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Development and freedom
University of Oslo
Spring 2005
The role of human rights in contemporary globalization
It has been argued that there is a growing tendency to use international human rights as
tools for "tempering" the impact of free-market economic forces.
Discuss this position (you may chose to support it, argue against it or modify it).
Does the Right to Development provide a normative support for the position, and
does it indicate practical measures for "tempering" the impact of free-market forces?
Written by:
Terese Eriksen
Gingie Welsh
Asad Ali Durrani
Date: the 23rd of Mars, 2005
HUMR4701 - Development and Freedom
Spring 2005
The role of human rights in contemporary globalization
Historically, development has been seen as primarily profit and economic growth.
However, the notion of the right to development encompasses more than just economics. Its
purpose is to ensure that people have effective, sustainable, accountable development; in
accordance with international human rights. The Declaration on the Right Development (1986)
and its subsequent international resolutions and declarations, provides sufficient explanation
and guidelines as to what the content of the right to development entails. The Right to
Development provides a clear basis for sustainable, environmental, economical, human rights
respecting growth. One core element to ensuring the Right and success of Development is the
‘tempering’ of the impact free-market forces. The Right to Development like other rights
places obligations on the States to respect, protect and fulfil. These obligations help ensure
that international human rights are at the heart of the pursuit of development. For international
human rights are a means, and development is the ends.
A growing tendency of human rights as a tool for tempering the free-market economic
Whether or not it is true that there is a growing tendency to use international human
rights as tools for "tempering" the impact of free-market economic forces, one has first to
define what it means by growing tendency and tempering the impact of free-market. As for
growing tendency, there would be difficult to find quantitative data at all.
This is also a question that can be analysed from several perspectives, and therefore
producing a completely conclusive answer will be difficult. The pros and cons which will be
elaborated here shortly. There are arguments that a free-market economy is conducive for
development and for international human rights while there are others that argue against it. To
us it seems to be similar to the question of the egg and the hen. This is the distinction between
human rights and economic growth, and which one follows the other. And it is a distinction
between civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights.
Free-market is understood as "a market that is free from government interference,
prices rising and falling in accordance with supply and demand"1 and that is govern more by
the role of competition. The "Lee thesis" as referred to by Sen (1999:15) is where it is argued
that international human rights put restrictions on economical growth. Without economical
growth people will not have any opportunities to claim their rights. One issue of this is the
education question. Without wealth people have to send their children to work instead of
giving them a needed education that can provide them with the opportunity to get a better job.
Also economic rights are important because it can be linked to the right to live and not starve.
The process of globalization had increased competition among producers, leading
companies to increase profits at the expense of labour standards (UN Press Release, 1998).
Competition involves outsourcing and companies change manufacturers to push the prices of
The definition of "free market" is from; A Dictionary of Business. Oxford University Press, 2002. Oxford
Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Oslo University. 22 March 2005
HUMR4701 - Development and Freedom
Spring 2005
commodity down, which again acquire cheap labour. In that sense labour rights can be an
argument to temper the free-market economy, so as to not let the forces of free-market
violates human rights principles. This also involves the role of transnational corporations
(TNC) as a part in the global market economy, and their role of upholding human rights
issues, so as to not participate in child labour and slave labour and the like.
One argument for free-market in connections with human rights issues is that a free
market opens up to the opportunities to free transactions, which can be a source a source of
gaining wealth, a freedom in itself (Sen, 1999:25), and the other is that with free-market the
opportunities to a growth in income and income is expanded (ibid:26). It seems more that the
international human rights are used not to temper the impact of free-market but to add another
dimension to it.
Unbridled market forces and the normative challenges posed by the Right to
The right to development is perhaps one of the most contested human right. The
content and conception of the right to development is receiving increasing attention in the
wake of the wave of globalisation sweeping the world. Though globalisation is a
multidemensional phenomenon for our purpose we will restrict our discussion to its economic
aspects in the context of the impact and effect that the right to development has on it.
According to the reports of the Independent Expert on the Right to Development to the Open
Ended Working Group on the Right to Development of the ECOSOC the right to
development as elaborated in the Declaration on the Right to Development2, besides dealing
with the inalienability of the right, emphasises on the very important concept of the
‘processes’ of development.
Understood in this light the right to development requires reducing inequalities and
concentrations of wealth and economic power. Special emphasis is also placed on social
development issues such as education, health, gender balance and environmental protection.
On the normative level this conception of the right to development places these social
objectives on purely profit oriented economic forces of the globalisation phenomenon and
thereby reduces there adverse effects at least on the theoretical plane. However in the
obtaining international human rights system giving concrete reality to the normative
conception may prove tricky since the right till now lacks solid implementation mechanisms.
The right to development challenges the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) oriented
model for economic growth and development. It underscores the importance of reforming the
modes of production and emphasises the need for equitable distribution of wealth among
people. Equity and fairness are given an important role in the scheme coupled with reduced
dependence on market mechanisms alone. These but may require substantial international
cooperation. Indeed, once the right to development is seen in the context of a development
programme aiming at a sustained, equitable growth of resources, it becomes clear that
national action and international cooperation must reinforce each other in order to realize
rights in a manner that goes beyond the measures for realizing individual rights.
Article 1 of the Declaration on the Right to Development Adopted by General Assembly resolution 41/128 of 4
December 1986
HUMR4701 - Development and Freedom
Spring 2005
An important aspect of the right to development as a process is the concept of the
rights based approach to development. This concept entails that all human rights including
socio economic rights have to be realized through a participatory, accountable and transparent
process with equity in decision-making and sharing of the fruits of the process while
maintaining respect for civil and political rights3. Understood in this sense the right to
development at the very least ensures participation of all stake holders and requires that
market competition be bridled with equitable sharing of its proceeds. Secondly, the
objectives of development should be expressed in terms of claims or entitlements of rightholders which duty-bearers must protect and promote in accordance with international human
rights standards of equity and justice. Equity, which is essential to any notion of human rights
derived from the idea of equality of all human beings, is clearly associated with fairness or the
principles of a just society. In other words, the realization of the human right of development
must expand human development following the rights-based approach, thus improving equity
and fairness.
The right to development imposes obligations both on individual States - to ensure
equal and adequate access to essential resources - and on the international community - to
promote fair development policies and effective international cooperation. The international
community has the duty to cooperate to enable States to fulfil their obligation. This position
finds strong support in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action which recognizes
the obligation of all States, and multilateral institutions to cooperate to achieve the full
realization of the right to development4.
At the United Nations there is growing agreement to reign in the free market forces as
much as possible. It is being stressed that corporations should be aware of, and responsible for,
the impact of their activities on the communities in which they operate5. Viewed from the
argumentative and theoretical perspective the right to development seems very beautiful
however the legal framework available for realizing the right to development is extremely
Practical measures for tempering the impact of free market forces
Free-market and liberalization of the economy has eroded the government's ability to
take decisions in these areas. States need to play a bigger role in the economy and protection
of international human rights. The Right to Development recognizes the need for government
involvement, and for governments to monitor and temper the market forces in the best
interests of sustainable humane development. Such as, incorporating into the rules of trade
and investment the need for human rights impact assessments and the provision of
mechanisms for redress, they can encourage transnational corporations to take account of the
benefits to their fiscal bottom line that will flow from adherence to and support for human
Furthermore, the obligation to ‘protect’ rights requires the State to prevent violations
of such rights by third parties. Thus, the failure to ensure that private employers comply with
basic labour standards may amount to a violation of the right to work or the fight to just and
Third report of the independent expert on the right to development, Mr. Arjun Sengupta,
submitted in accordance with Commission resolution 2000/5
Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, as adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights on 25
June 1993.
The United Nations Global Compact 2000.
HUMR4701 - Development and Freedom
Spring 2005
favourable conditions of work. Multinational corporations, or the free-market economy, by
virtue of their belonging to the international community and being bound by the rules of the
international human rights framework, also remain accountable to that framework.
States need to ensure that all their resources are not overrun, and that they are properly
managed. As we have seen in the past mismanaged resources can result in a loss of livelihood
for persons, in turn impacting the national economy and affecting the international economy.
Therefore, the right to development requires the same fiscal and monetary discipline,
macroeconomic balance and competitive markets as any other form of prudent economic
management. The basic difference is that prudent management in furtherance of achieving the
right to development is expected to bring about a more equitable outcome of the economic
activities that make possible an improved realization of all the components of that right.
State involvement in the free-market force may be oxymoronic; however, it is
essential to ensuring that the right to development is achieved through sustainable and human
rights respecting means. The Right to Development does entail some restraint on free-market
forces; it involves more State and government participation, State obligations (respect, protect
and fulfil) accountability, transparency, sustainability, etc. However, these restraints help
ensure a progressive human right to development, in turn, with a respected and reasonably run
right to development, the world may have a healthier, more educated population contributing
to the economy, with the effects trickling down to the benefit of the free-market forces.
HUMR4701 - Development and Freedom
Spring 2005
SEN, AMARTYA (1999) "Ch 1: The Perspective of Freedom" in Development as Freedom.
New York: Anchor Books
"free market" A Dictionary of Business. Oxford University Press, 2002. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford
University Press. Oslo University. 22 March
2005 <>
UN Press Release, NGO/308, PI/1081. (1998) "Globalization and free markets no excuse for
lower human rights standards, panellists tell annual dpi/ngo conference." Link: