Business and Human Rights

Towards a New Paradigm of True Democracy and the Sustainability of People and Planet or Rhetoric Rights in a Sea of Deception and Posturing

The good old formula of changing so that everything remains the same...!

Álvaro J. de Regil

This study is motivated by the concern and frustration for the lack of meaningful progress in the struggle to establish a normative framework to protect human rights (HR) along the entire domain of business activity.

The author, Álvaro de Regil, Executive Director of TJSGA, approaches this critical issue with the conviction that we endure an era in which, to say the least, a savage and perverse market ethos has been imposed upon humanity and the planet as a paradigm of life, with rules and structures designed in direct line with the conditions demanded by business for its exclusive benefit.As a consequence, societies' human rights are systematically stamped on by business activity in the name of free marketeering. In this context, The Jus Semper Global Alliance (TJSGA) has closely followed the development of the debate, beginning with the publication in 2003 of the draft of the Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with regards to Human Rights. In those days we expressed our restrained support of such Norms. To be sure, despite their broad ambiguity, such Norms constitute a first positive step upon which to build, with the direct participation of global civil society, a true regulating framework that effectively protects HR from the impact of business activity.

Taking into account that, by now, different sectors of civil society and the business world -including the work of the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights- have conveyed their positions, regarding both the Norms as well as the work of the UN on the matter, through Mr. John Ruggie -Special Representative on HR of the UN Secretary General- and the UN Global Compact, it was better to wait to obtain a comprehensive vision instead of assessing these activities individually as they were taking place.

In this way, this is an assessment of the debate on the responsibilities of business regarding human rights in particular, but also generally on the political, civil, economic, cultural and labour rights; an assessment that, furthermore, constitutes the position of our only initiative: The Living Wages North and South Initiative (TLWNSI), relative to business and HR. Hence, the assessment ends by proposing a new HR paradigm with respect to business, from TLWNSI'S perspective, with true democracy and real sustainability as its underpinnings.

Prior to embarking on the assessment, nonetheless, the author clearly establishes the context of the world's stage, from the economic, democratic, true sustainability and the current state of HR in business perspectives, from which he performs his assessment.

This is how, from the very title, de Regil reveals his conviction that, in the struggle for establishing a framework regulating the responsibilities of business in respecting HR in their environs, there is a dominant position rejecting regulating the impact of business on the enjoyment of HR through a binding framework, with no other argument but the primacy of business over people and planet. In his perception, it is more than evident the clear reluctance of the UN member governments to comply with their most basic responsibility: to enhance the current HR framework, in a world globalised by the owners of the market, and guarantee the protection of the current rights.

De Regil contends that the governments of the world and their multilateral agencies have clearly imposed, in a completely undemocratic fashion, an ethos where the market reigns supreme over people and planet. Consequently, they not only condone but enthusiastically support the systematic and customary violation of HR in business, with the payment of misery wages, vis-à-vis living wages, standing out prominently in what today constitutes a modern-day-slavery business practice; the shining feature of this era's Darwinian business culture.

Accordingly, despite the overwhelming evidence of the systematic and customary violation of HR by business, what is clearly observed is an unrelenting litany of postures and gesticulations that pretend to change to remain the same, in line with the will of the owners of the market.

Nevertheless, de Regil asserts that the last word has not been said, and that we, civil society, the common citizens of both rich and poor countries, are not letting up nor will we weaken our vigour and pace to completely and radically change the current ethos.


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