International Organizations, Human Rights and Business


The Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna states that democracy, development and respect for Human Rights are interdependent, mutually reinforcing concepts. It also states that democracy is based on the will of a people, freely expressed, to determine its own political, economic, social and cultural life (point 8).

The thinking and practice of the United Nations and of most states in the International Community, however, differs substantially from what was said at Vienna.

In fact, on a number of occasions the Secretary-General, Mr Boutros Ghali, has called for closer links between transnational businesses and international decisions (Davos, 26/1/1995), and for a recognition of the primacy of transnational society over interstatal society (Carlos III University, Madrid, 15/4/1994).

Mr. Boutros Ghali clearly expressed his thoughts in the speech made at Davos on 26/1/1995, in which, after pointing out the predominant role of transnational business in the world, he said that “it must be more clearly associated with international decisions”, and that “it is thus essential to introduce transnational corporations into the democratization process, so that they are seen not as predators taking advantage of the loopholes in the international social order, but rather as development agents and basic factors in social integration.” He added that the participation of corporations in the development of a new transnational social order is all the more important … to invent new rules and new practices in the sphere of competition”.

Furthermore, when he was presented with a doctorate “honoris causa” from Carlos III University Madrid on 15/4/1995, Mr, Boutros Ghali stated:

“We must bear in mind the fact that in the new international order a fundamentally transnational, rather than an interstatal society must reign. For a long time, in fact, we have thought of international order in terms of political and sedentary order. Now we should learn also to create and adopt a nomadic and economic world order This is why we must think about rules which not only take account of the will of political subjects, but also of the actions of economic agents, and which can supercede the inevitable contradictions between the logic of land and the logic of capital”.

On an international scale, the fundamental decisions which weigh on the lives and destinies of peoples are taken behind closed doors, determined by the wishes of a handful of great powers, transnational corporations, and their executive bodies, the World Bank and the IMF Civil society has been marginalised and political power, as a democratic means of resolving conflicts between different and often contradictory interests, has been replaced by economic power. Self-determination of peoples, democracy, popular participation and the interdependence of rights proclaimed at Vienna have been all but forgotten, substituted by the dictature of transnational capital, unique neoliberal thought, and social darwinism.

The Vienna Declaration insisted that sufficient resources be allocated to Human Rights activities. Despite this, the financial crisis of the United Nations is persisting, with no valid justification, since the UN budget is infinitessimal when compared to the budgets of States and to the enormous sums involved in arms and drug trafficking, and financial speculation.

The financial crisis is being used as a political weapon. It is invoked to suspend activities, the budgets of the FAO and WHO (among others) are being cut back, UNCTAD is being destabilised, NGOs are being marginalised, documents and reports are not translated and priorities are decided on the basis of selective political criteria, favouring a few rich countries, financing only those projects in which they have a vested interest.

Given that the UN is out of money, we turn to those organisations that aren’t, such as the World Bank.

We are particularly concerned at the increasingly significant role being played by the World Bank in Human Rights activities.

In innumerable papers the real experts – not the World Bank scribes – describe the funereal role of the World Bank in matters such as the right to Development and Human Rights in general. All over the world, peoples are protesting at the policies of the Bretton Woods institutions. During the Social Summit held at Copenhagen over 600 NGOs said in a joint statement, later signed by thousands of NGOs the world over that “the policies of the LMT and the World Bank are among the main obstacles to real economic and social development”, and declared that they were in favour of the democratization of these two institutions.

There is, then, a generally negative evaluation of the role of these two institutions in Human Rights matters.

Despite this, many organs of the UN, system seek their participation and support.

And the Bretton Woods institutions are becoming privileged interlocutors with regard to the right to development, from what we can gather from the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (paragraphs 48 and 51). It’s a bit like consulting Pinochet or Mobutu as experts on Human Rights.

The Special Rapporteur on the Independence of the Judiciary- refers in his report to the dialogue he established with the World Bank Because now, the World Bank is also concerned with the independence of the Judiciary.

The rapporteur could not have been more wrong.
In fact, the World Bank doesn’t have the slightest interest in helping to reinforce the independence of the judiciary. As we can see in a confidential World Bank report on legal and judicial reform in Russia, it’s program of work with regard to judicial systems aims to ensure that judges defend market agents, private property and contractual freedom against state intrusions.

This World Bank project is aimed at:

… developing legal education and training (to produce competent lawyers, judges and other legal officials required to defend and enforce the fights of market agents); and reforming the judiciary (the best laws, if inappropriately or inadequately enforced. can neither defend the private sector against encroachment by the state, nor against the exercise of monopoly power in the marketplace)” (para. 4).

” … if the judiciary branch acts independently and in an efficient manner, it becomes the best guarantor of property rights and contractual freedom” (para. 26).

Not one word in all eight pages on the role of the law and Judges in defending and guaranteeing Human Rights, whether individual or collective.

This is what, in the World Bank’s vocabulary, is called technical assistance for “Good governance”, based on the training of an elite of good administrators to protect the patrimony of the rich.

The undersigned NGOs (American Association of Jurists, Centre Europe-Tiers Monde, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples) would like to draw the attention of the Commission and to alert public opinion to the harm being inflicted on the Vienna Declaration, and to dominant practices on the global level.

Categories Campaigns HUMAN RIGHTS Statements Transnational Corporations
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