive profits earned through their not adhering to environmental and societal standards – and through their thus poisoning environments and paying if at all starvation wages. The same holds true in Asia’s production of clothes. Our communication devices’ capabilities rely on such resources as coltan, whose greed-maddened mining set off a chain of violence that led to a civil war in the Congo.
The excessive use of energy by the North – still very much continuing today – has been the main cause of climate change. A large part of its impact, in turn, is being borne by the South, in the forms of desertification and other detrimental changes in habitats. In Africa, these changes manifest themselves in conflicts for ever scarcer resources – such as pastures.
The losers of these conflicts often become refugees and emigrantsii. To put in other, simpler terms: we in the North have been stealing the basics of life in the South.
Why then are we so taken aback when – after our many years of living it up at their expense – these hungry and desperate people make their ways to us, and ask – in friendly terms – to be admitted to our prosperous world? What should actually give us pause for thought is that these deprived people are doing this in a friendly way.
We in Germany have a “social market economy”. Its guiding principle is of an economy that functions according to both the dictates of the market and the needs of its society. It was conceived in the post- World War II era, and has worked well since.
The social market economy does have a fundamental flaw. It was launched in the pre-globalization era. The fact that we in Germany take such good care of the needs of the people living and working here has permitted us to – very successfully and completely – ignore the needs of those not from here. We have learned to turn a blind eye to the ramifications of our greed to consume ever-greater amounts of ever-cheaper products and services: ever-greater suffering by the persons creating them. And this suffering is a major driver of emigration.
As is the case in most Northern countries, Germany is embroiled in a discussion about who is entitled to immigrate from the South. Our country does accept two kinds of immigrants: ‘the hurt and the helpful’.
The ‘hurt’ are those persons entitled to asylum because of persecution and other forms of suffering recognized by the Geneva Refugee Convention. And the ‘helpful’ are those possessing the skills or capital promising to benefit our economy and society.
A third category would be the ‘helpless’ – those whose flight from their homes is due to our having destroyed their livelihood. Sadly and unjustly, this category is not regarded as being a ground for admittance to Germany. Yet, some of them are already here and they will keep coming. iii
We in Europe have to ask ourselves a simple question: do we have the right to deny a woman from South Sudan refuge in Germany? The cause of her flight from her home, after all, is our greed for cheap gas, and that is leading the companies from which we get petroleum to pump it in a way poisoning the woman’s water, fields, family and live.
We in the North thus have a responsibility to make amends to the deprived and disadvantaged people in the South and to avert a potentially violent lodging of legitimate demands by the exploited.
There are two complementary ways of living up to this responsibility, and to thus satisfying these peoples’ legitimate rights: we have to share our space and prosperity with the South. Our failure to do such could well lead to a densification of acts of violence in Europe.
The first way: we have to share our space with the South. In Germany, this sharing means expanding the rights of refuge to include the helpless.
The second way: we have to pay the real costs of the products and services created in the South. The prices that we pay have to comprise the funds disbursed by companies in order to live up internationally-binding social and environmental standards – and to compensate the victims of their past failures to do such. And we have to ensure that the companies in fact do such – through the institution of new mechanisms of enforcement and supervision.
The consequences of this will be – and this should come as no surprise – a drastic increasing of the prices that we pay. This increase in payment and stiffening of enforcement could well, however, have a very attractive spillover effect: the increasing of the standard of living and quality of lives of the people of the South, provided that the funds actually reach the victims of exploitation. These improvements, in turn, could well lead to their staying in their homes.
The first step toward solving the crises gripping our planet is for each and every one of us – be we managers directing global players or consumers going shopping – to unconditionally accept our individual responsibility. The price that we will pay for this assumption of responsibility will be very high – a sharing of prosperity and space. The benefit to us will be much greater. We and our children will be able to live in peace in Europe.
Born in 1969, Klaus Stieglitz is Vice-Chairperson of Sign of Hope. Based in Konstanz, Germany, this NGO provides humanitarian assistance and fights for human rights on a worldwide scale. Stieglitz repeatedly went on missions of investigation of South Sudan’s oil industry. Threats caused these to come to an end in 2015. Stieglitz and Sign of Hope are still spearheading the fight for an end to the oil industry’s poisoning of water, farmland and thus lives and livelihoods in South Sudan. This struggle is detailed in “Oil, Power and a Sign of Hope”iv. Co-authored by Stieglitz, this book was published by the Zurich-based rüffer & rub. Stieglitz has also co-authored several scientific studies.v
i Lessenich, Stephan: Neben uns die Sintflut: Wie wir auf Kosten anderer leben, München 2018.
ii See also Johnson, Pierre-Marc; Mayrand, Carel; Paquin, Marc: Governing Global Desertification. Linking Environmental Degradation, Poverty and Participation, Hampshire, 2006, S. 48 f; About the correlation between Climate, War and Flight see also: Weiss, Marlene: Klima, Krieg, Flucht. Wie Umweltveränderungen Migration antreiben. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung vom 24. Januar 2019, S.14. See also Ansorg, Nadine: Kriege ohne Grenzen: Ursachen regionaler Konfliktsysteme in Sub-Sahara Afrika, München 2013, S. 244.
iii See the figures about the total protection rate in Germany. This rate includes Refugees under the Geneva Refugee convention and political asylum entitlements: Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge: Aktuelle Zahlen zu Asyl: Ausgabe Dezember 2018. S. 11 von 13 http://www.bamf.de/SharedDocs/Anlagen/DE/Downloads/Infothek/Statistik/Asyl/aktuelle-zahlen-zu-asyl-dezember-2018.pdf?__blob=publicationFile
v See for example: https://www.hoffnungszeichen.de/system/files/documents/zbl.geol_.palaeont._teil_i_jg._2014_heft_1_effect_of_oil_exploration_and_production.pdf and https://www.hoffnungszeichen.de/system/files/documents/20161226_forensic_science_international.pdf