Human mobility: Neoliberal globalisation and forced migration

Raúl Delgado Wise analyses the capitalist context in which migration is taking place.


What is the link between globalisation, inequality and migration? To answer this question, Raúl Delgado Wise analyses the capitalist context in which migration is taking place.


Neither the nature of contemporary migration nor attempts to advance towards an institutional framework for the global governance of migration can be assessed without an understanding of the current capitalist context. One of the most salient features of neoliberal globalisation is the concentration of all major global economic activities in a handful of large multinational corporations (MNCs.).

Four developments have favoured this concentration:

The upsurge of monopoly-finance capital, i.e. the ascendancy of finance capital over other types of capital. With the lack of profitable investment in production, capital began shifting toward financial speculation based on an unprecedented reserve of fictitious capital. The result has been the financialisation of the capitalist class, of industrial capital, and of corporate profits.

The configuration and expansion of global networks of monopoly capital as a restructuring strategy led by the large MNCs, which, through outsourcing operations and subcontracting chains, extends parts of their productive, commercial, financial and service processes to the Global South in search of abundant and cheap labour through global labour arbitrage.

The restructuring of innovation systems through mechanisms such as outsourcing (including offshore) the scientific and technological innovation process, which allows MNCs to benefit from the research of scientists from the Global South. This restructuring reduces labour costs, transfers risks and responsibilities, and capitalises on the advantages of controlling patents.

The renewed trend toward extractivism and land grabbing, led by the continuing over-consumption of the world’s natural resources and the expansion of carbon-based industrial production. This new extractivism has worsened environmental degradation, not only through an expanded geography of destruction, but also by global extractive capital’s strategy of environmental regulatory arbitrage.

A major and inescapable feature of neoliberal globalisation is uneven development. The global and national dynamics of contemporary capitalism, the international division of labour, the system of international power relations, and the conflicts that surround capital-labour relations and the dynamics of extractive capital have made economic, social, political and cultural polarisation more extreme between geographical spaces and social classes than ever before in human history.

This implies an unprecedented attack on the labour and living conditions of the working class.

This implies an unprecedented attack on the labour and living conditions of the working class. With the dismantling of the former Soviet Union, the integration of China and India into the world economy, and the implementation of structural adjustment programmes (including privatisations and labour reforms), the supply of labour available to capital over the last two decades more than doubled from 1.5 to 3.25 billion.

This has led to an exorbitant oversupply of labour which scaled down the global wage structure and increased labour precariousness. According to ILO estimates, the number of workers in conditions of labour insecurity rose to 1.5 billion in 2017—encompassing nearly half of the world’s labour force—with 800 million receiving a salary of less than 3 U.S. dollars per day, while the global number of unemployed continues to rise. These conditions―which are unevenly distributed worldwide―have increased structural pressures on many people to emigrate internally and/or internationally.

In this context, migration has acquired a new role in the national and international division of labour. The massive nature of migration together with the contradictory and disorderly dynamics of uneven development has enlarged the traditional notion of forced migration. Although the conventional concept of ‘forced migration’ does not apply to all migrants, most current migration flows are forced displacements, and therefore require a more accurate description.


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