Time for Human Rights to come under business responsibility?

In this hyper-charged age of globalization, where trade barriers are broken down and manufacturing is globally distributed; both in the intellectual sense and in its physical avataar. There has been a huge bit of hype over corporate citizenship and its onus to protect the rights of its workers.  Corporate Social Responsibility and its ISO 26000 standard, includes Human Rights as a metric for good corporate citizenship.  Well, this vocalic buzz, is indeed positive for workers rights in general as the spotlight and accountability increases in these cases. But the signals we get from the media regarding workers rights is not really all hunky dory. We have had the Foxconn episode, with poor workers conditions in the factories which manufacture Apple products such as the iconic iPhone. ‘Sweatshop’ labor has been the norm in the textile industry since a while, the sports goods industry is not a stranger as well in this discourse on workers protection. From Pakistan to Bangladesh to factories on the Chinese East Coast to Indonesia, workers rights are flouted without any batting of an eye lid.

The reason for the reduction in workers rights and protection has been due to the commodification of labor into  ‘a particular exchange value’, a cog in the ‘value chain’, classic Marx again makes a comeback as an analytic instrument of analysis. The whole paradigm of outsourcing compounds the matter of responsibility of implementation of rights protection and adds layers of complexity in regulatory affairs. Some firms like Nike do not manufacture anything of their own; they outsource everything, different parts of their products are made by different suppliers, and someone else finally assembles the product. How do transnational brands ensure worker safety and fairness? Suppliers competitively bid for contracts often on the lowest value offering; the minimum bid.  The problem,  is the issue of the minimum bid- the minimum is not simply the best for the worker.

Due to globalization, as transnational corporations move to un-chartered territories in search for resources and new markets. Chinese mining firms in Zambia, are facing labor unrest for human rights violations recently according to a Time Magazine online post – http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2011/11/04/human-rights-watch-reports-abuses-in-chinese-run-mines-in-zambia/?xid=tweetbut

The question which arises here is: Are standards for transnational corporations the same across various jurisdictions- developing and the developed world. Is legal compliance the same in Zambia and London?  The answer is sadly no, the institutional power of the nation state differs from the global south to the industrialized west. Nation States in developing countries are simply powerless in front of multinational corporations because of the sheer wealth and ability of the corporate behemoths. In the light of the limitations presented above in my analysis, it is in fact time, to move beyond the rhetoric and walk the talk regarding Human Rights and to implement the tenants of them, in order to truly treat the human for what the human actually is, beyond the the ‘user value’ determined by the corporation.




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