Global Glance: Aug 10, 2015
A quick look at intriguing international stories
By John Bostwick, Managing Editor, Radius
Welcome back to Global Glance. This week we look at:
- The killing of a protected lion in Zimbabwe
- Netflix’s new “unlimited” parental leave policy
- Temporary work in the global precariat
A New Take on the Zimbabwe Lion Killing
By now, you’ve almost certainly read about Cecil, a lion in Zimbabwe that was protected under local law but lured outside a wildlife preservation area and killed by a trophy-seeking American dentist. Probably the most read or viewed story on the subject has been a fragment of a Jimmy Kimmel monologue, in which Kimmel lambasts the hunter in front of a cheering audience, chalking up the hunter’s urge to kill animals to sexual impotence. At one point, Kimmel visibly holds back tears. Others around the world shared his outrage. The internet “blew up” in the 48 hours after the story broke, and the dentist was publically shamed on a global scale.
At first the story seemed to lack all moral complexity, just another rich, arrogant American embarrassing himself and his country with indefensible behavior. Who could disagree? Remarkably, an expat Zimbabwean muddied the waters last Tuesday with an op-ed piece in The New York Times. The title — “In Zimbabwe, We Don’t Cry for Lions” — says a lot, but the article deserves to be read in full. The author, Goodwell Nzou, is a molecular and cellular biosciences grad student at Wake Forest, and a good writer. You may not agree with some of his assumptions, but you’ll almost certainly view the events in a more nuanced light after hearing him out. And you’ll understand why, in Nzou’s home village, “no lion has ever been beloved, or granted an affectionate nickname.” They are, he explains, “objects of terror.” The article is yet more evidence that people from different cultures often view the same situations differently.
Netflix’s New “Unlimited” Parental Leave Policy
Back in January, President Obama remarked that the US is “the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to [its] workers.” Less than seven months later, the San Francisco-based Netflix announced that it did not need government regulations to offer paid parental leave to its US-based employees. In a blog post last Thursday, Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer Tawni Cranz introduced “an unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.”
Netflix’s new policy is or seems laudable, but some are skeptical. A MarketWatch article by Catey Hill — “Why Netflix’s ‘Unlimited’ Maternity Leave Policy Won’t Work” — notes that “in competitive workplaces, employees are looking for any leg up they can get, so they think that it will look extra good to their bosses if, despite being given unlimited vacation time, they actually take even fewer days off.” In other words, “unlimited” leave policies like Netflix’s are often “a perk in name only.”
Here again, cultural factors affect perception and action. If a person’s coworkers and friends are used to a certain amount of leave, then it will be difficult for that person to exceed those norms, regardless of company policy. Last week’s post on maternity leave in the The Wall Street Journal’s EXPAT blog speaks to some of this. The UK has generous statutory maternity leave benefits, including paid leave for up to six months, with an option for unpaid leave for an additional six months. The author explains how her US and UK friends viewed the situation differently: “During my eight years living in London, I had two babies over 18 months. Six months after I had my first, I went back to work. British friends and colleagues asked why I returned so soon. But among US friends, the question I heard most often was how did I manage to get so much maternity leave.”
US readers know that young people and the long-term unemployed in this country face a difficult task when trying to infiltrate the working world. These groups are often passed over by employers, who may deem them too inexperienced or risky to take on. Millions of young people and long-term unemployed in other developed nations face similar or even higher odds when attempting to find regular work. This emerging class of people is known as the “precariat.” A 2011 Guardian commentary provides some history on the subject, defining the precariat in part as “those who feel their lives and identities are made up of disjointed bits, in which they cannot construct a desirable narrative or build a career, combining forms of work and labour, play and leisure in a sustainable way.”
An excellent article published last week in The Financial Times explores the current plight of the precariat in the eurozone. The EU is widely known for its worker protections, such as those related to terminations and required training. But many European employers are skirting those rules by offering temporary work on fixed-term contracts. Temp work and other non-standard work (like driving for Uber) are an increasingly prevalent part of the global economy, and young people are disproportionately filling the roles. The article cites this remarkable statistic: “The share of the eurozone’s 15 to 24-year-old workers who are temps is the highest on record, at 52.4 per cent.”
If this global economic state of affairs — which includes a large group of older workers with permanent work on one side, and a large group of younger workers with non-standard work on the other — strikes you as far from ideal, then you agree with Stefano Scarpetta, the OECD’s director for employment. He’s quoted as saying, “The excess use of fixed-term contracts is basically suboptimal for everybody – it’s certainly suboptimal for the workers, it’s certainly suboptimal for the companies and it’s not the way to promote innovation and economic growth.”
For more Financial Times coverage on this global economic trend, see “The New World of Work: Changing Landscape” and “New ‘Gig’ Economy Spells End to Lifetime Careers,” both of which also appeared last week.