PUCL Bulletin, July 2002

Globalisation and Human Rights
-- By Pushkar Raj

The impact of globalisation as it becomes evident in economic sphere has not left social and political sphere untouched. In the economic sphere as there is greater emphasis on privatisation and opening of economy for foreign capital, in political sphere too, the first world's institutions and standards are projected as a model. Individualism is re-emphasised in recognition of not only a form of individual's freedom of creating wealth and property but also as living a life of dignity that entails availability of basic necessities of life like food, water and shelter. Freedom from want, fear and insecurity is the basic condition to be human. As the globalisation sets in the reality of Indian state's multiple failures have come in glare more sharply than before.

The rising poverty and unemployment, the mal-treatment of dalits and women in society, rampant child labour, illiteracy, high dropout of children from school, burgeoning corruption, nontransparent bureaucracy and unaccountable police force all have come to stand out in light of fruits of globalisation in form of acquired and manifested riches of a section of society that has benefited from the opening of economy and privatisation.

The bells heralding death of socialism injected capitalism with a new vigour that assisted in its assuming a new form that is globally pervasive in form of Globalisation. One would agree, given the post soviet socialism experience, that socialism does not generate wealth to the extent capitalism does. Even the Indian experience with mixed economy, with state having a significant part in the economic affairs and failing miserably, testifies to this contention. But to the credit of socialism, it presents with a mechanism of distribution of whatever little it produces. Even if one accepts the argument that the Globalisation would usher an era of prosperity, an even distribution of wealth among the nations, regions and people of the world would be a real challenge before it.
Indian constitution sets out goal for the nation to strive forward to a democratic and socialist republic securing social, economic and political justice for its citizens.

A welfare society involves the concept of social justice wherein the marginalised sections of society and the working class get protection from the state. For this it is pertinent that welfare measures of the state as a matter of policy and strong labor laws for the protection of the working class are in place. Any deviation from such a policy would place these sections in a state of vulnerability of exploitation at the hands of big business. State must meet the challenge of striking the fine balance between the economic interests of its people and forces of globalisation.

New economic policy under mantra of Globalisation has led to accelerated economic growth in India. It is argued that more the wealth, higher the standard of life . But the question that arises is for whom? Since in all likelihood, the wealth would get concentrated in fewer and fewer hands one may visualise an unequal society where a few live in luxury and a large number of people do not have access to the basic amenities of life, like food, drinking water, shelter, protection against deadly diseases and extreme weather. For example in Delhi the number of swanky cars have increased manifold in the decade of nineties, so has rickshaw pullers whose number went up from 45963 in 1993 to 70401 in 2001. (Rashtyria Sahara, Hindi Daily, 26 May 2002). Reports of farmers committing suicides in hundreds in the state of Andhra and Punjab, relatively prosperous states of India, are disturbing.

Beside in Punjab, reports suggest an average small farmer is in deep debt, (ranging between Rs 6 lakh to Rs 75 lakh) partly because of shrinking support of government to the agriculture and partly due to the use of imported seeds and pesticides. In many villages to bring the problem into focus and attract attention of the government the farmers have put themselves and their land on sale. (Hindustan Times, 21 May 2002).

Transnational corporation have production operations throughout the world. They are guided by their policy of minimum cost of production that leads to higher profits. The cheap and unorganized labor is one attraction they would invest in a developing country like India as they would pay them barely survival wages and keep them in unhealthy conditions. Taking advantage of immobility of labor they are free to move with their capital, machinery and equipment to one country to other blackmailing the host country to adhere to their conditionalities.

TNC's promote a consumer culture wherever they go as they thrive on it. "The population of the United States has used more energy in the past fifty years than humanity has burned up in its entire history. If everyone were to consume as many resources as the American citizen, the World's annual production would have to be 130 times higher than it was in 1979!" This unlimited wants or consumerism, has the potential of violently interfering with the ecosystem and environment. It is now fairly well documented that Green House Gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane blanket the earth and warm up the atmosphere with disastrous consequences to sustainable living. Already India is experiencing unprecedented climatic changes. Recent heat wave in coastal Andhra that claimed close to a thousand lives should serve as a warning to all concerned in this regard.

The Challenge Ahead: Good Governance Globalisation is a reality. One cannot escape its forces. And there is no denying that globalisation has led to the marginalisation of a large number of already vulnerable sections of society. The challenge before the state is not how to fight globalisation but how to manage it with good governance. The task enjoins the Indian state to work at two levels. One, the arrangement it enter into and the safety net that it promotes will determine whether it exploits globalisation or get exploited by it, and secondly, how best and efficient it makes the existing constitutional and institutional mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights of the citizen.

While human rights have been universalized and internationalized and some international mechanisms to monitor their observance has been formulated, it is the state that remains the chief authority to implement them. More important is the fact that the state uses the institutional set up to the optimum level to ensure the protection of the human rights with in the country. It is a common refrain that the existing institutional machinery in the country with best of the inherent laws and powers vested with them remain under utilised and lacking in performance. The functioning and performance of these institutions is at times hostage to political considerations and at times lack of commitment to good governance. Globalisation presents the Indian State with an opportunity to exploit it by making the good governance a focused affair. The good governance is linked with what UNDP's Human Development Reports call `building capabilities and widening the choices of all'. Of course, the capability building approach is any day better than the so called basic needs or minimum needs approach.

As Amatya Sen points out, needs is a more passive concept than capability and it is arguable that the perspective of positive freedom links naturally with capabilities (what can the person do) rather than with the fulfillment of their needs (what can be done for them?). As rightly asked and answered by UNHCR chairman Mary Robinson, 'We are at the edge of a big idea - the shaping of ethical globalisation. But how? We need something more prosaic: "implementation, implementation, implementation". The rigour of a legal regime can help to underpin the values of ethical globalisation. The next phase must be less aspirational, less theoretical and abstract, and more about keeping solemn promises made.

(Second Global Ethic Lecture, University of Tubingen, Germany, 2001)

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