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Food for an inquiring thought


Human Rights Reader 268


-Liberalism defends the interests of the intellectual elite; conservatism defends the interests of the financial and industrial elite. The question is: Who defends the interests of human rights? (…and are we a minority or a majority?).

-Historically, in good part, the market has been stronger than democracy because, by its nature and greed, the market respects no boundaries; enforcing democracy and human rights do have boundaries. (A. Gomez)


1. Spoiled by its iniquitous economic success, the Western world has become arrogant. The arrogant victory of financial markets (with all its excesses) has been possible due to the fact that, under the law of the jungle, markets have really fallen in the hands of the mightiest as they sow segregation, discrimination and violence the world over; the ensuing ‘casino economy’ has ended up taking its own excesses to their last consequences…. immorally and to the detriment of human rights (HR). Ergo, considering the free market as a final response to the-major-social-questions-of-our-day-and-age is a dangerous fallacy. (G. Soros)


2. In Capitalism, the market is the great moralizing medium. Its guns smartly shoot on our unconscious. The market, (the essence of Capitalism*) makes things as cheap as possible and sells them as expensive as possible. Since we live in consumer societies, do not be fooled by this: we are treated as objects.

*: Somebody said that, in Capitalism, we are all slaves of economic theorists who long passed away. Somebody else was of the opinion that monetarism is the opium of economists.


3. Furthermore, in Capitalism, natural and human resources have been made profitable sources of revenue for the haves while the have-nots have been conveniently relegated to a position where they do not challenge the system and do not claim their rights. (P. Salvat)


4. The truth already expressed by Lenin, a century ago, is that social justice [human rights] cannot be subordinated to the interests of capitalist production. Those behind those interests and values hate new social order ideas (human rights included?) and consider them to be subversive. Individuals representing these values hold office in modern national governments and often only serve the power designs of local elites; they can and do thus subvert, for instance, HR-empowering initiatives. (N. Malik) So, do not be fooled here either: There are vested interests in the Capitalist system that, so far, we have left unaddressed in our quest for a fair and just world.


5. Let us retain, then, that Capitalism is incapable to fairly respond to urgent, overdue social demands; by its nature, Capitalism is excluding. This is where the HR paradigm clashes with such an unjust and inequitable ideology.


Many transnational corporations desperately try to ‘reconfigure their DNA as responsible profit seekers’. 


-The accounting of what transnational corporations  earn and what they spend does not fall into the spectrum of the exact sciences. (Z. Acevedo Diaz)

-These corporations are more interested in creating shares with value than creating shared values. (M. Cohen)


6. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become the mantra of an economic sector desperate to metamorphose itself into a new image or incarnation. This leads to CSR actions that are often knee-jerk reactions –and are often convoluted and non-transparent. (Also, being a vague concept, CSR means different things to different corporations).**

**: Note that, overall, corporations are cutting back on their direct ‘philanthropy’, but less so on their CSR initiatives….the latter have a bigger pay-off for them! (R. Stengel. Time Magazine, Sept 21, 2009)


7. Originally, CSR was to go beyond merely fulfilling promises. The idea was that corporations should rise to social and environmental challenges voluntarily. But, in reality, more often than not, CSR has only been about whitewashing the corporations public image. (On environmental issues, the term ‘greenwashing’ is used).***

***: Only 59% of the 1000 largest US corporations have publicly available environmental policies. Fewer than 8% go to the trouble of having third party verify their corporate social responsibility reports.


8. Real added value in all this can only arise from an external monitoring that holds corporations accountable for their actions –especially in HR terms. Therefore, in HR work, we insist on using the term Corporate Social Accountability. These accountability checks have to be in the hands of civil society since the risk of ‘regulatory capture’ –where the regulators act in favor of special interests– is real. The regulation needed has to ultimately regulate and harness the private sector in relation to HR and the ‘rights of nature’.


Globalization is a threat to the world, because it signifies a victory of the market over democracy and over human rights. (A. Gomez)


The globalization process divides the world into controllers and the controlled. In the world of the globalized free market we live–in, the ‘liberty of  money’ demands that the dispossessed be constantly imprisoned in the jail of fear and fright –which is the worst of all jails. (E. Galeano)


9. Millions of workers, farmers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization. Globalization is not inevitable –there are forces that can reshape its negative effects, and HR must become one of those forces.


10. In our globalized world, solidarity (mutual responsibility) begins to dry out and people’s eyes turn towards possession, i.e., a narcissist self-realization; values get centered more on having than on being; personal realization is opposed to solidarity and to human rights.


11. In this context, it is generally not true that most international NGOs bring pluralism to corporate and state-led Globalization. They can indeed be part of the problem. On the other hand, they cannot represent actors they work-with in the field if the latter are voiceless in decision-making processes that affect them.


12. At the international official level, we have to face the reality that members of the Group of 20 are more concerned with the stability of the world’s financial system than with the interests of developing countries and the status of HR in them. Confronted with such a situation, there are few points of entry for active HR work to take roots. But we certainly are not deterred by this: We find those few points…


13. Economic measures packages imposed on poor countries by international financial institutions (IFIs) controlled by the Group of 8 should actually bear a sign that says: “it has not been proven that this product is beneficial for the health, the livelihoods and the wellbeing of poor people”. (A. Gomez)


14. Unfortunately, the world is full of corrupt formal democracies that, in part in order to pay their international debt to those IFIs, foster and keep-good-relations-with and pay-allegiance-to monopolistic transnational corporations (TNCs).****

****: It would not seem facetious to say that, if things continue like this, corruption will become a legal behavior and the crime will be to denounce it. (A. Gomez)


14a.[Note that the United Nations also has formal links with TNCs . As regards HR, the UN has some norms on the responsibilities of these TNCs. The latter norms were adopted by the UN Sub-committee on the Promotion and Protection of HR in 2003. http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G03/160/08/PDF/G0316008.pdf?OpenElement  Prior to that, in 2000, a ‘UN Global Compact’ with the transnational private sector was launched as a voluntary initiative of UN institutions, governments, business and civil society to function as a network to promote the principles of accountability, transparency and partnership in the fields of labor, the environment and HR. Historically, the Compact has been rather weak in terms of monitoring what it preaches. http://www.unglobalcompact.org/]


The other face of Globalization

15. I am further worried by something else: Our youth seems more interested in the other face of Globalization (the information superhighway, iPhones, ‘apps’, music downloads, 3d online games, Facebook and Twitter connectivity, among other). We have to overcome this downward spiral of disdain for social issues like HR. We have to do so by using the same media to give more appropriate direction and guidance to the general public and to our youth on options to counter the negative effects of Globalization and to more aggressively foster the principles of human rights.


In sum

16. An effective strategy against Globalization and its negative effects on human rights is possible, but demands the same kind of intellectual and action-oriented commitment and vigor that characterized anti-colonial or independence struggles.


17. Taking a minimalist stand towards the negative effects of Globalization will do no harm, but neither will it do much good.  Inertia in history (has) and will always work(ed) against the more visionary and radical changes necessary when the same fall outside the ruling paradigm.


18. Make no mistake, these are matters determining the lives of millions of people. We all know that “when all is said and done, a lot more is said than done”.  It is, therefore, not enough to bring these issues under the spotlight; we need to make more light!


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



Adapted from A. Gomez, Despojos y Semillas, Editorial Belgrano, Buenos Aires, 1997; A. Gomez, Tiempo de Descuento, Editorial El Fin de la Noche, Buenos Aires, 2009; A. Gomez, Ultimo Patio, Ed. Turmalina, Buenos Aires, 2009; Z. Acevedo Diaz, La Dama de Cristal, Fondo Editorial Casa de las Americas, La Habana, 1999; Development in Practice, 19:8, 2009; The Broker, Issue 9, Apr 2010; D+C 37:5, May 2010 and 37:7-8, July/Aug 2010; and F+D, 47:2, June 2010.




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  1. 1Iftikhar Soomro

    Dear Claudio
    Once again you filled my brains hunger to read some good articles. I am 100% agreed with your observations, quotes and sensible makeovers.
    I like the term casino economy and also agreed with you on CSR, definition as it is defined by the possesors; CSR on profit or profit with CSR.
    Being a victim of all those borgeoise interests majority of CSOs are playing their role as peti-borgeoi. And daily basis these impluses created by the characters played role are jolting us heavily. And resultant fears are making us to move with compromise of SOME THING IS BETTER THEN NOTHING. Food with our assurance of dignity, health with out lost of wealth, life without Right.
    Yes we are nothing but an object, we the billions against few thousands.

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