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This present book is part of an ongoing and open-ended collaborative research project among a number of European universities and research partners in developing countries and coordinated by the Law and Development Research Group at the University of Antwerp. The intention of the project is to complement the current book with a number of case studies based on field research, using the methodology and building on the findings presented in the present volume.
As part of the project an inaugural expert seminar was organised in April 2007. This was followed by an international conference at Antwerp University in October 2008. The conference included a call for papers identifying the research questions referred to in the ‘Introduction’. Initial drafts of some of the chapters included were presented at the Antwerp conference. Subsequently the editors engaged in an intensive dialogue with the authors on their papers, and also invited additional authors to contribute to the book on themes not originally covered.
Do human rights offer real protection when disadvantaged groups invoke them at the local level in an attempt to improve their living conditions? If so, how can we make sure that the experiences of those invoking human rights at the local level have an impact on the further development of human rights (at national and other levels) so that the local relevance of human rights increases? Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948, numerous international documents have reaffirmed human rights as global norms. This book examines what factors determine whether appeals to human rights that emanate from the local level are successful, and whether the UDHR adequately responds to threats as currently defined by relevant groups or whether a revision of some of the ideas included in the UDHR is needed in order to increase its contemporary relevance.
After the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community increasingly began to use the language of human rights to address issues of human dignity. A vast body of international and constitutional human rights law was enacted: the acquis of international human rights law, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, currently consists of no fewer than eight core conventions and numerous protocols. A plethora of intergovernmental, national and civil society institutions have committed to human rights as a policy objective and engage in human rights activities.
At the start of the new millennium, world heads of state and government resolved ‘to spare no effort’ to respect all internationally recognised human rights, and ‘to strive for the full protection and promotion in all our countries of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for all’. The statement was made as part of a Declaration aimed at ensuring that ‘globalisation becomes a positive force for all the world's people’. Arguably, issues of human dignity could well have been addressed globally in a different language than that of the language of human rights, and there may be some disadvantages to the choice made – a tendency, perhaps, to overemphasise self-interest and private gain and to underestimate the importance to human dignity of an individual's relationships with others – but clearly significant progress has been made in mobilising the international community on the issue of human dignity through the instrument of human rights.
The last half century has witnessed huge efforts to establish the universality of human rights. Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948, numerous international treaties and declarations have reaffirmed human rights as norms applicable on a global scale. Several universal and regional institutions of an expert or governmental nature are now monitoring compliance with human rights norms.
It is, however, unclear whether the global regime that was so painstakingly developed over the last few decades is of much practical use at the local level to people confronted with the abuse of power and/or inhumane living conditions. This question is particularly important in the current era of globalisation, when economic and political institutions of different kinds shape and reshape the world at a rapid pace.
Economic globalisation – understood as a process of breaking down State barriers in order to allow the free flow of finance, trade, production and at least in theory, labour – affects human rights. It affects the role of the main duty holder in human rights, the State, both in the world and the domestic economies. Globalism, the ideology supporting economic globalisation, favours the withdrawal of the State from the provision of many services essential to human rights, and its replacement by private actors. It also insists on opening up the economy to products, services and investments originating in countries that enjoy a competitive advantage, and on discipline in taking the advice of international trade and financial organisations.
From a human rights perspective, economic globalisation raises questions about the human rights responsibilities of private actors, of intergovernmental organisations and of third States when their actions have extraterritorial effects. There is also an urgent need to rethink human rights obligations of States. This is often a very technical issue, requiring knowledge of the law of international contracts and arbitration and of domestic administrative law.
Inevitably, a part of the human rights response to economic globalisation needs to take place at the global level – hence the discussions on the human rights accountability of the World Bank, the role of human rights in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement system, or the efforts to codify the human rights responsibility of corporations.
This book analyses the relationship between economic globalisation and human rights. It raises two main issues. How can human rights provide protection whenever economic globalisation threatens human dignity? Secondly, should human rights themselves evolve in response to a changing global economy? The main purpose of this opening section is to indicate how subsequent chapters address these questions.
Defining the terms
While the authors in this book use a common concept of human rights, it is less certain that they share a common understanding of economic globalisation. This is not surprising. Although both concepts are contentious, there is at least a legal definition of human rights around which all contributors can rally. For many authors there is no need to explicitly define economic globalisation, as they only deal with a specific aspect (such as the liberalisation of trade, or the human rights impact of companies) rather than with the phenomenon as a whole.
By human rights, the contributors mean the rights included in the core international human rights instruments adopted by the United Nations. With the exception of the Migrant Workers' Convention, these treaties have been widely ratified. Non-ratifying states are still bound by human rights law to the extent that human rights have become part of customary international law. Both the International Court of Justice and the international criminal tribunals have asserted in their case law that (a number of) human rights have achieved the status of international customary law.
Economic globalisation is one of the guiding paradigms of the twenty-first century. The challenge it implies for human rights is fundamental, and key questions have up to now received no satisfying answers. How can human rights protect human dignity when economic globalisation has an adverse impact on local living conditions? How should human rights evolve in response to a global economy in which non-statal actors are decisive forces? Economic Globalisation and Human Rights was originally published in 2007, and sets out to assess these and other questions to ensure that, as economic globalisation intensifies, human rights take up the central and crucial position that they deserve. Using a multidisciplinary methodology, leading scholars reflect on issues such as the need for global ethics, the localisation of human rights, the role of human rights in WTO law, and efforts to make international economic organisations more accountable and multinational corporations more socially responsible.
The challenge that economic globalisation as one of the 21st century's guiding paradigms implies for human rights is fundamental. While the scientific discourse on globalisation has intensified and an ever growing body of research in economic globalisation can be ascertained, key questions have up to now found no satisfying answers.
Economic Globalisation and Human Rights sets out to address this gap. Questions that delimitate the multifaceted impact of globalisation on the very conception of human rights, and on their future, include: How can human rights protect human dignity when economic globalisation has adverse impacts on local living conditions? To what extent and into which direction should human rights evolve in response to a global economy in which non-statal actors are decisive forces? In this collection leading scholars assess these and other questions. Using a multidisciplinary methodology the contributors aim at ensuring that, as economic globalisation intensifies, human rights take up the central position that they deserve as a global value system. Reflecting on issues ranging from the need for a global ethic to the localisation of human rights, from the role of human rights in the WTO and the World Bank to efforts to make international economic organisations more accountable and multinational corporations more socially responsible, the contributors show that economic globalisation cannot be an end in itself, but is shaped and enriched by the globalisation of human rights.