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Monday, October 31, 2011

My Underwatered Down Response to John Morrison of the Institute for Human Rights and Business:

My Underwatered Down Response to John Morrison of the Institute for Human Rights and Business:

We the (Natural) People Are Asserting Our Sovereignty. Lead or Get Out of Our Way.

The extent to which the latest and greatest UN convention/framework/statement/process on human rights makes any elite-controlled institutions of power (see the second to last paragraph of John Morrison’s piece for an incomplete list) more responsive to the rights and needs of human beings will be dictated by democratic force. Effective human rights policies will not be achieved by semantic sparring between corporate lawyers and nominal reformers.

I and most of the human rights activists I know, have the utmost respect for Mary Robinson and John Ruggie as individuals, but I’ve begun to wonder if that respect is entirely reciprocated. Ruggie, Robinson, and rest of the corporate social responsibility establishment don’t seem prepared to acknowledge the new reality that popular patience has worn thin for the naive strategies they champion and legitimize.

That the above statement is news to anybody only lends further credence to my earlier blog posting on this subject. Discontent with gradualist and elite led approaches is manifesting everywhere, but somehow leaders just aren’t getting the message that it is time to change tacks.

Agreements negotiated based upon existing power relations are the problem, not the solution.

Sadly, NGO’s such as the Institute for Human Rights and Business and even some more activist oriented organizations, are not leading the movement for justice so much they are stringing it along. The real human rights leaders are Occupying public spaces all around the world.

The simple fact is that corporations and economic elites have too much power over governance and governments. As any negotiator or game theorist worth her salt will tell you, power is never relinquished voluntarily. Power must be met with power. I am not suggesting violence, but I am suggesting coercion. Laws are coercive, strikes are coercive, civil disobedience is coercive.

Frameworks are not coercive; conventions are not coercive. Multi-stakeholder negotiated non-binding agreements might be more aptly called: “occasional marginally enforceable agreements in principle.” They can only be enforced only to the extent that the aggrieved and structurally disempowered parties are able to muster impressive publicity campaigns or underfunded lawsuits.

It is time to change approaches.

We don’t have to presume that corporations have an equal say in the creation of human rights policy. We need to remind ourselves and our leaders that human beings should not live or die at the will of institutions. We need to demand that institutions – more precisely corporations -- operate at the will of the people and not vice-versa. I suggest that the civil unrest we are seeing in the United States is a testament to the fact that we are at a historical juncture where confrontation is necessary to re-establish sovereignty of people over institutions.

It is time for leaders to lead or get out of our way.