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Immigration debates and the future role of business

Immigration, it seems, is everywhere these days.

In today’s short term, economically fearful, and hyper-connected Europe, though, the debate is now framed increasingly through the lens of blinkered national interest.

That’s also true in some other regions.

One only has to look at the sad state of UK politics and the media hysteria around migration to prove that point.

Unfortunately for those of us who believe in a more integrated, flexible, open world, the immigration debate, and the raised voices of those against progressive policies, will not be going away any time soon.

As OECD member country societies age, they will likely become more fearful for their immediate future and perhaps less interested in global issues.

This is starting to cause a major problem for large companies. That problem will only grow. It will be a two sided set of pressures too. On the one hand fewer younger ‘indigenous’ workers will be available in OECD nations.

On the other, those ageing populations will object, more and more loudly to new people being allowed into their countries.

Tax-revenue-less economic recoveries, such as in the UK right now, won’t help the problem of rising healthcare costs either.

So business, big business, has a direct interest in lobbying for more people to be allowed in than many right leaning governments will want to permit in the coming years.

This much is all fairly obvious.

But there’s another point to make, and it’s this.

If we want to stop what right leaning newspapers and political parties call ‘the huddled masses’ of often under-educated immigrants coming to OECD nations, or let’s say Europe, simply closing borders is unlikely to help much.

Sure, it may reduce some numbers for a while. But determined migrants find a way. Just ask the US border patrol.

The answer to migration from poorer nations to riches ones, which hugely disadvantages those poorer nations in many ways, is going to be local, national and regional development.

So whilst every large company is going to have to take a position on immigration in the coming years (particularly given climate change impacts) they will also need to more deeply consider their role in development.

The politics of immigration, and the dangers they represent for business, means this will become both more pressing, and more strategic. It will take years to make a difference.

In combination, companies investing and profiting from growing emerging markets will need increasingly to demonstrate that they deliver value in those countries. Or they will lose out.

There are complementary trends in play here: A need for skilled and some unskilled labour, and progressive migration policies in OECD nations, combined with a need for development in non-OECD countries.

Companies who want to show they have progressive influence that advantages their business will need to join up the two into planning that contributes genuinely to both these needs.

Country reporting on economic / social / environmental impacts is definitely a start. So are partnerships with development NGOs and engagement with richer country governments on skills and labour needs.

The question is, what comes next, that can make a substantive difference to these two vital areas?

I’d suggest starting with emerging market products and service offerings that create local employment, involve local sourcing and generate profits locally which can be re-invested, at least in part, for further sustainable growth.

Harder to do for some industries than others, I know. Here’s an example.