How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia – Elites Block New Technologies

Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, and I am writing parallel posts about Western businesses in Asia. I believe they have the opportunity to bring prosperity to Asia, and are missing that opportunity in some ways.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about –  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. My introduction to this series of posts will explain this all better.

5. Elites Block New Technologies – Corporations Disregard Workplace Health & Safety
Foreign Policy cites an example of countries that chose to adopt railway technology, and those that blocked its introduction. In “1840s, tiny Britain was undergoing a railway mania in which more than 6,000 miles of track were built, while only one railway ran in vast continental Russia – it ran 17 miles from St. Petersburg to the tsar’s imperial residence.” Austria also chose not to adopt rail technology, and “as Britain and the United States grew rapidly – Austria and Russia failed to do so.” As FP states, new technologies “redistribute not just income and wealth but also political power.”
Just a huge unmarked steel trip risk on an unlit bar floor…
Obviously, Workplace Health & Safety isn’t a technology in particular, but it involves various technologies and new mindsets that have not become common practice in Asia. I acknowledge a safety mindset isn’t particularly prolific in a society where dad holds the new born baby in one arm and steers the scooter with the other – and it’s totally acceptable. So yes, I can see how this translates into an employee’s complacency – but it shouldn’t translate into an employer’s complacency. Nevertheless, construction workers will jackhammer without hearing protection, or work on drains during torrential rain in bare-feet. And office workers will become unemployable if they can’t work 12 hour and above days, due to bad backs or repetitive strain injury. And women with injured ankles must wear high heels as part of their sales uniform. And people working outdoors at theme parks may not wear hats or sunglasses, even though they are spending at least 5 hours in the sun each day. These are real life examples of people I know, or have observed, who work in Western corporations in Asia, run by local management.

I believe a society advances most when members aren’t seen as disposable. To me, this means not turning a blind eye to how all operations are run down to the lowest employee. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by ensuring local management runs operations according to ethical safety standards – not just issuing direction to the higher levels and then turning a blind eye to the rest. A safety mentality brings prosperity just simply because of the lower levels of injuries and acquired disabilities. But also, a safety mentality redistributes political power in an organisation, limiting the possibility of unethical employers treating employees as disposable resources . If Western businesses operated in this safety-paradigm in Asia, and showed it’s not only possible but profitable, it sets the path for other employees to demand it of their employers. This is already a clear trend with flexible work practices in Western businesses that quickly become preferred employers in Asia – and I could see a strong case for this happening with Western businesses enforcing strict workplace health and safety standards too.
Cheers,
Sarah
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia – Greedy Big Men

Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, and I am writing parallel posts about Western businesses in Asia. I believe they have the opportunity to bring prosperity to Asia, and are missing that opportunity in some ways.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about –  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. My introduction to this series of posts will explain this all better.

4. The Big Men Get Greedy – The Little People Get Stuck

Foreign Policy uses Egypt as an example where a powerful family looked after close mates, namely Hosni Mubarak, and the “whales” who “received not only protection from the state but also government contracts and large back loans without needing to put up collateral.” As FP explains “their stranglehold on the economy created fabulous profits for regime insiders, but blocked opportunities for the vast mass of Egyptians to move out of poverty.”
I observe similarities to this with multinational corporations with exceedingly large budgets and prestigious brands in Asia. CEOs of these corporations stand to earn fabulous sums of money, the corporations also stand to earn fabulous profits, all benefiting from the low taxes and the cheap labour. The entry level employees, and the support staff, in the corporations generally earn very small wages and have little recourse to negotiating higher benefits. What is considered a ‘benefit’ in Asia is company outings to theme parks, or paid weekend vacations to overseas hotels. With CEOs of corporations tending to be great chums with government officials or hopeful future government officials (and in Singapore, the interesting concept of tripartism and prohibition of industrial action), wages are kept at the lowest point possible. And I don’t mean the lowest point possible of an ethical decision of what is affordable for a person to live off – I mean where supply meets demand, where as long as there aren’t enough jobs a person will be desperate enough to work for $5 an hour. (For context, a Starbucks coffee costs $5, so 1 hour of work equals 1 cup of ‘luxury’ coffee.)

An advertisement board for a local restaurant where the most you can earn is $12/hr (between midnight-4am), and a set meal costs $15/hr (it’s for basic Thai food)
I believe a society that is the most successful has the least distance between the rich and the poor. I believe strangleholds on working conditions means entire societies struggle for their own survival while a few benefit in disgusting disproportion. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by disregarding Asian custom of ‘benefits’ and working towards paying fair wages for real lives. If an employee wants to spend their wage on a holiday rather than their only opportunity being the company excursion – power to them. But they could also choose to spend their higher wages on education for themselves or their children, they could afford higher health care insurance premiums for better coverage, they could make retirement savings, they could afford free range eggs(?). I just think that it’s so much fairer to pay wages that are commensurate to the costs of living (not survival) and that gives employees power over their own lives. Of course that means less money in the pockets of the CEO or the corporation – but that doesn’t mean an unattractive profit overall. It just means letting the little people have a go too.
Of course, this is all written from my simple observation and personal experience. So what do I really know? I am definitely no authoritative expert on this subject – I look forward to your take on it all. Please, do comment below.
Cheers,
Sarah
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia – Endemic Racism

Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, and I am writing parallel posts about Western businesses in Asia. I believe they have the opportunity to bring prosperity to Asia, and are missing that opportunity in some ways.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about –  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. My introduction to this series of posts will explain this all better.


3. A Tilted Playing Field – Endemic Racism


Foreign Policy looks at South Africa for an example of extreme racism, especially one which stipulates what kind of work someone may do based on their race. It meant that black South Africans “were condemned to work as unskilled laborers” and meant that South Africa “failed to improve the living standards of 80 percent of its population for almost a century. For 15 years before the collapse of apartheid, the South African economy contracted.” 
In Asia, there is not such an overt display of racism that a colour bar is placed, but there is a startling amount of racism not immediately evident to a newcomer. Skin whitening products overflow the cosmetic aisles, and fairness is almost universally accepted as the beauty standard. Beyond shades of skin, races within Asia have tense relations with one another, something that was demonstrated by a recent debacle in Singapore. Although it is emphasised in the media as a one-off overt racist remark, which it is, Asia is in a covert racism epidemic.
This is especially reinforced in business by who gets hired for what, and who is making that hiring decision. In my own observations, the human resources departments of Singapore are mostly populated by one gender, in one age bracket, of one race. It means they tend all tend to hold a certain bias. This is a really difficult subject for me to write on as a foreigner in a country that actively enforces censorship – I’m not quite sure what I can say. However, I will say that my partner is Malay/Indonesian heritage, and from our very own first hand experience, we have felt the heartache of systematic racism in Asia. It affects not only your self esteem and your mood, but it affects your life plans, your economic position, your financial stability, your whole family’s outlook and attitude. It perverts and distorts your view of opportunity, and makes a group of able-bodied intelligent people become riddled with a doubt and perception of themselves which comes entirely from someone else’s repulsive projection.
I believe a society that is the most successful  is the most inclusive. I do not believe that meritocracy means inclusivity. I believe inclusivity means making a concerted effort to incorporate those who have been disadvantaged in some way, and that means acknowledging the disadvantage and not just saying ‘everyone is seen based on their merit’. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by enforcing inclusive hiring practices, including supervising people who make the final judgement on candidates for their own bias. Human Resources departments should be just as diverse as the society it is trying to hire and manage. Just these two simple acts would change so much of the employment landscape in Asia – it would start individual’s careers, change their lives and their family’s lives as their income increases, it would expand the local talent pool for future ventures, and it would change the employment landscape as opportunities become evident for future generations. 

Of course, this is all written from my simple observation and personal experience – and perhaps on this topic in particular, I am a little over passionate and muddled for objective writing. So what do I really know? I am definitely no authoritative expert on this subject – I look forward to your take on it all. Please, do comment below.

Cheers,
Sarah
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia – Cheap Labour

Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, and I am writing parallel posts about Western businesses in Asia. I believe they have the opportunity to bring prosperity to Asia, and are missing that opportunity in some ways.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about –  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. My introduction to this series of posts will explain this all better.


2. Forced Labour – Cheap Labour

Foreign Policy talks about the fact that most economies were based on the concept of forced labour, and yet “forced labour is also responsible for the lack of innovation and technological progress in most of these societies”. Now, forced labour isn’t really an option any more, but cheap labour sure as hell is! Isn’t that the reason for most Western businesses to venture into Asia? The lure of the cheap labour costs, right?

It’s a wonderful prospect when the cost of labour is so low that it doesn’t really matter how many labourers are required, or how long they are required to work for, in order to get the job done. It must seem like a utopia to Western businesses. And with that knowledge, one or two or five employees without a lot of work to do isn’t that bad. The labour economics just get completely out of whack.

And with this excessive amount of labour, there is no need to bring in technology or push for smarter decision making from managers. Just put in more cheap labourers to make it happen! The labourers however, have next to no skills apart from sheer brute force. They are not offered real training opportunities, since they are dime a dozen. The labourers are forever kept at the lowest possible wage, with the minimum amount of skills required. Even the managers are stripped of development opportunities, with little need or incentive to implement efficiencies.
I believe a society advances most when the poorest of society is not exploited just because it is vulnerable. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by advancing technology and working towards efficiencies in their labour. To be honest, it’s tricky to know if it’s better to provide a tiny amount of income to multiple families, than a reasonable income to a few families. But I do 100% believe it is better for the whole of society if business is run efficiently with better technology, because it especially means lesser impact on the environment. 
Of course, this is all written from my simple observation and personal experience. So what do I really know? I am definitely no authoritative expert on this subject – I look forward to your take on it all. Please, do comment below.

Cheers,
Sarah
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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How Western Business Can Bring Prosperity to Asia – Decision Making Authority

Foreign Policy wrote an interesting article on 10 Reasons Countries Fall Apart, looking at some of the reasons economies and governments fail. “Most countries that fall apart, however, do so not with a bang but with a whimper. They fail not in an explosion of war and violence but by being utterly unable to take advantage of their society’s huge potential for growth, condemning their citizens to a lifetime of poverty.” It made me think about the ways Western businesses, not with a bang but with a whimper, keep Asian employees in poverty despite injecting huge amounts of money and opportunity into the economy.

Obviously, I am no expert on what I want to write about –  I am just a simple person with some observations and personal experiences. I’ve lived and worked in Singapore for 2 years (some would argue, it’s Asia for dummies) and have a wonderful Singaporean partner and family in law. So, please take this all as a bit of an essay – in the truest sense of the word, which came from the French word ‘essayer’ which means to try. I’m just trying out a few viewpoints to see what I come up with.

Asia is developing, but still has living standards far below those of the West. Western businesses are a great way to bring money and job opportunities to a new market. It’s a place ripe for profit making, with cheap labour and emerging middle classes. However, there are Western businesses that come in and make a quick buck, and there are Western businesses that transform the working landscape of the country for the better. 

1. Lack of Property Rights – Lack of Decision Making Authority 
Foreign Policy writes that “North Korea’s economic institutions make it almost impossible for people to own property; the state owns everything, including nearly all land and capital.” As a consequence, this “destroys their incentive to succeed.”

A parallel I have observed with Western businesses in Asia, is operations that place all decision making power with the home country operation – or only allow home country expatriate employees in Asia to make the decisions. This strips the decision making authority from local employees who may have the competency, and even the position in the organisation, to make these decisions. Their skill and expertise, no matter how excellent, eventuates to reporting and recommendations. The opportunity to become a decision maker is simply not available, and it’s completely demotivating.
Just as “in 1998, [when] a U.N. mission found that many of the country’s tractors, trucks, and other farm machinery were simply unused or not maintained,” in these kinds of organisations, I often find disempowered employees simply don’t use their higher skills or choose not to maintain them. When there is no opportunity to be promoted for using these skills, what is the point?
Now of course, unlike the unfortunate North Korean population that is unable to move, employees are able to change employers. But positions with no decision making power tend to become résumé deadwood. The employee comes out of the organisation in a daze. Their decision making muscles have not been flexed, they have not learnt and developed from their own mistakes. They are not able to go into that interview and wow future employers with their professional growth. In order to change employers, they are generally required to make a sideways move, rather than an advancement.
I believe a society advances most when positions of power are held by the people of that society. Colonialism sucked – its modern descendent of Western businesses in Asia sucks too. Western business would bring prosperity to Asia by entrusting decision making authority to Asian employees. This act would develop individual’s careers, change their lives and their family’s lives as their income increases, it would expand the local talent pool for future ventures, and it would change the employment landscape as opportunities become evident for future generations. The transfer of skills, so that the transfer of power can be made, results in a great transfer of prosperity.
Of course, this is all written from my simple observation and personal experience. So what do I really know? I am definitely no authoritative expert on this subject – I look forward to your take on it all. Please, do comment below.
Cheers,
Sarah
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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