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Food for a disquieting wake up thought (2)


Human Rights Reader 347
Have we fallen into the trap of using the language of neoliberals so that they are able to shape how we think and behave in regards to human rights? (S. Kidd)


One does not combat neoliberalism because one can defeat it; one combats it because it is neoliberal. (J.P. Sartre said this for Fascism)

16. Neoliberal theories are nets cast widely to catch what capitalists call ‘world markets’. OK, but what for? To rationalize, to justify, and to master what really is a process of exploitation or of accumulation by dispossession?

17. This is a world in which the neoliberal ethics of intense possessive individualism and the concomitant political withdrawal from collective forms of action, typically affecting human rights, have become the template for our socialization. More than before, in the past three decades, the neoliberal turn has restored class power to rich elites who have a manner to solving the key questions of hot issues in society in a way that the solutions continually reproduce the questions anew. Under these conditions, neoliberal ethics becomes much harder to sustain –and we have to use this, their weakness.

18. However, in the 21st century, we have yet to see a coherent opposition to these developments. Many diverse single-issue social movements are focusing on this question only indirectly and have not yet converged on the singular aim of gaining greater control over what really underlies their particular single-issue of concern, i.e., neoliberal ideology. At this point in history, this has to become a global struggle, for this is the scale at which processes now work. The political task of organizing such a confrontation is not only daunting, but also urgent. The opportunities are multiple since crises repeatedly recur. The metropolis now is a point of massive collisions including rather dramatic clashes on human rights (HR) issues –dare we say a part and parcel of class struggle? One step towards unifying these struggles is to adopt the HR framework as both a working project and a political ideal and by applying the democratization core of HR plus its drive to build a broad social movement to enforce the people’s will. This is imperative if claim holders are to take control of what they have so long been denied. (D. Harvey)


Science, technology and ideology: Where are human rights?


Over time, a string of not-circumstantial-errors have been eroding the widespread people’s trust in scientific ‘objectivity’ which claims that science actually best explains the world to us. The ideology of neoliberalism that has ruled us in this phase has further contributed to this.

19. The felt need to legitimate science and technology to fit the pursuits of Capitalism became the point of departure for the basically dogmatic and anti-scientific shift that has biased much of ‘objectivity’. The statement that the problem is not in technology itself, but in its use is doubly worrisome, because it hides the growing subordination of science to economic power and it (re)validates and legitimizes the techno-centric bases of neoliberalism. Such a legitimation comes from the simplistic idea that technology being neutral and universal always denotes progress. …and if something goes wrong, it is because an unforeseen “Dr No” used it improperly and any damage that results from it can certainly be remedied in the future by another better technology …or by naively assuming that state regulation will take care of it (ignoring that the state is actually a partner of the interests that control science and technology).

20. Our leaders prefer to ignore that technologies are the non-innocent social product designed to fit or serve the hegemonic cosmovisions that the capitalist system demands. These leaders want to make us believe that everything is just technical thus effectively disguising the true ideology of science; or better, replacing it by a limited science devoid of any critical reflection. Ergo, a way to ignore the power relations in society is to place science and technology at the service of the dominant power. To achieve this, our leaders predict all sorts of catastrophes if society does not devotedly assume that the sanctioned science and technology is the only way forward for ’progress’ to occur.

21. So let’s retain: Science and technology are part of the powers that be. What can one, therefore ask from them? Honesty in their dictates and accomplishments? Well, it is the experts who, consciously or not, subserviently ignore these evils and banalize science (protected by a core group of intellectuals relegated to their prestigious ivory towers) that, in reality, promote what is fragmentary pieces of knowledge. Said another way, technology has been and is directed by the designs of the capital that makes it possible, i.e., technology is not a product of the neutrality or virtuosity of scientific development, but follows the ideological conceptualization and interests behind the construction of a paradigm based on predatory appropriation.

22. Being determined by market forces, science and technology are thus not neutral in their intentions. This makes active social involvement a must so as to combat biased interpretations and applications of science and technology as they threaten our future. In last instance, ‘technological progress’ simplifies complexity and sells certainty. In its discourse, we find much ambition, (false) pride, a poor understanding of the world’s complexity and simply poor science. It is big business and a falsely legitimizing discourse that honest scientists must face particularly due to the fact that transnational corporations (TNCs) own publishing houses, scientific journals and block publications adverse to the paradigm. Science, its sense of ‘for what’, ‘for whom’ and ‘going where’ is in crisis and we, in HR work, cannot pretend ignoring it if we want to pursue and accomplish our goals for a better world. ( )


Are the rights of nature being trampled?


The sad truth is that we pay so much more attention to the global financial crisis than to the ecological crisis.

 23. It is at the local level that all contradictions of Capitalism explode. The capitalist system thrives on these conflicts and uses them to its advantage. (La Via Campesina). Take for instance our increasing worries about climate change. In the last several years, the ideologues of the capitalist system have wanted to sell us the idea of a green economy as the salvation of our model of society. But this does not really mean an inch more than the mercantilization of nature. This is the bottom line of the proposed ‘Green Capitalism”. (Evo Morales)

24. Or take another example: TNCs playing no minor role, our planet is being exhausted of clean water, fertile soils, strategic minerals, energy and the rich fishing wealth of our oceans. Extractive industries are exploiting and killing all that. As a result, huge corporations suck-in whatever there is. Water is contaminated, energy is squandered, soils are desertified and overfishing is rife. (T. Abraham)

25. I fear our hopes for advancing social and environmental justice are slim. Justice demands a recalibration of power and that requires us to better understand it. Power is hidden and concealed. The peasants who lose land or whose river
is polluted by mining may not know the name of the owner or corporation threatening their livelihood. Corporations have systematically and silently appropriated power and authority through lobbying, trade and investment agreements, and through unaccountable expert and lobbying groups and bodies. This concealed corporate power threatens to become further entrenched.

26. Constant vigilance is needed as transnational corporations power morphs into ever new arenas and, beware, State and capital are an ‘inseparable duo’. They depend on each other both to dispossess and also to build legitimacy for their ongoing appropriation. For instance, the fateful triangle of big energy, big finance and complicit governments prevents a desperately needed radical response to climate change. Disassembling this fateful triangle requires that we better and more proactively use our creative skills, alternative knowledge and values to overturn neoliberalism by launching practical and feasible alternatives that embody the values of solidarity, social justice, co-operation, HR and democracy we all aspire to. (TNI)


A transnational corporations’ architecture of impunity


The power of special interests is far greater than that of the public opinion’s sentiment.

 27. Obtaining results, for TNCs includes achieving political results –and the capacity to obtain them from governments is inexorably growing.* As said earlier, democracy is gradually succumbing to the disease of neoliberal ideology so that more and more functions of legitimate governments are being taken over by illegitimate, unelected, opaque agentss, lobbyist and organizations. For neoliberals, every aspect of the welfare state is abhorrent, because it consists in taking resources from the rich –those who supposedly created them– and giving that wealth to those who do not deserve it. The rich owe nothing to the poor; nor do the rich owe anything to nature.

*: Commercial entities’ power is not only in the room of national or international meetings; it is also outside the room, in lobbying, sponsoring, financing good-for-them strategies. They only attend meetings to inform themselves and to perfect their strategy elsewhere.  The challenge is: How can we compete with that? (O.  Frank)

28. Therefore, among many other reasons, as HR activists, we should care. Why? Because unless and until we can compel transnational corporations to adopt, among other, ‘country-by country’ reporting, they will continue to pay –usually quite legally– minimal taxes in most of the countries where they have branches. With total impunity, they can and do place their profits
in low or no-tax jurisdictions and their losses in high-tax ones. At present, if they so choose, they can report simply on the home country where they have their headquarters and then forget to do it in the rest of world.

29. Much law is now made beyond national borders and, in the international sphere, much of this law concerns ways to allow corporations greater scope and freedom. Large number of new trade treaties are allowing TNCs to infiltrate executive, legislative and even judicial State functions. Even the United Nations is now a TNC target –and the UN agencies welcomes their presence. (S. George)

30. Moreover, TNCs ignore conflict of interest issues until the same enter the public discourse. They dismiss such criticism and ridicule any suggestions of its validity. They hire public relations firms to characterize available studies as ‘junk science’. They attack scientists, sometimes personally, claiming they are biased against industry (the same for HR activists). They pay scientists to undertake studies that plant doubt. They call-in favors from community groups and professional associations they have supported to discount the critical claims. They begin public relations campaigns to counter the concept. They make self-regulatory pledges to care for the public good and issue promises to change business practices (such as marketing certain products to children). They spend massive amounts to lobby against policy changes that would alter their ability to continue business as usual. They work to have industry figures or supportive political figures installed in key regulatory agencies in order to stall, subvert or weaken all regulatory action. (K. Brownell, M. Gold)

31. Furthermore, it is not exactly news that governments have always governed on behalf of certain class interests. But this is different from allowing those interests to actually write the legislation and to make policy directly, including budgetary, financial, labor, social and environmental policy, in place of elected legislators and civil servants. It is different from allowing corporations to disseminate deception and lies and to undermine the public’s right to know. It is also different from allowing such interests to replace the established judiciary with ad-hoc courts in areas such as trade dispute arbitration, even in jurisdictions where the justice system is known to be fair and independent. (S. George)

32. TNCs also benefit from the unbalanced commodification of scientific progress (which is contrary to HR aims) in a way that is almost always detrimental to claim holders. This is particularly done through the patent system. (CETIM) It is high time to end the privatization of knowledge that deprives individuals and impoverishes society overall. (UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights)

33. Our concern thus is with the damage done as a result of the unbridled commercial freedoms that, since the 1980s, have been recklessly ceded by elected governments to TNCs of all types, whose activities are contributing to the fuel, finance and food crises that now beset us, and are, as said, undermining and displacing healthy food systems.** (C. Monteiro and G. Cannon)

**: A caveat: Working with the more forward looking progressive corporations –the ‘good ones’– is still risky.  In our experience, the corporations that are most criticized (and dangerous) tend to have the most highly developed public relations machinery. These corporations claim that their aims/purposes are indeed in line with those of UN agencies. The problem is made worse if these corporations are used as the ‘messengers’ for, for example, laudable WHO health messages, because then they so whitewash their reputation. Decisions about corporate privileges and roles should be based on what entities are rather than what they do.  What they do changes (and needs careful ongoing monitoring), but what they are tends to remain the same. (P. Rundall)

34. For these and so many other reasons, belatedly as it is, it is high time to develop concrete strategies to fight against these actions of TNCs. We acknowledge it is not easy with the overhanging danger of more and more repression. We cannot ignore that governments use their armed forces to do this –and even private armies are used by certain TNCs. (La Via Campesina)


[I ask: If all the material covered in these two Readers does not affect people’s HR, then what does? As the Mahatma used to say: First they ignore you, then they laugh about you, then they attack you and only at the end you win. (Will I ever see the latter phase materialize? Sure!)]


As a sort of epilogue

35. As HR workers, we are not anti-business; we are not anti-progress; we are not anti-government. We are for fair business and responsive government. We are against violence, against political and economic bullying and manipulation and we denounce ill-health, malnutrition and deaths as overwhelmingly preventable, as well as denouncing the flagrant violations of any HR. We are against the powers that are responsible for and condone these and that thus oppress and abuse people. We seek only justice, a caring body politic, to live with dignity since we have inalienable rights, important human rights, the right to speak out for our voice to be heard, the right to redress. We all are and should be critical and assertive about such deeply felt community aspirations; we must bring the same into a widely shared vision, into a joint mission and into a journey together. Therein lies the challenge. (A. Fazal)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




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