Corporate Wrongs and Uphold Human Rights in the Post-2015 Agenda
In 1950, the United Nations General
Assembly proclaimed December 10th as International Human Rights Day
to bring to the attention of the world’s people the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (UDHR) as the baseline of achievement for all peoples and nations.
We remember the UDHR as a milestone in integrating the wide spectrum of rights
that every human being has, including economic security, social equality, and
cultural freedom in relation to civil-political rights.
Unfortunately, the visions and goals
of the UDHR are yet to be fulfilled. Majority of people from all around the
world are deprived of their economic, social, cultural, and civil-political
rights. Millions continue to suffer from hunger, illiteracy, poor health,
unemployment, homelessness, and hazardous environments.
But more alarmingly, human rights
discourse is being co-opted to promote and drive policies which have increased
inequality and poverty and bred systems and structures which protect the rights
of a few over the many.
Under the current profit-oriented,
corporate-biased development agenda, the collective rights of people to live a
life of dignity, freedom, and peace is de-emphasized, and the focus disproportionately
shifted to individual and corporate property rights. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other
so-called 21st century trade and investment agreements are designed
precisely to achieve this objective.
The privatization of state-owned
enterprises and assets has resulted to skyrocketing cost of living and further
hampered people, especially the most excluded, from accessing basic social and
economic services. Tax policies have greatly favored the wealthy with
governments reducing taxes on profits and high-income earners, while keeping
tax wages and imposing flat taxes based on consumption that further
incapacitate the poor. Deregulation of industries, initially explained to
foster competition and eliminate monopolies, paradoxically resulted in the
concentration of business and market power into few corporate hands.
Minimum wage floors are kept at
outrageously low levels to buoy the profits of multinational and transnational
companies, to the detriment of the workers and their families. In sweatshops,
workers, majority of which are women, and are daily subjected to physical and
verbal abuse by their employers and are exposed to life threatening working
environment. In free trade zone, workers are denied their right to form and
join associations and unions.
Natural resources and wealth are
plundered by transnational companies and their Southern elite partners. Public
control and policy ownership have been replaced by a competitive race after
investors which in most cases resulted to drastic and warrantless deregulation
of industries and the subversion of critical checks and balances frameworks
like environmental laws and policies. Local communities and indigenous peoples
are ejected from their ancestral domains and are denied their human rights to
access waters, forests, and lands. Populations
are left exposed to life and health threatening wastes of transnational
killings, and violent repression of civil and political liberties are on the
rise as people organize and mobilize against the encroachment to their rights
and welfare. Wars of occupation and geopolitical maneuvering engineered by
powerful and rich states financed by big business interests signal the
redivision of the world according to the demands of a monopoly capitalist
system for new resources and markets.
We at the Campaign for People’s
Goals for Sustainable Development reiterate the centrality of human rights as a
powerful tool to motivate, drive, and guide sustainable development for
post-2015. It reminds us that the real goal of development is to secure human
dignity and wellbeing, especially of the poor and the marginalized and that
powerful actors are held to account to ensure the realization of this goal.
The post-2015 debate is an
opportunity for people and leaders to come together and reassess the failure of
the institutions and existing development path and commit to an alternative
model founded on human rights, accountability, and democracy. Civil society and
grassroots movements are currently engaged in defining a transformative
framework called Development Justice that emphasizes local communities’ needs
and human rights, not profits. This means that policies should be enlarging
people’s rights, not corporations.
In concrete, the international
community should establish a regulatory framework for the corporate sector that
compels private companies to report on and be liable for their social and
environmental impacts and their effects on human rights. Existing regulatory
measures unfortunately depend too much on the initiative and “goodwill” of
corporations to correct their behavior and report on their activities. If the
recent economic collapse and crises should teach us any lesson, it is that
corporate self-regulation is a myth, and that when left to their own devices,
at least some corporations will gravitate towards irresponsible conducts.
Thus, the international community
should strive to create international civil and criminal liability procedures
to establish the criteria needed to hold corporate actors accountable. This is
crucial, especially where domestic civil mechanisms are unable to hold
At the national level, it is
important that people, regardless of their social or economic background, are
empowered to reclaim their right to participate in government decisions,
including determining whether or not specific corporations should be granted
the authority to operate or whether their charter should be revoked. This sends
out the message that it is people that have the power to set policies to which
corporations must adjust and follow, not the other way around.
Human rights principles must be more
than convenient rhetorical catchphrases and must have real operational
importance. We need to put back human rights accountability at the very heart
of the post-2015 agenda to ensure a sustainable future for all.
To download the statement, please click here.