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Food for a disquieting wake up thought


Human Rights Reader 346


-We live in societies where everything is globalized; ancient ancestral cultures and human rights are marginalized by the economic processes installed. (Evo Morales)

-The passion to dominate is the most terrible of all diseases of the human spirit. (Voltaire)


Globalization has led us to a profound dehumanization in the world


We have a common responsibility to prevent the unacceptable prioritization of profits for some over benefits for all. (UNESCO)


  1. We live in an upside-down world for the simple reason that it is a world that rewards speculation and penalizes honest work. It further gives the financial sector a role that is subservient to the ‘real’ economy –a real economy that, in turn, should support ecological sustainability and human rights (HR) and not a ‘paper economy’ based on futures trading. (CIVICUS) Globalization, the latest phase of Capitalism,* has magnified this sort of affairs (T. Schreker)

*: In this phase of Capitalism, what we have is a double phenomenon of polarization related to a double surplus transfer: from the South to the North internationally and from the working classes to the ruling classes domestically; for long, the latter have been experts in parking their money in tax heavens (the ‘fiscal launderettes’), not to mention their use of ‘creative’ accounting. (CETIM and A. Fazal)


  1. The transnational way of doing business is a key aspect of economic globalization and a result of unfettered deregulation. The countries in which transnational corporations (TNCs) are most powerful include those in which regulation is least effective and whose governments are impoverished, or heavily indebted, and thus in special need of foreign investment even when this involves selling off public goods such as land, water, electricity and communications. Transnational business includes predatory competition with and takeovers of smaller national companies. The common-front trade associations and alliances formed by TNCs to protect their interests by, for example, resisting statutory regulations show that they ‘run as a pack’. They hire the most imaginative and best resourced public relations agencies with a global reach; they have vast amounts of disposable cash to spend. They have plausibly asserted that their commercial interests need not conflict with those of, for instance, public health. Consequently they are seen by the United Nations and its relevant agencies, and by the most powerful national governments, not as part of the public health problem, but as an indispensible part of its solution. (Wolves dressed in sheep’s skins?)


  1. The South has thus opened up and all the TNCs are determined to get a share of the action. They are bound to do so. Any corporations slow to enter emerging market economies (emerging or submerged…?) would be taken over by energetic competitors. This is the nature of the global business economy. For TNCs, the global South is where the action is. That is why, for example, Big Food corporations want to teach the world to snack –from birth to death. (C. Monteiro and G. Cannon)


  1. We simply need to be much more explicit about the various channels through which value is transferred from the South to the North, including declining terms of trade, the servicing of odious debts, the brain drain, lending money to the rich countries (mostly the US) to insure against currency speculation, and repatriation of profits to the North from unfair commercial and investment relations. (D. Legge)


Behind globalization, there are economists …and economist


  1. In (capitalist) economics, economists can do whatever they want, but it is the consequences that are inevitable. (J.M. Keynes)  If we talk about trade economists, they rally around the notion that HR principles (and HR activists) are a pox to the world trading system they pursue. (J. Bhagwati) And if we talk about the econometric models that neoliberal economists love, a word of caution is called-for: These models prove dismally blind to what the future will bring and too many people (who should know better) believe and swear by their results. No computer today can completely simulate even a simple system; one must always wonder what bit of the reality is being left out. Models can help to build intuition or to refine calculations, but they do not give birth to genuine discovery. Only the most naïf scientist believes that the perfect model is the one that perfectly represents reality. Such a model would have the same drawbacks as a map as large and detailed as the city it represents, a map depicting every park, every street, every building, every tree, every pothole, every inhabitant. Were such map possible, its specificity would defeat its main purpose, i.e., to generalize and to abstract. (J. Gleick)


Markets: Consumerism generates more clients than citizens mindful of their and others’ human rights


-Assets change hands; that is the way the laws of the market work; there is no wealth that is born from assets that do not circulate.

-As is abundantly clear, the market is not the solution to every problem, rather the problem to every solution.


  1. As we all know, the concept of ‘free market’ is used widely. It is nothing short, but glorified. Let us look, for instance, at the food market and related nutrition issues.** Every time you buy products made by transnational food product corporations (‘Big Food’, ‘Big Soda’), you are part of a process that includes some combination of relentless exploitation of primary producers, replacement of appropriate agriculture by cash-cropping, destruction or acquisition of local food industries, elimination of trades unions, foreign grabbing of land and control of water rights, as well as displacement of long-established food systems that are rational, appropriate and part of national or local cultures. So, what is ‘free’ about this? In my opinion, more people would be more aware about this, if we all stopped using the term ‘free market’, replaced it by ‘predatory Capitalism’, and explained why we do so. (G. Cannon)

**: It is not coincidental (but rather cynical) to confuse nutritional value with market price. Think about value for money, value for people and value for the environment. (A. Fazal)


  1. Moreover, it is axiomatic that the owners of capital hold something close to a veto over a range of domestic policies related to commerce and markets –even under conditions of formal democracy. They can direct or withhold the investments on which all market economies depend –nowhere perhaps more patent than in the ultraprocessed (junk) food market. In addition, they can and do use their resources to affect the outcome of political processes.


  1. As all fundamentalisms, market fundamentalism has thus to be rejected. There are all too many unquestioned market dogmas. Financial firms’ critical function is to maximize their owners’ or shareholders’ profits, not always to steer investment into production. (Consider all these corporate mergers that produce nothing new, but concentrate wealth in less and less hands). But, yes, the market ‘works’: it makes shareholders richer, as it is designed solely to do, so it has succeeded. The market does not exist to serve society (or the advancement of HR), but rather to maximize private profit, whatever its social (and HR) effects. (J. Stiglitz)


Privatization and appropriation


-Corporate and state power inter-relate and depend on each other to flourish.

-Privatization leading to further concentration of global power has always ultimately produced shifts in the institutional governance superstructure. (S. Patrick)


  1. Elite privatization creates exclusion as the private sector steps-in selectively and soon applies ‘clubby’ business practices that favor their buddies and get rid of personnel. Privatization reforms simply fail to deliver the rates of economic growth and wealth creation promised*** and, more often than not, impose further HR violations. This shows the limitation of the top down privatization politics that apply untested theories ignoring implementation constraints, as well as imposing social protection programs devoid of clear social criteria –including uncritical government spending cuts and failure to focus on the HR of the most needy. If for no other reason, a new model grounded in social justice is needed; one that gives equal opportunities, expands social protection and promotes social dialogue. Economics first and politics later just won’t do. A new social contract needs to be defined in a participatory way. (F&D, 50:1, March 2013)

***: The institutions that govern us are tailored to the interests of the Elite and are thus enamored with the idea of economic growth. But we have to ask ourselves: Is it to growth or ultimately to stagnation? (F+D 50:4, December 2013)


  1. Moreover, the emphasis on public-private cooperation is, to say the least, unfortunate, because it focuses on guidelines and principles on which the private sector already agrees. It does not acknowledge that the private sector simply must be governed by strong and unequivocal rules. The capacity of agencies that are supposed to regulate business in relation to, for example, food and medicines has been severely restricted by the pressures exerted by Big Food and Big Pharma. The argument for this in the infant feeding sector was well articulated by Judith Richter in her book, Holding Corporations Accountable. (G. Kent)


  1. It would be an understatement to say that we live in a sick society and in dangerous times. Personhood and planethood are between poor and dismal. Corporatization, Privatization and Liberalization, the ‘CPL’ virus, will need a countervailing response. We are not in a standstill struggle; every day, new developments challenge us downstream and upstream. (A. Fazal)


Inequ(al)ities in Capitalism: Think about it this way — It is like everyone is invited to the same lunch, but not everyone is allowed to eat the same food.


Everyone aspires, but is not really rising. (A. Eyakuze)


  1. Even a cursory glance at various societies would reveal that the greed, prejudice and indifference embodied in the social norms that govern us is responsible for every social inequality we so extensively see in HR work: like extreme poverty, social exclusion, discrimination, etc. Valued social attributes embedded in the idea of free markets such as ‘initiative’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ often provide an excellent cover for personal greed and social indifference. So, it is fair to say that greed, prejudice and indifference are the underlying structural cause of extreme poverty (a HR violation found everywhere). Except in a very few societies, these are universally condemned as uncivilized values.


  1. Hence, it is justifiable to take steps to extirpate greed, prejudice and indifference from the norms of those societies and replace them by HR values. This cannot be achieved by legislation though. It requires an examination of what and how greed, prejudice and indifference serve man. The answer is quite simple: Greed for power and money can render one indifferent to everything else and can prejudice one against anything that stands in one’s way. This greed can manifest itself mainly if one considers one’s well being in purely material terms, as it does in modern times. In fact, current notions of growth and development only serve to legitimize this state of affairs. (L. Manavado)


  1. This begs the question: Should we, together with others, be asking:

Is some inequality essential for growth? The key contentious point here is what is meant by ‘essential’. This question actually veers the discussion of eradicating inequalities primarily into the realm of academia; it makes no sense to people living in poverty and deprivation.


  1. It is interesting to note here that the World Bank**** has chosen to speak of sharing prosperity as opposed to reducing inequalities (or disparity reduction). The difference has important implications for HR and other development work. In good part, it is responsible, for instance, for the fact that the emerging or established middle class is more likely to resist redistributive policies than to embrace them. (T. Schreker)

****: “I am of the opinion that banks are more dangerous for our liberties than are whole armies ready for combat”. (Thomas Jefferson, 1802)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


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