BY SEAN HEALY
A majority of people put more trust in the groups who protest outside the summits of major international institutions to operate in the best interests of society than in the representatives of governments and corporations inside the summits, according to a major new survey.
The poll, conducted by Canadian institute Environics International, surveyed 20,000 people in 20 different, primarily industrialised, countries during December 2000 and January 2001.
It found that, while a majority of citizens believe economic globalisation will be positive for them and their families, only one in ten is very convinced this will be so.
A majority of citizens also believe that economic globalisation will harm their country's culture and think that human rights and environmental protection are far higher priorities for stronger international controls than trade and investment.
According to Environics, the survey findings reveal "a startling rejection of traditional authority across many of the countries surveyed".
A majority of 55% of citizens across 20 countries see globalisation as at least somewhat in their interest, while 26% see it as negative and another one in five (19%) are unable to say. However, only one in ten (10%) citizens worldwide sees globalisation as strongly in their interests.
Doug Miller, the president of Environics International, commented that "While currently supportive of globalisation, the global public has not yet made up its mind, and more riot police and tear gas associated with further trade liberalization initiatives (such as in Quebec City) are unlikely to be positive factors.
"Interestingly, our analysis shows that cultural concerns are the strongest factors driving negative public opinion on globalisation. One in four citizens across the 20 countries strongly believes that globalisation threatens their country's unique culture, and another third are somewhat convinced of this."
Fully four in ten (39%) citizens across the group of 20 developed countries choose human rights as the area needing stronger international control. Almost three in ten (27%) select environmental protection as the highest priority, and another one in ten (10%) point to workers' rights. Only 7% choose international trade and investment and just one percent volunteer that stronger controls are not needed in any area.
When asked how much they trust a number of institutions to operate in the best interests of society, a strong majority of people across G20 countries say they have trust in non-governmental organisations (NGOs); and only slightly fewer favour religions and churches. Other institutions rank considerably lower, especially global companies and national governments.
Two-thirds of global citizens (65%) say they have trust in NGOs to work in the best interests of society. In fact, they are regarded as the most trustworthy societal institutions by people in four of the six geographic regions surveyed. Religious groups and churches enjoy the confidence of six in ten people polled (58%).
Fewer than half of G20 citizens (45%) say that they trust their national governments to operate in the best interests of society. Europeans and Latin Americans have the least faith in their governments whereas North Americans express the most faith. But even in North America, fewer than six in ten trust their national government.
Among all institutions rated, global companies fare the worst. Only four in ten people (42%) say that they trust them to operate in the best interests of society.