Business and Human Rights

Upholding the Market’s Social Darwinism

An assessment of Mr. John Ruggie’s Report: “Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights”

Álvaro J. de Regil

In January 2008 Álvaro de Regil published a study that included a detailed evaluation of Mr. John Ruggie’s work, as part of a comprehensive assessment of the debate on the responsibilities of business regarding human rights. In this new work, he continues the same approach by assessing the vision and arguments that Mr. Ruggie –UN's Special Representative for Business and Human Rights– advances in his new paper: Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights.

The author's conclusion is that Ruggie’s vision in the current report continues to be in open conflict with the basic concept of democracy and of true long-term sustainability, for he continues to uphold the market as the principle that reigns supreme over the lives of societies across the world; never mind the customary, massive, ubiquitous and systemic violation of a wide range of human rights that the market exerts over billions of people every second of our time.

In his report, Mr. Ruggie deems the governance gaps –created by market globalisation– between the markets’ footprint on human rights and society’s capacity to manage it, as the root cause of the increasing abuse of human rights, and regards bridging these gaps as our fundamental challenge.

The author's assessment is in stark disagreement. In his opinion, it is absolutely futile for Mr. Ruggie to address the customary violation of human rights in the business ethos if he does not address the true root of the problem: true democracy has been supplanted by marketocracy and, thus, has disabled the States ability to impose a regulatory framework that effectively protects human rights from corporate malfeasance. The lack of regulation –a fundamental irresponsibility of any truly democratic government– is the current standard in almost every area of business activity. To be sure, the clearest and most pervasive case is the greatest debacle of capitalist economies that we are attesting to, as a direct consequence of the economic deregulation that governments have undemocratically imposed upon societies across the world since the 1970s.

Consequently, relative to human rights, de Regil contends that, as long as we do not demand from our governments a universal and legally-binding framework to protect human rights from business’ predatory practices –as a core element of international law– we will remain “in a sea of rhetoric rights, deception and posturing”. De Regil contends that unless we force our governments to fulfil our demands they will continue relying on the good old formula of pretending that they are making changes so that, at the end, everything remains the same. Something that, by the way, it is likely to occur in all areas of business, particularly in financial markets, unless society gets directly and permanently involved in the public matter, which is a fact of life in today's societies.



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