January 2001

Promoting an international working environment

A new survey explores the challenges of multiculturalism for Finnish business and industry. In the book, called Aukeavat ovet - kulttuurien moninaisuus Suomen elinkeinoelämässä (Opening doors - multiculturalism in Finnish business life), several economy and culture experts explore ways to turn growing internationalism into an asset for society and companies.

According to a report by Finland Press Information (18 January 2001), the authors open a debate about the proper way to live in a society which includes many ethnicities. They say that success in an open economy requires active international interaction. There are almost 100,000 foreigners living in Finland now because in addition to goods, capital and information, people move increasingly across borders.

Simultaneously, growing number of Finnish companies are global operators. Many companies have already moved on from their Finnish origins, and many have been sold to foreign owners. Often, however, these companies continue to operate with Finnish staff and have strong ties with Finland. The country is thus opening both outwards and inwards. The wave of foreign entrepreneurs brings new inititatives to business and industrial life in the same manner as the previous stage of globalisation about a century ago.

At a time when the European population grows older, Finland's attitudes to immigration are changing. As the post-war large generations become pensioners, the country needs skilled workers for many fields. Domestic labour resources don't seem to be able to meet the shortage of labour. Consequently, immigrants should be seen as an asset and preparations for a change in attitudes should be started immediately.

Rapid progress in the growth of unprejudiced attitudes is a bonus for competitiveness. The authors say that a long-term and healthily self-interested immigration policy can offer a good partial solution to the demand of labour in the next few years. It is important, however, that immigrants are given good opportunity to learn Finnish, find accomodation and get a start in working life.

The authors say that the biggest challenge for the discussion on immigration and globalisation is the ability to see the central questions in an historical and social context. So far, the debate about integrating immigrants has been conducted in a very idealised way, the aim having been a multicultural society. Finland has been often compared to bigger countries where immigration policy and attitudes towards foreigners have a quite different background. It is possibe, according to the authors, that the concepts of multiculturalism and diversity so prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon debate might hamper rather than aid the debate in Finland. The challenge for Finland is to create an immigration policy which reflects its own conditions. The discussion should be anchored in Finnish reality.

New immigrant labour is creating more varied working communities. The structural change has drawn foreign labour to work mainly as either experts or in the service sector. From the point of view of business management, a new situation has arisen. Many companies have hardly begun to monitor ethnic hierarchies, discrimination and conflict. The authors point out that Finland has a good tradition of respecting workers. This could attract foreign experts in a globalised economy.

The book on multiculturalism in Finnish business life is edited by Marja-Liisa Trux and published by SITRA, a state fund.

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