Sustainable development: what the EU preaches perfectly...

Article published on Oct. 18, 2004
community published
Article published on Oct. 18, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

…but fails to practice. Ever heard of “education for development”? Here is the practical alternative.

Globalisation has ended by “globalising” even the exchange of learning between different cultures that, until a few decades ago, had never entered into contact with one another. European foreign policy, in the post-colonial era most of all, clearly endeavours to concentrate aid to the very poorest countries, in order to ensure their growth. Investment, ‘know-how’ and the politics of aid therefore become the cure for an uneasiness that has intensified in Europe since the end of the twentieth century: a concern brought about by a new awareness of having to solve the crisis at the point of origin, in order to avoid an expansion of problems into European territory.

Multinational corporations: scorecards on sustainability

Yet globalisation often turns into an unstoppable campaign, promoting a brand of development that takes few important aspects, such as the environment and human rights, into account, having been overcome by a frantic compulsion to capture new markets and obtain an increasingly cheap labour force. One just has to think of the problems caused by several multinational corporations, among which the Swiss giant Nestlé stands out. In 2002, a year in which Ethiopia was famine-stricken and involved in the bitter aftermath of a long conflict, Nestlé demanded 6 million dollars from the Ethiopian Government, in compensation for a Nestlé company supposedly nationalised by the government in the 1970s. And not only this; in England, Nestlé is one of the confectionary companies that has exceeded the accepted limits of toxic emissions. Finally, we should also recall Nestlé’s exploitative coffee production, which is highly damaging to the countries of Latin America which are some of the major coffee producers on the globe. Nestlé is one of the many organisations united by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, an organisation that seeks to limit the “collateral damage” of rapid development, but produces paltry results.

In the same vein, the organisations associated in the European Round Table of Industrialists are pushing for a boundless market liberalisation in developing countries, pressurising the World Trade Organisation to bring this about. The only exception – and one worth highlighting – to such companies is the Coop, the Italian food and agriculture cooperative that has adopted a rigid code of conduct for its own industrial development.

Target: our homegrown society

But such “model pupils” are in short supply and, as a result, there is an urgent need for us to develop educational programmes to train European civil society for sustainable development. This sustainability must remain paramount, especially within our European borders, fostering the research and development of alternative energies and calling for our external business partners to respect European policy, at the very least in the production of goods exported to Europe. This is what the Kyoto Protocol envisages: every possible action taken at a national level to limit the emission of greenhouse gases should be met by corporations who are responsible for them. In Italy, for example, emissions that can be attributed to the industrial sector represent roughly 52 % of the total.

The concept of “education for development” arose at the beginning of the 1960s, the brainchild of two Latin American educators and sociologists, Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich, who proposed that the aim of education should be the emancipation of the individual. Education for development is not only based on respect, the cherishing of differences between peoples, and an awareness of the growing global interdependence between nations and populations, but also on the promotion of human rights and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Dialogue thus becomes the first instrument of this pedagogic structure, and the number of programmes that champion education for development are growing and growing.

NGOs, The World Bank & others

The World Bank has not been idle over the issue of education for development. However, this is a project that has also been taken on by an increasingly professional set of NGOs that have pooled their knowledge to create a federation of bodies dedicated to aid and development, the “Concord Europe”. This organisation aims to shift the focus on the future enlargement of the European Union to 25 countries from that of a North-South divide to a wider one incorporating that of East-West, in effect a position concerned with the internal equilibrium of Europe itself. The European Commission has, therefore, invested in education for development, even within the EU, with programmes open to more than a few professionals in the sector.

Even this, however, falls short. Quite simply, we cannot permit shallow development politics or zero sustainability, both of which would end up harming not only ourselves and our present, but our future and that of those who come after us. It is with this reality in mind that we must strive to educate civil society, to limit the damage society inflicts on both the environment and human beings, and to make education for development a new movement, capable of highlighting the fact to all Europeans that Europe needs to remodel itself as a representative and example of practical politics for safeguarding our world, one that is fast falling into danger. This world includes our Europe, and let’s not forget it.