BUSINESSES DO NOT PLAY A ‘CRITICAL ROLE’, AND CALLING ON THEM TO ENGAGE AS EQUAL PARTNERS IN A HUMAN RIGHTS-BASED DEVELOPMENT PROCESS, IS NOT CALLED FOR.

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Human Rights: Food for an interfering thought

 

Human Rights Reader 404

 

Innovation is not a prerogative of the private sector.

 

  1. More and more, we are seeing a process of outsourcing the international development agenda. The current trade and investment regimes are already favoring wealthy countries and corporations. And where has this led us? To the balance already being outrageously skewed in favor of private interests. (Look at WHO’s financing, for instance).

 

  1. In this Reader, I have more questions than I have answers:

 

  • What track record do businesses really have for being part of the solution?
  • What is the incentive for TNCs to exert their enormous power and influence in any way beyond maintaining the status-quo that has delivered so many benefits to them? So, Who benefits from the current state of affairs?:
    • The gargantuan pharmaceutical and food and beverages industry, intent on protecting their profits?
    • Governments that now are increasingly elected on the back of private election finance?
  • Does all this imply that the incentive structure only operates in one direction –not the human rights direction?
  • Is the assumption such that we should have less confidence in the aptitudes of the public sector, so that it must do more to operate on business terms? …even when those are the same terms that have led to the current highly inequitable, unsustainable, human rights-violating patterns of development?

 

  1. Since public and private incentives are currently so poorly aligned (a marriage in hell?), it is hard to imagine how public entities operating more and more along private lines will keep up with their primary public responsibilities, including as the main duty bearers for protecting sustainability, inclusiveness and human rights (HR). The question really is:
  • At what point should projects vital to human and environmental wellbeing happen regardless of a business take on the issue?

 

  1. Many businesses (of course, not all –I am not a business basher…), encouraged by years of deregulation, think of themselves as existing outside any social contract –or as able to select the parts of such a contract useful to them— for instance picking deliberate strategies that reduce their tax bills even as they are underpaying workers who then have to rely on social protection schemes paid for by general taxation. As a privileged group, big corporations are able to set their own norms, mostly related to their own survival and profitability, and further expect the public sector not to stand in their way. Large transnational corporations have pushed this approach so far that some progressive governments at the United Nations have called (and are acting upon it) for a legally binding framework to regulate them so as to provide appropriate protection, justice and remedy to victims of corporate HR abuses. But if such a new social contract keeps gaping exemptions or exclusions, it is bound to collapse. Businesses have to understand that the new global contract will be binding, not optional; it will have to be upheld and enforced, and there can be no picking and choosing –no exceptions. (B. Adams and G. Luchsinger)

 

There is no such a thing as a developed and underdeveloped world; there is only a single, badly developed or maldeveloped world (CETIM)

 

Some like to call the current development model “an evidence-free zone”. (Steven Nissen)

 

  1. Poor countries beware: Under the SDGs, more experts are coming! Not soldiers and bureaucrats to run your affairs like during colonialism, now it is an army of ‘experts’. (Note that, sometimes, experts are even more dangerous than soldiers). Experts come to tell you: “You cannot. The market will be irritated. The market will be angry”. It is as if the market is an unknown, but very active and cruel God punishing us, because we are trying to commit the cardinal sin of changing reality. I ask: Is recovering dignity a cardinal sin? (Eduardo Galeano)

 

  1. Fittingly, long ago, Immanuel Kant was of the opinion that, whoever wills the end, wills also (so far as cold reasoning* decides his conduct) the means in his power which are indispensably necessary thereto.

*: Marcel Proust used to talk about the intermittences of the heart as he observed world development going from bad to worse. (as cited by Alfredo Bryce Echenique)

 

The narrative of progress in development is no longer sustainable –unless things change (Steven Smith)

 

  1. The UN (and other development) agencies have, for decades, pitifully little to show in the implementation of actual actionable deliverables in the realm of the HR-based framework to development. It is evident that the power of interventions aimed at fulfilling HR principles and standards comes not from where they are ‘targeted’ top-down –when this power is rather to come from those who know (or suffer) how these interventions do not work to create positive change within the prevailing unfair economic and political system. This means that efforts targeted at government policy can have only limited effectiveness if they are aimed at changing relatively weak (or outright uninterested) leverage-points and individuals in the prevailing unfair system. (G. Carey)

 

  1. Even if it has been more than twenty years since their re-emergence on the international agenda, economic, social and cultural rights still remain a rhetorical aspiration. …or is there some global evidence that there have been many real advances in how they are enjoyed, claimed and enforced? This is indeed a pressing question. In a way, the affirmation by UN member states in the Vienna Human Rights Declaration of 1992 that HR and development should be seen as ‘mutually reinforcing’ still has a hollow rhetorical ring twenty five years on. (Alicia Yamin)

 

  1. On a less negative note, yes, some progress has been made on each front, particularly in the realm of discrimination, legal protection and judicial enforcement. Human rights are beginning to play a more prominent role in how we think, and how we act. But the economic and social rights of millions of people across the globe are still under systematic and renewed attacks as a result of a number of even current pervasive private/financial sector-dominated development trends. These include the imposition of regressive fiscal austerity measures and other policies fuelling economic inequality, the failure to take effective action against climate change, and the consolidated grip that unbridled corporate power now has on both national and international governance. (UN CESR) On the other hand, one of the most important innovations in human HR has been the increasing attention to economic policies such as the scrutiny of budgets, taxation, and social security systems. (Sakiko Fukuda-Parr)

 

  1. As you can see, a mixed picture. …in need of a photoshop overhaul…

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City, January 14, 2017

schuftan@gmail.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-In dreaming begins responsibility. (W.B. Yeats)

-We are simply acting as the folk wisdom that says: “If we do not change direction, we are going to get where we are going.” This is equivalent to the cartoon Yogi Bear’s: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Peace, more than any other word, represents the essence of our work in HR. (Anwar Fazal)

-Henri Bergson used to say: The future is not what ‘is coming’, but rather what we will be capable of doing and achieving. It makes no sense to wish ourselves a Happy 2017 if, like donkeys, we are going to continue accepting what is being imposed on us by a corrupt and out-of-reputation political class; wishing ourselves a Good Year of Struggles, that yes! (Politika)

 

Given what is happening in the world later this month, I cannot think of anything more pertinent to share with you than a visionary excerpt from Henry Miller’s 1933 Tropic of Cancer. He had this to say:

 

How many people and colleagues do we know that have no allegiance, no social responsibility, no hatred, no prejudices, no passion, being neither for nor against –claiming to be neutral. It is actually hard to talk to a man or woman when you have nothing in common with him or her; you betray yourself, even if you use only monosyllabic words with them.

 

The axis has shifted, the world is dying. The world is pooped out; there is not a dry fart left. Who, that has a desperate, hungry eye can have the slightest regard for existing governments, laws, codes, principles, ideals, ideas, totems and taboos? This crazy civilization looks like a crater. And the crater is obscene. But more obscene than anything is inertia, is paralysis.

 

Conversely, even as the world goes to smash, there are men and women who remain at the core, who remain combative as the process of the world’s downward spiral quickens. At the very hub of this downward spiral we must keep rolling; otherwise, the whole world will belch no more. The wheel is falling apart, but the revolution is intact. Ideas have now to be wedded to action; if there is no vitality in them, there is no action. Ideas cannot exist alone in the vacuum of the mind. I find it soothing and refreshing to move among the creatures with living, breathing pores whose ethical background is stable and solid. The task to throw ourselves into is to overthrow the existing values, to make the chaos about us a new order.

 

The wallpaper with which the men of science and technology have covered the world of reality is falling to tatters. The grand whorehouse that they have made of life requires no such wallpaper decoration. Beauty is finished. The world is still beautiful only in an old fashioned way; it is the same old world of wine and fornication.

 

It sounds nutty to me, all this palaver about things happening so fast. Nothing is happening that I can see, except the usual calamities on the front page: Love and hate, despair, pity, rage, disgust, war, disease, cruelty, terror, the evil, the sorrow, the discord, the rancor, the strife, the disorder, the violence, the hatred, the chaos, the confusion…

A new day is dawning. As the thermometer rises, the form of the world grows blurred; there still is articulation, but at the periphery the veins are all varicose and are starting to bleed. To fathom the new reality it is first necessary to dismantle the gangrened ducts of the system responsible for all the garbage we see and experience.

 

Once I thought that to be human was the highest aim we could have, but I see now that it was meant to deceive me. I see this other race of individuals ransacking the universe, turning everything upside down, always moving in blood and tears, slaying everything within reach. We are governed by counterfeit values; only the tiny part that is left is human, i.e., the rest that belongs to life. We simply have to act before a large portion of humanity is buried, wiped out forever. My world has overstepped its human bounds; what it is to be human is left to moralities and codes disregarded by those in power. Too much of what they feed us to read is mere literature, not reality. I know what they are really like. Underneath this fake morality all is dead, no feelings. They are selfish to the core. They think of nothing but money, money, money. And they look so goddammed respectable, so bourgeois. That is what drives me nuts.

 

We have got our faults, but we have got integrity and enthusiasm. It is better to make mistakes than not to do anything.

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