International Principles

and Standards of Human Rights

what are they, how do they work,

and how do they affect NIKE?

Jennings Durand
Economics, Ethics, and Impacts of the
Global Economy: The Nike Example
Andrews, Didow, Jones, and Peacock
April 30, 1998

Introduction

The past two decades have given rise to rapid development of information technology, to the spread of political democracy, and to an increasingly global economy. Business leaders, politicians, academicians, and the media have emphasized that the r egions of the world are becoming more and more interconnected and interdependent. With this increased global awareness have come both excitement over the potential benefits of cooperation and anxiety over the challenges of framing a system that functions smoothly despite the integration of diverse cultures, religious ideologies, social habits, business relationships, and levels of economic development. The basic goal for those seeking mutual benefit from increased global interaction is to make strides i n science, technology, agriculture, and the arts while respecting human dignity.

For centuries, mankind has sought the formation of systems to protect human dignity. Religious approaches teach self-discipline, commandments of living, and “golden rules.” Legal approaches teach the logic of written rules, the importance of info rmed judgments, and the processes for seeking redress or revision. Governmental approaches teach the importance of the individual, the power of the majority, and the need to serve the good of the group. Economic approaches teach the carrot; the stick; t he effects of rising tides on wee, tiny ships; and the motivating value of dollars and Deutschemarks.

Since World War II, the international community has worked to protect human dignity through the development of globally accepted concepts and standards. Taken together, these standards are known as standards of “human rights.” The system has deve loped from the recognition that the religious, legal, governmental, and economic approaches to protecting human dignity cannot currently span the world with any consensus; the internal applications of such approaches differ from nation to nation.

 

 

The United Nations, the international body created upon the ashes of the destruction of World War II, set human rights as a basic principle in its mission:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

1. To maintain international peace and security . . . ;

2. To develop friendly relations among nations based upon respect for the principle of equal rights . . . ;

3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinctio n as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

- The United Nations Charter, Chapter 1, Article 1

 

This paper seeks to provide an accurate if shallow glimpse into the system of international human rights. First, it discusses the basic concept of a human right. Next, it addresses the concept of economic development within a human rights context; the development dilemma is a common point of confusion, and reflecting upon it is essential to understanding the application of human rights in world of both super-rich and super-poor nations and individuals. Third, it disc usses in basic terms the existing international agreements which have set the standards for the protection and provision of human rights; as is the case with any popularized topic of discussion, society far too often discusses abuses against and the impor tance of human rights without actually studying what those rights are. Next, the paper considers how the standards of human rights are applied in practice within both the international community and individual state governments. Finally, the paper discu sses the role of Nike -- not as a specific company but as an example of a large, multi-national business -- within the human rights system.

 

What are “Human Rights”

Though the term “human rights” is used quite commonly, there is much dissent as to its actual definition. In order to define human rights, one must first examine why the definition is not simply, “The rights that one derives from the condition of being human.” After considering such concepts as duration across time, universality to all cultures, practicality of implementation, and perceived importance of generally accepted rights, one sees the problems of using the simple definition.

First, one must consider why the concept of human rights changes over time and from culture to culture. The idea of human rights is not new to the post-World War II era. Scholars have discussed the concept for millennia. According to Youcef Boua ndel, author of Human Rights and Comparative Politics, the process traces

back as far as the Greek and Roman philosophers. Different religions, cultures, philosophies, and circumstances have made significant contributions towards the understanding and broadening of such a concept”

Thus, whereas religions often refer to divinely inspired tablets or manuscripts which list the rules of behavior for its believers, the codes of human rights are not set down in stone. The concept changes from age to age a nd culture to culture. Human rights development does not occur due to flashes of brilliance by individual philosophers. Instead, it grows in response to changes of technology, social structures, and economic and political systems when such changes infri nge upon human dignity.

Essentially, a human right becomes newly recognized once that right has been violated. For example, imagine a time when there was no current or past practice of slavery -- a time when the idea did not exist. This society would have no stated mora l nor legal principle: “one shall not enslave another person.” Such a principle would be akin to the United States Congress passing a bill declaring that no US citizen may pass through an extra-galactic species-enhancer in order to become a super-human d emigod. There would be neither context nor practical implication of such principles.

If, however, a member of the no-slavery society decided to make another person his slave, the oppressed individual or someone on his behalf would raise protest. Eventually, given significant public awareness of the new infringement upon human dign ity called “slavery,” the society would make moral judgments against it and pass laws making the practice illegal.

Changing concepts of human rights do not imply changing human rights. Once the institution of slavery was invented, members of the formerly no-slave society recognized the need to proclaim it illegal. The fact that they had not done so previously does not mean that they had previously believed that slavery was not an infringement of a human right. Rather, they simply had never considered “the right not to be enslaved” as a right in need of protection. Thus the right had existed before the socie ty’s concept of that right.

In addition, a the violation of a human right does not depend upon society’s recognition that the right has been violated. In the previously no-slavery society, the first slave knew immediately that his human rights were being violated. Had the s ociety never considered his plight and recognized his enslavement as a violation of a previously unrecognized human right, the enslavement would nonetheless have been a violation of his human right. In fact, the most valuable aspect of a human right is t hat any human can appeal for its protection if he or she feels that it has been violated. Generally, once a society has recognized a human right, “lower level” rights will have been formed so that a human right violation would also be a violation of law, of contract, of statute, or of constitution. However, the only course for the first slave -- having no lower level rights protecting the unknown institution of slavery -- was to appeal to his peers on the basis of human rights. Jack Donnelly, author of Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, comments that “the real strength and value of human rights is that they are available precisely when the claims of legal and other lower rights fail.”

The idea that rights exist whether or not society has realized its existence implies that a complete list of human rights is impossible. Any society’s concept of human rights is based only upon its distinct personal and inherited experiences with violations of those rights.

Thus, one cannot answer the question which introduced this section: “What are human rights?” Instead, one must ask, “What is this society’s present concept of human rights?” It follows that the definition of human rights must revised from “the ri ghts that one derives from the condition of being human,” to “the rights that this society recognizes as deriving from the condition of being human.”

This new definition of human rights begs a more precision concerning the term “society.” A society can refer to any group bound by common interests: a group of 20 people who meet twice per week to study shoes, 300 million people known as citizens of the United States, or creatures who are called human beings. Clearly, as previously discussed, each specific society would have its own specific concept of human rights. Youcef Bouandel cites cultural differences as the biggest challenge to developin g a truly international set of human rights standards:

Concepts alien to particular societies are the source of the difficulties surrounding the process as a whole. In many instances, problems are viewed from one angle: the viewpoint from which the scholar sees the phenomenon in their own societies. What can be considered as a human right in a given country might not be automatically considered as such in a different country. The difference in perception, in turn, leads to a completely different understanding of what a violation is, and thus to an overall misplacing of countries’ positions if a misunderstanding is undertaken.

 

To further complicate the issue that different cultures have inherently different conceptions of human rights, one must recall that human rights is not the only system that has been created to protect human dignity. Ceding the fact that the idea of human rights has existed for centuries, Jack Donnelly argues that human rights did not become an applied system of protecting human dignity until the industrial revolution in 17th Century England:

. . . prior to the creation of capitalist market economies and modern nation-states, the problems that human rights seek to redress, the particular violations of human dignity that they seek to protect, either did not exist or were not widely perceived to be central social problems. The rise of a monetized market economy based on largely unlimited private property rights gradually destroyed the social bases of traditional communities and created separate and distinct individuals (in pl ace of persons who are ascriptively defined by their position in a status hierarchy) who would become the bearers of human rights.

It is tempting to conclude that human rights are a western concept due to the fact that the development of human rights as a system to protect human dignity arose due to industrialization in the capitalist economies of nort hwest Europe. This conclusion is erroneous.

The concept of human rights was developed by western society, but that does not make human rights a western concept. Take the example of another system of protecting human dignity: Christianity. The religion was developed in the Middle East, yet one should not conclude that it is a Middle Eastern religion. Christianity has taken root in the minds of humans living all over the globe. If one were to tell a fundamentalist Southern Baptist that he was practicing a Middle Eastern religion, he might be inclined to disagree.

However, it is certainly true that a system might be more likely to be practiced and preached in the region where it was developed. Christianity was not widely practiced in Chapel Hill in the year 50 AD because the society of human beings living i n what is now called Chapel Hill shared none of the specific experiences with the Middle Eastern men and women who had been influence by a guy named Jesus. Over time, however, as stories of those experiences were shared, they became familiar to people ac ross the world. Many, but not all, of those people chose to accept the religion as, among other things, a system of protecting human dignity.

Again, one must avoid making a tempting conclusion. The fact that the sharing of experiences might lead people in other societies to accept an ideology developed within a specific region does not mean that all people who share those experiences wi ll in fact accept the ideology. There are quite a few people on the planet who have heard all about Jesus but have chosen not to live by the religion that he inspired.

Thus, the system known as human rights was developed in the west, but it might be adhered to in other parts of the world once they undergo similar industrial and economic transformations. However, not every society that “develops” will not automat ically accept the principle of human rights. This concept has proven quite difficult for many western scholars of human rights to understand.

For example, in Indonesia, a country oft criticized for its perceived violations of human rights, President Suharto’s common response to complaints about his government’s policies is that “human rights” is a method of ensuring human dignity -- but not the only method. He objects that foreign critics, though speaking with good intentions, speak from a viewpoint that is inherently not Indonesian.

Thus, even using the definition “the rights that this society recognizes as deriving from the condition of being human,” one must be cognizant that specific societies do not necessarily recognize the same rights. Furthermore, one must bear in mind that not all societies accept any concept of human rights. When speaking about international human rights, debate over a specific society’s adherence to human rights must hold that society accountable for only those agreements into which it has specific ally entered.

The next two issues to consider when investigating the concept of human rights are the perceived importance and the practicality of implementation of rights in those nations that have actually agreed to uphold them.

The international community’s current conception of human rights is presented over a series of documents and covenants among nations. Scholars furiously debate the process of such categorizing the internationally recognized rights. The most com mon breakdown of rights separates economic, social, and cultural rights from civil and political rights. Arguing that the common compartmentalization contributes to judgment of one group against the other, Jack Donnelly lists eight basic categories: pers onal rights, legal rights, civil liberties, political rights, subsistence rights, economic rights, social rights, and cultural rights. Donnelly contends that many scholars have adopted an idea of “basic” human rights for the sake of political expedienc y. By doing so, they make a tacit implication that beyond a few “basic” rights are numerous “non-basic” rights which are somehow not quite as important. Using such problematic logic, individuals and states curtail their criticism of violations of the “n on-basic” rights.

The simple separation of the economic, social, and cultural rights from civil and political rights into separate categories does not inherently create problems. However, subsequent judgments that some rights are more important than others creates systemic problems of implementation. The uneasy relationship between two post-World War II global entities -- the capitalist marketplace and the commitment to internationally accepted human rights -- has led to judgment-making on which human rights are “ basic” and which can be ignored. Economists, business leaders, and politicians generally place development as a higher priority than economic, social, and cultural human rights. William Warden, Executive Director of the University of Calgary’s Internatio nal Centre, characterizes the philosophy:

In a world where the primary goal of the great majority of the people is to eke out a subsistence-level existence, human rights activism is regarded as a “luxury” affordable by the more affluent and the few.

Operating in a profit-oriented business environment, nations seeking development make themselves appeal to potential investors by reducing labor and operating costs to bare minimums. Casting aside possible criticism over h uman rights infringements as “luxury” criticisms, governments enact policies which convince or force citizens to accept certain short term sacrifices of their economic human rights in order to reach a long-term development utopia, a utopia where human rig hts will presumably be a luxury afforded to all.

Donnelly discusses what he calls the three trade-offs. First, a “needs trade-off” means that individuals accept high poverty levels in order to encourage long-term capital accumulation and reinvestment. Second, the “equality trade-off” actually encourages a growth in wage-disparity so that the wealthy might gain increased expendable capital deemed necessary for investment and growth. Third, the “liberty trade-off” is meant to eliminate the pesky complaints from those suffering the consequences of development; their complaints might derail a careful plan by the state to increase the nation’s wealth and later redistribute that wealth throughout its citizenship.

In order to gain long term security, some people are asked, first, to suffer poverty, second, to gracefully accept the ensuing accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few, and, third, to allow the infringement upon their political and civil libe rties to protest. Again, according to Donnelly, conventional wisdom asserts that such trade-offs are “necessary, temporary, and self-correcting.” Donnelly masterfully guts this wisdom:

The political components of inequitable growth are stressed here because the orthodox trade-off theses . . . are blindly apolitical. All three trade-offs aim to remove the political and moral restraints of human rights in order to free the state to direct a maximally efficient development strategy. The assumption seems to be that this liberated state apparatus will act as a neutral, even beneficent, instrument to technocratic management. In fact, though, the removal of the moral and political constraints of human rights only protects the power of the established elites. The trade-offs exclude the mass of the population, but not the traditional elites, who with their new allies in the bureaucracies and public enterprises, are given a free hand. The exclusion of the masses is thus perpetuated, even reinforced, and the poor receive few benefits in return for their sacrifices.

Economic growth . . . will not assure increased enjoyment of economic and social rights. That is a contingent political consequence of the distribution of power and benefits.

 

One should not infer from Donnelly’s comments that development itself is at odds with human rights. Rather, he argues that economic development does not inherently assure improvements in human rights. Developing natio ns must refrain from minimizing the importance of economic or other rights. In fact, their governments must ensure a respect for human rights at every step of the development process. William Warden reemphasizes the point, contending that

governments in a growing number of countries are belatedly coming to the conclusion that development, prosperity, and human rights are inextricably linked. Genuine respect for the individual and dignity cannot exist without development ; nor can development have a substantial and fundamental impact without parallel progress in human rights.

This section, “What are ‘Human Rights,’” proposed that society cannot hope to present a list of the inalienable human rights. It can only aspire to solidify its own concept of human rights. Just as historical trends change the perceived needs for recognizing human rights, different cultural settings complicate the ability to form a universal concept of human rights or even a universal agreement to live by the system of human rights. Furthermore, this section discussed the problematic nature of s eparating and judging the importance of individual human rights against one another.

Despite enormous challenges, the modern world has developed certain international standards of human rights: “the rights that this society recognizes as deriving from the condition of being human.”

 

 

International Standards

 

The modern concept of human rights has been developing since the 1940’s. The international community -- through the United Nations, regional bodies, and individual state governments -- has been shaping the protection and provision of human rights from broad, loose concepts towards more specific, binding documents.

Jan Martenson, UN Under-Secretary-General for Human Rights, describes the UN’s conception of how the system of human rights should work:

The United Nations’ human rights programme is carried out in an action-oriented, factual, and objective manner and is founded conceptually upon the triangular relationship between legislation, implementation, and information/education.

To realize the programme initiatives, Martenson sees four important steps by the international community. First, the UN must spread awareness of and emphasize the importance of international standards of human rights. S econd, the UN must provide technical assistance to help nations strengthen individual laws and institutions. Third, human rights monitors must target specific issues which require special international attention; examples of such topics are women’s right s, children’s rights, and abuse of migrant farm workers. Fourth, the UN and the national organizations which it supports must remain vigilant for abuses of accepted human rights. Obviously, none of the four steps were possible before completion of the t ask of creating international standards.

In 1941, amidst a wartime climate swirling with obvious conflicts and rumors of little-known yet massive atrocities towards human dignity, United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a speech envisioning an international struggle towards universal acceptance of four essential freedoms:

The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want -- which . . . means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peace-time life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which . . . means a world-wide reduction of armaments in such a thorough fashion that no nation would be able to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- everywhere in the world.

AsbjÆ rn Eide, Director of the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights, calls Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms Speech” the fundamental vision for the modern struggle to protect human rights. The challenge of such rhetoric is translating the idealistic goals into practi cal, clearly defined doctrine.

The formation in 1945 of the UN provided a strong body capable of beginning that translation. In its first session, the UN created the Human Rights Commission and called for it to work towards a “basic international statement of the inalienable an d inviolable rights of all members of the human family.” On December 10, 1948, two years of work on the statement came to fruition when the member nations of the UN unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Universal Declaration), which, in the words of former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali,

represents a major milestone in human progress, bringing realization to the [United Nations] Charter principle that universal respect for human rights is the common concern of all Governments and all peoples. The Universal Declaration is a document of widest significance, serving in its field as the conscience of the world and a standard against which the attitudes of societies and Governments can be measured.

Since it is an official UN proclamation, the Universal Declaration is considered to apply a broad moral authority to all members of the UN. Recalling the challenges discussed in the previous section, “What are ‘Human Rights,’” one can realize the enor mous step that the Universal Declaration represents for the international community.

Familiarity with the Universal Declaration is paramount for a full understanding of the modern concept of human rights. Thus, while it might be considered awkward form to list the 30 articles of the document within the text of a paper, it would be less justifiable to relegate these fundamental principles to either an appendix or brief summations. The articles of the Universal Declaration are:

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, prop erty, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or un der any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all other forms.

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any inc itement to such discrimination.

Article 8: Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11: 1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on the account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12: No one shall be subjugated to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such inter ference or attacks.

Article 13: 1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14: 1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15: 1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16: 1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its disso lution.

2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17: 1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of this property.

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manif est his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of fron tiers.

Article 20: 1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21: 1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equiva lent free voting procedures.

Article 22: Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23: 1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitations of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25: 1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to se curity in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26: 1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all natio ns, racial and religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27: 1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28: Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29: 1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of m eeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare of a democratic society.

3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised in contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30: Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth here in.

 

On the day that the UN formally adopted the Universal Declaration, the General Assembly directed the Human Rights Commission to extend the force of the Declaration through the creation of a legally binding treaty. When the Commission had trouble aligning all human rights concurrently, they decided to designate sub-categories of the rights and to split the proposed treaty into two separate covenants for those categories. Thus, in 1966, numerous member states of the UN ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Rather than establishing additional rights to the Universal Declaration, the two covenants elaborate upon the Declaration’s previously stated rights. More significantly, the covenants established the procedures for UN monitoring of ratifying state s’ adherence to the human rights doctrines. UN Under-Secretary -General for Human Rights Jan Martenson claims that the UN has created

A system of committees of independent experts charged with critically examining State compliance with their international undertakings, encouraging improved respect for human rights, and dealing with individual complaints.

 

For example, Part IV of the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) stipulates that its signatory governments (there are currently 99 states who have adopted the CESCR) submit detailed reports conce rning the measures taken and progress made in observing the rights of the covenant. Reports are reviewed by the Economic and Social Council of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The confidential reports cover situations of systemic abuses rather than particular incidents. In general, the UN Commission on Human Rights is perceived to be an informational body to publicize issues with member states and the international community. However, the Commission gained critical investigative authority when the 1970 passage of UN Resolution 1503 established confidential procedures for the Commission to examine individual allegations of “a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights” covered in the CESCR.

Part IV of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) establishes a Human Rights Committee which can request reports from its signatory governments and, after closed meetings, offer recommendations “with a view to a friendly so lution of the matter.” Furthermore, the CCPR offered two “optional protocols” to the states which ratified the covenant itself. The first optional protocol offers individuals the chance to file complaints of human rights violations made by signatory s tates. The second optional protocol states that its ratifying states “must take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty.” The “optional” aspect of both the covenant and the associated protocols weaken the effectiveness of the Human Rights Committee. Ninety-five nations, roughly half of the UN member states, have adopted the CCPR. Furthermore, there have been examples of inadequate enforcement of the information exchange and reports by those who have signed the CCPR. Jack Donnelly r emarks:

The reports of many countries are thorough and revealing, but others are farces, and some are not even submitted (as illustrated by the extreme case of Zaire, due in 1978 but still not submitted [in 1988] despite ten reminders.

The two UN covenants and the Universal Declaration, collectively known as The International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR), are the fundamental documents which set the international standards for the protection and assurance of human rights. Despite his concerns about the forthrightness of some nation’s reports to the UN and the weak enforcement of its doctrines, Donnelly asserts,

The list of rights in the IBHR can be seen as resting on a moral vision of human nature that views human beings as equal and autonomous individuals who are entitled to equal concern and respect.

 

In addition to the international standards established by the UN, governments have formed a number of regional human rights organization. According to Jan Martenson, the major purpose of the IBHR is to encourage the adoption of its principles in l ower levels -- regional covenants, national constitutions, and national legal systems:

Important though international standard-setting and implementation are, in the final analysis it is on the national and local levels that human rights are enjoyed.

The major regional regimes are based in Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

The European human rights standards are based upon the 1949 Council of Europe, the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the 1961 European Social Charter. Taken together, they list a set of huma n rights that is similar to that given by the IBHR. However, the European regime shows a commitment to those rights with strong monitoring, decision making, and sanctions that go beyond the controls used by the UN. The European Commission on Human Righ ts and the European Court of Human Rights work to thoroughly review the legislative bodies of the member nations and to make recommendations to nations to help bring their laws and practices in line with the human rights goals of the region. The effect iveness of the European Commission and the European Court is based not so much upon more effective language or legislation as upon the deep commitment of individual nations, similar interpretations of the practical implications of human rights, and a taci t pressure upon the nations of Europe to join their peers. Another reason for the depth of the European commitment to human rights is Europe’s wealth. Most of the European nations have the luxury of avoiding the previously discussed development dilemm a; without reasonable or unreasonable worry of economic collapse, they can advocate full protection and provision of human rights for all of its citizens.

The European region exemplifies an important concept concerning international standards of human rights: the espoused values of the UN and its regional counterparts are only as effective as the individual nations’ commitment to enacting them. The strength of the European region’s human rights bodies lies in the European nations’ widespread acceptance of their principles at the governmental level.

With slightly less fervor than Europe, the Americas have developed a regional commitment to human rights through several organizations and doctrines. The 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights closely parallel the rights listed in the UN’s IBHR. The Americas’ monitoring bodies are the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Court hears cases filed by states, non-governmental or ganizations, or individuals. The Commission is mainly an information gathering and distributing center, though it makes recommendations to American governments about bringing their policies in line with regional standards on human rights. A particular s trength of the American system is that the Commission is a self-operating component of the Organization of American States (OAS), and it can respond to complaints against any OAS member state whether or not it is a signatory to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man or the American Convention on Human Rights. A weakness of the American region’s human rights commitments is based in its wide diversity of economic development status. Ian Brownlie, an Oxford University Professor of Intern ational Law and the editor of Basic Documents on Human Rights, explains:

. . . in the absence of general social and economic development, the position relating to civil and political rights is itself precarious. The successful use of international machinery to improve standards of government must normally de pend upon the existence of a certain, reasonably uniform, level of development in the States concerned.

The nations of Africa, by action of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), have accepted the standards set forth in the IBHR, but their monitoring, recommendations, and sanctions have been displaced due to an aversion from intervening in nations’ internal politics. However, the OAU has taken positive action on behalf of human rights victims of former colonial southern Africa.

The Asian region suffers from a lack of national commitments to applying the principles of the IBHR. The only prominent Asian organization that is associated with human rights is the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and its activit ies are extremely limited. Some Asian governments, like their counterparts in areas of Latin America and the Middle East, have found Western governments’ verbal love affair with human rights disingenuous when taken in context with their political and e conomic foreign policies.

In addition to the bedrock human rights standards established by the United Nations and regional covenants, single-issue declarations and organizations have contributed to the global concept of universal human rights. The first such single-issue p arty was the International Labor Organization (ILO), established with the Treaty of Versailles. The ILO concentrates on workers’ rights, a sub-set of human rights and a universal concern. The strength of the organization is a highly professional review committed comprised of three levels of representation: workers, employers, and state representatives. The committee reviews individual state reports to the UN’s Commission on Human Rights regarding the nations’ adherence to employment standards of human rights as proclaimed in the IBHR, the Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and numerous covenants put organized by the ILO itself. The ILO recommendations are thorough, impartial, and well heeded.

Other single-issue advocacy groups have gained international attention. While many of the fundamental and more elaborate documents on human rights deal with a wide range of topic, single-issue group and covenants keep a sharp focus on specific obj ectives. While able to provide incisive analysis, such movements avoid hesitant commitments of nations who might agree with one article of a covenant but not another that deals with a completely different topic. In addition to the more full commitment o f individual nations, the single-issue campaigns are able to rapidly increase state and public awareness of issues of widespread importance. Thus, there have been numerous successful UN supported single-issue movements such as those concerning genocide ( 1948), the status of refugees (1951), the specific rights of women (1953), racial discrimination (1964), disappearances (1980), summary and arbitrary executions (1982), torture (1984), and religious intolerance (1986).

Having briefly sketched some international standards of and institutions to protect human rights, one must consider the conditions of monitoring nations’ adherence to those principles. Conceding the point that effective monitoring is important, th e first issue to be addressed is which nations should be monitored.

The first point is obvious: advocates of human rights should monitor only those nations which have specifically agreed to respecting human rights standards. No matter how deeply one society’s belief might be in the system it uses to protect human dignity, that society clearly holds no moral authority to force another society to accept that system.

The second point is question to debate: advocates of human rights should not monitor societies which were coerced to accept human rights standards. Consider the case of two societies involved in the production of music; one society is a band of mu sicians, and the other is a recording and production conglomerate. Imagine that they hold two completely different opinions concerning the value of music. The band holds its value to be the ability to communicate moods, images, and messages to listeners . The production company holds its value to be the ability to sell compact discs. Suppose that the company offers the band a $5 million contract to make a recording that includes one pre-written song for which the company’s research predicts widespread popularity. If the band accepts the contract, does it necessarily change it’s conception on the value of music?

One might argue that numerous nations which have signed human rights documents or entered into the UN -- a step which requires acceptance of the UN’s

general operating principles including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights --

were coerced into doing so. Consider that most nations which first promoted the use of human rights as a system to protect human dignity are also the nations that hold most of the world’s purse-strings. Clearly, a nation that endeavors to develop its economy greatly benefits from access to the capital concentrated in the hands of the nations which advocate human rights. Noting the developed nations’ connection of human rights to foreign loans and investment, one could argue that developing nations a ccepted certain human rights standards as a precondition for attracting investment. By publicly accepting principles of human rights, the developing nations are not actually changing their conceptions towards the proper method to protect human dignity.

The debate over the validity of human rights monitoring over some reluctant human rights nations centers around two questions. First, if a nation accepts the human rights not as a genuinely revised value but as a precondition to the “development contract,” can that nation be held accountable for violating human rights, for violating the terms of the contract? Second, is a “human rights” clause to a development contract valid if it is accepted only because it is tied to terms which are essential to the developing nation?

What It Means to NIKE

NIKE bears the uncomfortable role of the moral punching bag in the world’s struggle with the complicated issues of the justification for and practicality of creating international standards of human rights. Human rights activists assault NIKE for not leveraging its economic muscle toward concretely improving standards of human rights in the nations that produce NIKE shoes and apparel. Furthermore, activists criticize NIKE’s Code of Conduct and other labor-friendly initiatives as reactive, image-o riented public relations schemes rather than forward-thinking, genuine attempts to help the subcontracted workers.

One can understand the frustration that has led NIKE to claim that it has been unfairly targeted. Yet while the massive critical attention paid to NIKE might be excessive of that given to NIKE’s peer companies, such attention is most certainly not unfair. The practical business challenges and ethical dilemnas which stem from operating in foreign nations are quite complicated, but NIKE nonetheless chooses to operate such. Because it voluntarily outsources its labor in order to find the lowest pos sible costs of production, NIKE must be willing to accept the criticism that has accompanied that outsourcing. NIKE bears the responsibility to meet the labor standards of the subcontractor nations as well as any standard of the United States concerning American-based multi-national companies.

Contrastingly, human rights activists must understand that NIKE cannot realistically be expected to singularly raise the standards of human rights in developing nations. Activists must recognize that their hopes to install and increase standards o f human rights in developing nations might be paternalistic and unjustified. Furthermore, they must realize that the ideal method for increasing human rights standards is through education rather than through the application of economic leverage by NIKE, the US government, or any international body.

 

 

Introduction

 

The past two decades have given rise to rapid development of information technology, to the spread of political democracy, and to an increasingly global economy. Business leaders, politicians, academicians, and the media have emphasized that the r egions of the world are becoming more and more interconnected and interdependent. With this increased global awareness have come both excitement over the potential benefits of cooperation and anxiety over the challenges of framing a system that functions smoothly despite the integration of diverse cultures, religious ideologies, social habits, business relationships, and levels of economic development. The basic goal for those seeking mutual benefit from increased global interaction is to make strides i n science, technology, agriculture, and the arts while respecting human dignity.

For centuries, mankind has sought the formation of systems to protect human dignity. Religious approaches teach self-discipline, commandments of living, and “golden rules.” Legal approaches teach the logic of written rules, the importance of info rmed judgments, and the processes for seeking redress or revision. Governmental approaches teach the importance of the individual, the power of the majority, and the need to serve the good of the group. Economic approaches teach the carrot; the stick; t he effects of rising tides on wee, tiny ships; and the motivating value of dollars and Deutschemarks.

Since World War II, the international community has worked to protect human dignity through the development of globally accepted concepts and standards. Taken together, these standards are known as standards of “human rights.” The system has deve loped from the recognition that the religious, legal, governmental, and economic approaches to protecting human dignity cannot currently span the world with any consensus; the internal applications of such approaches differ from nation to nation.

 

 

The United Nations, the international body created upon the ashes of the destruction of World War II, set human rights as a basic principle in its mission:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

1. To maintain international peace and security . . . ;

2. To develop friendly relations among nations based upon respect for the principle of equal rights . . . ;

3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinctio n as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

- The United Nations Charter, Chapter 1, Article 1

 

This paper seeks to provide an accurate if shallow glimpse into the system of international human rights. First, it discusses the basic concept of a human right. Next, it addresses the concept of economic development within a human rights context; the development dilemma is a common point of confusion, and reflecting upon it is essential to understanding the application of human rights in world of both super-rich and super-poor nations and individuals. Third, it disc usses in basic terms the existing international agreements which have set the standards for the protection and provision of human rights; as is the case with any popularized topic of discussion, society far too often discusses abuses against and the impor tance of human rights without actually studying what those rights are. Next, the paper considers how the standards of human rights are applied in practice within both the international community and individual state governments. Finally, the paper discu sses the role of Nike -- not as a specific company but as an example of a large, multi-national business -- within the human rights system.

 

What are “Human Rights”

Though the term “human rights” is used quite commonly, there is much dissent as to its actual definition. In order to define human rights, one must first examine why the definition is not simply, “The rights that one derives from the condition of being human.” After considering such concepts as duration across time, universality to all cultures, practicality of implementation, and perceived importance of generally accepted rights, one sees the problems of using the simple definition.

First, one must consider why the concept of human rights changes over time and from culture to culture. The idea of human rights is not new to the post-World War II era. Scholars have discussed the concept for millennia. According to Youcef Boua ndel, author of Human Rights and Comparative Politics, the process traces

back as far as the Greek and Roman philosophers. Different religions, cultures, philosophies, and circumstances have made significant contributions towards the understanding and broadening of such a concept”

Thus, whereas religions often refer to divinely inspired tablets or manuscripts which list the rules of behavior for its believers, the codes of human rights are not set down in stone. The concept changes from age to age a nd culture to culture. Human rights development does not occur due to flashes of brilliance by individual philosophers. Instead, it grows in response to changes of technology, social structures, and economic and political systems when such changes infri nge upon human dignity.

Essentially, a human right becomes newly recognized once that right has been violated. For example, imagine a time when there was no current or past practice of slavery -- a time when the idea did not exist. This society would have no stated mora l nor legal principle: “one shall not enslave another person.” Such a principle would be akin to the United States Congress passing a bill declaring that no US citizen may pass through an extra-galactic species-enhancer in order to become a super-human d emigod. There would be neither context nor practical implication of such principles.

If, however, a member of the no-slavery society decided to make another person his slave, the oppressed individual or someone on his behalf would raise protest. Eventually, given significant public awareness of the new infringement upon human dign ity called “slavery,” the society would make moral judgments against it and pass laws making the practice illegal.

Changing concepts of human rights do not imply changing human rights. Once the institution of slavery was invented, members of the formerly no-slave society recognized the need to proclaim it illegal. The fact that they had not done so previously does not mean that they had previously believed that slavery was not an infringement of a human right. Rather, they simply had never considered “the right not to be enslaved” as a right in need of protection. Thus the right had existed before the socie ty’s concept of that right.

In addition, a the violation of a human right does not depend upon society’s recognition that the right has been violated. In the previously no-slavery society, the first slave knew immediately that his human rights were being violated. Had the s ociety never considered his plight and recognized his enslavement as a violation of a previously unrecognized human right, the enslavement would nonetheless have been a violation of his human right. In fact, the most valuable aspect of a human right is t hat any human can appeal for its protection if he or she feels that it has been violated. Generally, once a society has recognized a human right, “lower level” rights will have been formed so that a human right violation would also be a violation of law, of contract, of statute, or of constitution. However, the only course for the first slave -- having no lower level rights protecting the unknown institution of slavery -- was to appeal to his peers on the basis of human rights. Jack Donnelly, author of Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, comments that “the real strength and value of human rights is that they are available precisely when the claims of legal and other lower rights fail.”

The idea that rights exist whether or not society has realized its existence implies that a complete list of human rights is impossible. Any society’s concept of human rights is based only upon its distinct personal and inherited experiences with violations of those rights.

Thus, one cannot answer the question which introduced this section: “What are human rights?” Instead, one must ask, “What is this society’s present concept of human rights?” It follows that the definition of human rights must revised from “the ri ghts that one derives from the condition of being human,” to “the rights that this society recognizes as deriving from the condition of being human.”

This new definition of human rights begs a more precision concerning the term “society.” A society can refer to any group bound by common interests: a group of 20 people who meet twice per week to study shoes, 300 million people known as citizens of the United States, or creatures who are called human beings. Clearly, as previously discussed, each specific society would have its own specific concept of human rights. Youcef Bouandel cites cultural differences as the biggest challenge to developin g a truly international set of human rights standards:

Concepts alien to particular societies are the source of the difficulties surrounding the process as a whole. In many instances, problems are viewed from one angle: the viewpoint from which the scholar sees the phenomenon in their own societies. What can be considered as a human right in a given country might not be automatically considered as such in a different country. The difference in perception, in turn, leads to a completely different understanding of what a violation is, and thus to an overall misplacing of countries’ positions if a misunderstanding is undertaken.

 

To further complicate the issue that different cultures have inherently different conceptions of human rights, one must recall that human rights is not the only system that has been created to protect human dignity. Ceding the fact that the idea of human rights has existed for centuries, Jack Donnelly argues that human rights did not become an applied system of protecting human dignity until the industrial revolution in 17th Century England:

. . . prior to the creation of capitalist market economies and modern nation-states, the problems that human rights seek to redress, the particular violations of human dignity that they seek to protect, either did not exist or were not widely perceived to be central social problems. The rise of a monetized market economy based on largely unlimited private property rights gradually destroyed the social bases of traditional communities and created separate and distinct individuals (in pl ace of persons who are ascriptively defined by their position in a status hierarchy) who would become the bearers of human rights.

It is tempting to conclude that human rights are a western concept due to the fact that the development of human rights as a system to protect human dignity arose due to industrialization in the capitalist economies of nort hwest Europe. This conclusion is erroneous.

The concept of human rights was developed by western society, but that does not make human rights a western concept. Take the example of another system of protecting human dignity: Christianity. The religion was developed in the Middle East, yet one should not conclude that it is a Middle Eastern religion. Christianity has taken root in the minds of humans living all over the globe. If one were to tell a fundamentalist Southern Baptist that he was practicing a Middle Eastern religion, he might be inclined to disagree.

However, it is certainly true that a system might be more likely to be practiced and preached in the region where it was developed. Christianity was not widely practiced in Chapel Hill in the year 50 AD because the society of human beings living i n what is now called Chapel Hill shared none of the specific experiences with the Middle Eastern men and women who had been influence by a guy named Jesus. Over time, however, as stories of those experiences were shared, they became familiar to people ac ross the world. Many, but not all, of those people chose to accept the religion as, among other things, a system of protecting human dignity.

Again, one must avoid making a tempting conclusion. The fact that the sharing of experiences might lead people in other societies to accept an ideology developed within a specific region does not mean that all people who share those experiences wi ll in fact accept the ideology. There are quite a few people on the planet who have heard all about Jesus but have chosen not to live by the religion that he inspired.

Thus, the system known as human rights was developed in the west, but it might be adhered to in other parts of the world once they undergo similar industrial and economic transformations. However, not every society that “develops” will not automat ically accept the principle of human rights. This concept has proven quite difficult for many western scholars of human rights to understand.

For example, in Indonesia, a country oft criticized for its perceived violations of human rights, President Suharto’s common response to complaints about his government’s policies is that “human rights” is a method of ensuring human dignity -- but not the only method. He objects that foreign critics, though speaking with good intentions, speak from a viewpoint that is inherently not Indonesian.

Thus, even using the definition “the rights that this society recognizes as deriving from the condition of being human,” one must be cognizant that specific societies do not necessarily recognize the same rights. Furthermore, one must bear in mind that not all societies accept any concept of human rights. When speaking about international human rights, debate over a specific society’s adherence to human rights must hold that society accountable for only those agreements into which it has specific ally entered.

The next two issues to consider when investigating the concept of human rights are the perceived importance and the practicality of implementation of rights in those nations that have actually agreed to uphold them.

The international community’s current conception of human rights is presented over a series of documents and covenants among nations. Scholars furiously debate the process of such categorizing the internationally recognized rights. The most com mon breakdown of rights separates economic, social, and cultural rights from civil and political rights. Arguing that the common compartmentalization contributes to judgment of one group against the other, Jack Donnelly lists eight basic categories: pers onal rights, legal rights, civil liberties, political rights, subsistence rights, economic rights, social rights, and cultural rights. Donnelly contends that many scholars have adopted an idea of “basic” human rights for the sake of political expedienc y. By doing so, they make a tacit implication that beyond a few “basic” rights are numerous “non-basic” rights which are somehow not quite as important. Using such problematic logic, individuals and states curtail their criticism of violations of the “n on-basic” rights.

The simple separation of the economic, social, and cultural rights from civil and political rights into separate categories does not inherently create problems. However, subsequent judgments that some rights are more important than others creates systemic problems of implementation. The uneasy relationship between two post-World War II global entities -- the capitalist marketplace and the commitment to internationally accepted human rights -- has led to judgment-making on which human rights are “ basic” and which can be ignored. Economists, business leaders, and politicians generally place development as a higher priority than economic, social, and cultural human rights. William Warden, Executive Director of the University of Calgary’s Internatio nal Centre, characterizes the philosophy:

In a world where the primary goal of the great majority of the people is to eke out a subsistence-level existence, human rights activism is regarded as a “luxury” affordable by the more affluent and the few.

Operating in a profit-oriented business environment, nations seeking development make themselves appeal to potential investors by reducing labor and operating costs to bare minimums. Casting aside possible criticism over h uman rights infringements as “luxury” criticisms, governments enact policies which convince or force citizens to accept certain short term sacrifices of their economic human rights in order to reach a long-term development utopia, a utopia where human rig hts will presumably be a luxury afforded to all.

Donnelly discusses what he calls the three trade-offs. First, a “needs trade-off” means that individuals accept high poverty levels in order to encourage long-term capital accumulation and reinvestment. Second, the “equality trade-off” actually encourages a growth in wage-disparity so that the wealthy might gain increased expendable capital deemed necessary for investment and growth. Third, the “liberty trade-off” is meant to eliminate the pesky complaints from those suffering the consequences of development; their complaints might derail a careful plan by the state to increase the nation’s wealth and later redistribute that wealth throughout its citizenship.

In order to gain long term security, some people are asked, first, to suffer poverty, second, to gracefully accept the ensuing accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few, and, third, to allow the infringement upon their political and civil libe rties to protest. Again, according to Donnelly, conventional wisdom asserts that such trade-offs are “necessary, temporary, and self-correcting.” Donnelly masterfully guts this wisdom:

The political components of inequitable growth are stressed here because the orthodox trade-off theses . . . are blindly apolitical. All three trade-offs aim to remove the political and moral restraints of human rights in order to free the state to direct a maximally efficient development strategy. The assumption seems to be that this liberated state apparatus will act as a neutral, even beneficent, instrument to technocratic management. In fact, though, the removal of the moral and political constraints of human rights only protects the power of the established elites. The trade-offs exclude the mass of the population, but not the traditional elites, who with their new allies in the bureaucracies and public enterprises, are given a free hand. The exclusion of the masses is thus perpetuated, even reinforced, and the poor receive few benefits in return for their sacrifices.

Economic growth . . . will not assure increased enjoyment of economic and social rights. That is a contingent political consequence of the distribution of power and benefits.

 

One should not infer from Donnelly’s comments that development itself is at odds with human rights. Rather, he argues that economic development does not inherently assure improvements in human rights. Developing natio ns must refrain from minimizing the importance of economic or other rights. In fact, their governments must ensure a respect for human rights at every step of the development process. William Warden reemphasizes the point, contending that

governments in a growing number of countries are belatedly coming to the conclusion that development, prosperity, and human rights are inextricably linked. Genuine respect for the individual and dignity cannot exist without development ; nor can development have a substantial and fundamental impact without parallel progress in human rights.

This section, “What are ‘Human Rights,’” proposed that society cannot hope to present a list of the inalienable human rights. It can only aspire to solidify its own concept of human rights. Just as historical trends change the perceived needs for recognizing human rights, different cultural settings complicate the ability to form a universal concept of human rights or even a universal agreement to live by the system of human rights. Furthermore, this section discussed the problematic nature of s eparating and judging the importance of individual human rights against one another.

Despite enormous challenges, the modern world has developed certain international standards of human rights: “the rights that this society recognizes as deriving from the condition of being human.”

 

 

International Standards

 

The modern concept of human rights has been developing since the 1940’s. The international community -- through the United Nations, regional bodies, and individual state governments -- has been shaping the protection and provision of human rights from broad, loose concepts towards more specific, binding documents.

Jan Martenson, UN Under-Secretary-General for Human Rights, describes the UN’s conception of how the system of human rights should work:

The United Nations’ human rights programme is carried out in an action-oriented, factual, and objective manner and is founded conceptually upon the triangular relationship between legislation, implementation, and information/education.

To realize the programme initiatives, Martenson sees four important steps by the international community. First, the UN must spread awareness of and emphasize the importance of international standards of human rights. S econd, the UN must provide technical assistance to help nations strengthen individual laws and institutions. Third, human rights monitors must target specific issues which require special international attention; examples of such topics are women’s right s, children’s rights, and abuse of migrant farm workers. Fourth, the UN and the national organizations which it supports must remain vigilant for abuses of accepted human rights. Obviously, none of the four steps were possible before completion of the t ask of creating international standards.

In 1941, amidst a wartime climate swirling with obvious conflicts and rumors of little-known yet massive atrocities towards human dignity, United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a speech envisioning an international struggle towards universal acceptance of four essential freedoms:

The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want -- which . . . means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peace-time life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which . . . means a world-wide reduction of armaments in such a thorough fashion that no nation would be able to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- everywhere in the world.

AsbjÆ rn Eide, Director of the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights, calls Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms Speech” the fundamental vision for the modern struggle to protect human rights. The challenge of such rhetoric is translating the idealistic goals into practi cal, clearly defined doctrine.

The formation in 1945 of the UN provided a strong body capable of beginning that translation. In its first session, the UN created the Human Rights Commission and called for it to work towards a “basic international statement of the inalienable an d inviolable rights of all members of the human family.” On December 10, 1948, two years of work on the statement came to fruition when the member nations of the UN unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Universal Declaration), which, in the words of former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali,

represents a major milestone in human progress, bringing realization to the [United Nations] Charter principle that universal respect for human rights is the common concern of all Governments and all peoples. The Universal Declaration is a document of widest significance, serving in its field as the conscience of the world and a standard against which the attitudes of societies and Governments can be measured.

Since it is an official UN proclamation, the Universal Declaration is considered to apply a broad moral authority to all members of the UN. Recalling the challenges discussed in the previous section, “What are ‘Human Rights,’” one can realize the enor mous step that the Universal Declaration represents for the international community.

Familiarity with the Universal Declaration is paramount for a full understanding of the modern concept of human rights. Thus, while it might be considered awkward form to list the 30 articles of the document within the text of a paper, it would be less justifiable to relegate these fundamental principles to either an appendix or brief summations. The articles of the Universal Declaration are:

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, prop erty, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or un der any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all other forms.

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any inc itement to such discrimination.

Article 8: Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11: 1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on the account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12: No one shall be subjugated to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such inter ference or attacks.

Article 13: 1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14: 1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15: 1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16: 1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its disso lution.

2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17: 1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of this property.

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manif est his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of fron tiers.

Article 20: 1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21: 1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equiva lent free voting procedures.

Article 22: Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23: 1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitations of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25: 1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to se curity in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26: 1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all natio ns, racial and religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27: 1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28: Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29: 1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of m eeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare of a democratic society.

3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised in contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30: Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth here in.

 

On the day that the UN formally adopted the Universal Declaration, the General Assembly directed the Human Rights Commission to extend the force of the Declaration through the creation of a legally binding treaty. When the Commission had trouble aligning all human rights concurrently, they decided to designate sub-categories of the rights and to split the proposed treaty into two separate covenants for those categories. Thus, in 1966, numerous member states of the UN ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Rather than establishing additional rights to the Universal Declaration, the two covenants elaborate upon the Declaration’s previously stated rights. More significantly, the covenants established the procedures for UN monitoring of ratifying state s’ adherence to the human rights doctrines. UN Under-Secretary -General for Human Rights Jan Martenson claims that the UN has created

A system of committees of independent experts charged with critically examining State compliance with their international undertakings, encouraging improved respect for human rights, and dealing with individual complaints.

 

For example, Part IV of the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) stipulates that its signatory governments (there are currently 99 states who have adopted the CESCR) submit detailed reports conce rning the measures taken and progress made in observing the rights of the covenant. Reports are reviewed by the Economic and Social Council of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The confidential reports cover situations of systemic abuses rather than particular incidents. In general, the UN Commission on Human Rights is perceived to be an informational body to publicize issues with member states and the international community. However, the Commission gained critical investigative authority when the 1970 passage of UN Resolution 1503 established confidential procedures for the Commission to examine individual allegations of “a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights” covered in the CESCR.

Part IV of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) establishes a Human Rights Committee which can request reports from its signatory governments and, after closed meetings, offer recommendations “with a view to a friendly so lution of the matter.” Furthermore, the CCPR offered two “optional protocols” to the states which ratified the covenant itself. The first optional protocol offers individuals the chance to file complaints of human rights violations made by signatory s tates. The second optional protocol states that its ratifying states “must take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty.” The “optional” aspect of both the covenant and the associated protocols weaken the effectiveness of the Human Rights Committee. Ninety-five nations, roughly half of the UN member states, have adopted the CCPR. Furthermore, there have been examples of inadequate enforcement of the information exchange and reports by those who have signed the CCPR. Jack Donnelly r emarks:

The reports of many countries are thorough and revealing, but others are farces, and some are not even submitted (as illustrated by the extreme case of Zaire, due in 1978 but still not submitted [in 1988] despite ten reminders.

The two UN covenants and the Universal Declaration, collectively known as The International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR), are the fundamental documents which set the international standards for the protection and assurance of human rights. Despite his concerns about the forthrightness of some nation’s reports to the UN and the weak enforcement of its doctrines, Donnelly asserts,

The list of rights in the IBHR can be seen as resting on a moral vision of human nature that views human beings as equal and autonomous individuals who are entitled to equal concern and respect.

 

In addition to the international standards established by the UN, governments have formed a number of regional human rights organization. According to Jan Martenson, the major purpose of the IBHR is to encourage the adoption of its principles in l ower levels -- regional covenants, national constitutions, and national legal systems:

Important though international standard-setting and implementation are, in the final analysis it is on the national and local levels that human rights are enjoyed.

The major regional regimes are based in Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

The European human rights standards are based upon the 1949 Council of Europe, the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the 1961 European Social Charter. Taken together, they list a set of huma n rights that is similar to that given by the IBHR. However, the European regime shows a commitment to those rights with strong monitoring, decision making, and sanctions that go beyond the controls used by the UN. The European Commission on Human Righ ts and the European Court of Human Rights work to thoroughly review the legislative bodies of the member nations and to make recommendations to nations to help bring their laws and practices in line with the human rights goals of the region. The effect iveness of the European Commission and the European Court is based not so much upon more effective language or legislation as upon the deep commitment of individual nations, similar interpretations of the practical implications of human rights, and a taci t pressure upon the nations of Europe to join their peers. Another reason for the depth of the European commitment to human rights is Europe’s wealth. Most of the European nations have the luxury of avoiding the previously discussed development dilemm a; without reasonable or unreasonable worry of economic collapse, they can advocate full protection and provision of human rights for all of its citizens.

The European region exemplifies an important concept concerning international standards of human rights: the espoused values of the UN and its regional counterparts are only as effective as the individual nations’ commitment to enacting them. The strength of the European region’s human rights bodies lies in the European nations’ widespread acceptance of their principles at the governmental level.

With slightly less fervor than Europe, the Americas have developed a regional commitment to human rights through several organizations and doctrines. The 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights closely parallel the rights listed in the UN’s IBHR. The Americas’ monitoring bodies are the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Court hears cases filed by states, non-governmental or ganizations, or individuals. The Commission is mainly an information gathering and distributing center, though it makes recommendations to American governments about bringing their policies in line with regional standards on human rights. A particular s trength of the American system is that the Commission is a self-operating component of the Organization of American States (OAS), and it can respond to complaints against any OAS member state whether or not it is a signatory to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man or the American Convention on Human Rights. A weakness of the American region’s human rights commitments is based in its wide diversity of economic development status. Ian Brownlie, an Oxford University Professor of Intern ational Law and the editor of Basic Documents on Human Rights, explains:

. . . in the absence of general social and economic development, the position relating to civil and political rights is itself precarious. The successful use of international machinery to improve standards of government must normally de pend upon the existence of a certain, reasonably uniform, level of development in the States concerned.

The nations of Africa, by action of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), have accepted the standards set forth in the IBHR, but their monitoring, recommendations, and sanctions have been displaced due to an aversion from intervening in nations’ internal politics. However, the OAU has taken positive action on behalf of human rights victims of former colonial southern Africa.

The Asian region suffers from a lack of national commitments to applying the principles of the IBHR. The only prominent Asian organization that is associated with human rights is the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and its activit ies are extremely limited. Some Asian governments, like their counterparts in areas of Latin America and the Middle East, have found Western governments’ verbal love affair with human rights disingenuous when taken in context with their political and e conomic foreign policies.

In addition to the bedrock human rights standards established by the United Nations and regional covenants, single-issue declarations and organizations have contributed to the global concept of universal human rights. The first such single-issue p arty was the International Labor Organization (ILO), established with the Treaty of Versailles. The ILO concentrates on workers’ rights, a sub-set of human rights and a universal concern. The strength of the organization is a highly professional review committed comprised of three levels of representation: workers, employers, and state representatives. The committee reviews individual state reports to the UN’s Commission on Human Rights regarding the nations’ adherence to employment standards of human rights as proclaimed in the IBHR, the Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and numerous covenants put organized by the ILO itself. The ILO recommendations are thorough, impartial, and well heeded.

Other single-issue advocacy groups have gained international attention. While many of the fundamental and more elaborate documents on human rights deal with a wide range of topic, single-issue group and covenants keep a sharp focus on specific obj ectives. While able to provide incisive analysis, such movements avoid hesitant commitments of nations who might agree with one article of a covenant but not another that deals with a completely different topic. In addition to the more full commitment o f individual nations, the single-issue campaigns are able to rapidly increase state and public awareness of issues of widespread importance. Thus, there have been numerous successful UN supported single-issue movements such as those concerning genocide ( 1948), the status of refugees (1951), the specific rights of women (1953), racial discrimination (1964), disappearances (1980), summary and arbitrary executions (1982), torture (1984), and religious intolerance (1986).

Having briefly sketched some international standards of and institutions to protect human rights, one must consider the conditions of monitoring nations’ adherence to those principles. Conceding the point that effective monitoring is important, th e first issue to be addressed is which nations should be monitored.

The first point is obvious: advocates of human rights should monitor only those nations which have specifically agreed to respecting human rights standards. No matter how deeply one society’s belief might be in the system it uses to protect human dignity, that society clearly holds no moral authority to force another society to accept that system.

The second point is question to debate: advocates of human rights should not monitor societies which were coerced to accept human rights standards. Consider the case of two societies involved in the production of music; one society is a band of mu sicians, and the other is a recording and production conglomerate. Imagine that they hold two completely different opinions concerning the value of music. The band holds its value to be the ability to communicate moods, images, and messages to listeners . The production company holds its value to be the ability to sell compact discs. Suppose that the company offers the band a $5 million contract to make a recording that includes one pre-written song for which the company’s research predicts widespread popularity. If the band accepts the contract, does it necessarily change it’s conception on the value of music?

One might argue that numerous nations which have signed human rights documents or entered into the UN -- a step which requires acceptance of the UN’s

general operating principles including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights --

were coerced into doing so. Consider that most nations which first promoted the use of human rights as a system to protect human dignity are also the nations that hold most of the world’s purse-strings. Clearly, a nation that endeavors to develop its economy greatly benefits from access to the capital concentrated in the hands of the nations which advocate human rights. Noting the developed nations’ connection of human rights to foreign loans and investment, one could argue that developing nations a ccepted certain human rights standards as a precondition for attracting investment. By publicly accepting principles of human rights, the developing nations are not actually changing their conceptions towards the proper method to protect human dignity.

The debate over the validity of human rights monitoring over some reluctant human rights nations centers around two questions. First, if a nation accepts the human rights not as a genuinely revised value but as a precondition to the “development contract,” can that nation be held accountable for violating human rights, for violating the terms of the contract? Second, is a “human rights” clause to a development contract valid if it is accepted only because it is tied to terms which are essential to the developing nation?

What It Means to NIKE

NIKE bears the uncomfortable role of the moral punching bag in the world’s struggle with the complicated issues of the justification for and practicality of creating international standards of human rights. Human rights activists assault NIKE for not leveraging its economic muscle toward concretely improving standards of human rights in the nations that produce NIKE shoes and apparel. Furthermore, activists criticize NIKE’s Code of Conduct and other labor-friendly initiatives as reactive, image-o riented public relations schemes rather than forward-thinking, genuine attempts to help the subcontracted workers.

One can understand the frustration that has led NIKE to claim that it has been unfairly targeted. Yet while the massive critical attention paid to NIKE might be excessive of that given to NIKE’s peer companies, such attention is most certainly not unfair. The practical business challenges and ethical dilemnas which stem from operating in foreign nations are quite complicated, but NIKE nonetheless chooses to operate such. Because it voluntarily outsources its labor in order to find the lowest pos sible costs of production, NIKE must be willing to accept the criticism that has accompanied that outsourcing. NIKE bears the responsibility to meet the labor standards of the subcontractor nations as well as any standard of the United States concerning American-based multi-national companies.

Contrastingly, human rights activists must understand that NIKE cannot realistically be expected to singularly raise the standards of human rights in developing nations. Activists must recognize that their hopes to install and increase standards o f human rights in developing nations might be paternalistic and unjustified. Furthermore, they must realize that the ideal method for increasing human rights standards is through education rather than through the application of economic leverage by NIKE, the US government, or any international body.

Introduction

 

The past two decades have given rise to rapid development of information technology, to the spread of political democracy, and to an increasingly global economy. Business leaders, politicians, academicians, and the media have emphasized that the r egions of the world are becoming more and more interconnected and interdependent. With this increased global awareness have come both excitement over the potential benefits of cooperation and anxiety over the challenges of framing a system that functions smoothly despite the integration of diverse cultures, religious ideologies, social habits, business relationships, and levels of economic development. The basic goal for those seeking mutual benefit from increased global interaction is to make strides i n science, technology, agriculture, and the arts while respecting human dignity.

For centuries, mankind has sought the formation of systems to protect human dignity. Religious approaches teach self-discipline, commandments of living, and “golden rules.” Legal approaches teach the logic of written rules, the importance of info rmed judgments, and the processes for seeking redress or revision. Governmental approaches teach the importance of the individual, the power of the majority, and the need to serve the good of the group. Economic approaches teach the carrot; the stick; t he effects of rising tides on wee, tiny ships; and the motivating value of dollars and Deutschemarks.

Since World War II, the international community has worked to protect human dignity through the development of globally accepted concepts and standards. Taken together, these standards are known as standards of “human rights.” The system has deve loped from the recognition that the religious, legal, governmental, and economic approaches to protecting human dignity cannot currently span the world with any consensus; the internal applications of such approaches differ from nation to nation.

 

 

The United Nations, the international body created upon the ashes of the destruction of World War II, set human rights as a basic principle in its mission:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

1. To maintain international peace and security . . . ;

2. To develop friendly relations among nations based upon respect for the principle of equal rights . . . ;

3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinctio n as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

- The United Nations Charter, Chapter 1, Article 1

 

This paper seeks to provide an accurate if shallow glimpse into the system of international human rights. First, it discusses the basic concept of a human right. Next, it addresses the concept of economic development within a human rights context; the development dilemma is a common point of confusion, and reflecting upon it is essential to understanding the application of human rights in world of both super-rich and super-poor nations and individuals. Third, it disc usses in basic terms the existing international agreements which have set the standards for the protection and provision of human rights; as is the case with any popularized topic of discussion, society far too often discusses abuses against and the impor tance of human rights without actually studying what those rights are. Next, the paper considers how the standards of human rights are applied in practice within both the international community and individual state governments. Finally, the paper discu sses the role of Nike -- not as a specific company but as an example of a large, multi-national business -- within the human rights system.

 

What are “Human Rights”

Though the term “human rights” is used quite commonly, there is much dissent as to its actual definition. In order to define human rights, one must first examine why the definition is not simply, “The rights that one derives from the condition of being human.” After considering such concepts as duration across time, universality to all cultures, practicality of implementation, and perceived importance of generally accepted rights, one sees the problems of using the simple definition.

First, one must consider why the concept of human rights changes over time and from culture to culture. The idea of human rights is not new to the post-World War II era. Scholars have discussed the concept for millennia. According to Youcef Boua ndel, author of Human Rights and Comparative Politics, the process traces

back as far as the Greek and Roman philosophers. Different religions, cultures, philosophies, and circumstances have made significant contributions towards the understanding and broadening of such a concept”

Thus, whereas religions often refer to divinely inspired tablets or manuscripts which list the rules of behavior for its believers, the codes of human rights are not set down in stone. The concept changes from age to age a nd culture to culture. Human rights development does not occur due to flashes of brilliance by individual philosophers. Instead, it grows in response to changes of technology, social structures, and economic and political systems when such changes infri nge upon human dignity.

Essentially, a human right becomes newly recognized once that right has been violated. For example, imagine a time when there was no current or past practice of slavery -- a time when the idea did not exist. This society would have no stated mora l nor legal principle: “one shall not enslave another person.” Such a principle would be akin to the United States Congress passing a bill declaring that no US citizen may pass through an extra-galactic species-enhancer in order to become a super-human d emigod. There would be neither context nor practical implication of such principles.

If, however, a member of the no-slavery society decided to make another person his slave, the oppressed individual or someone on his behalf would raise protest. Eventually, given significant public awareness of the new infringement upon human dign ity called “slavery,” the society would make moral judgments against it and pass laws making the practice illegal.

Changing concepts of human rights do not imply changing human rights. Once the institution of slavery was invented, members of the formerly no-slave society recognized the need to proclaim it illegal. The fact that they had not done so previously does not mean that they had previously believed that slavery was not an infringement of a human right. Rather, they simply had never considered “the right not to be enslaved” as a right in need of protection. Thus the right had existed before the socie ty’s concept of that right.

In addition, a the violation of a human right does not depend upon society’s recognition that the right has been violated. In the previously no-slavery society, the first slave knew immediately that his human rights were being violated. Had the s ociety never considered his plight and recognized his enslavement as a violation of a previously unrecognized human right, the enslavement would nonetheless have been a violation of his human right. In fact, the most valuable aspect of a human right is t hat any human can appeal for its protection if he or she feels that it has been violated. Generally, once a society has recognized a human right, “lower level” rights will have been formed so that a human right violation would also be a violation of law, of contract, of statute, or of constitution. However, the only course for the first slave -- having no lower level rights protecting the unknown institution of slavery -- was to appeal to his peers on the basis of human rights. Jack Donnelly, author of Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, comments that “the real strength and value of human rights is that they are available precisely when the claims of legal and other lower rights fail.”

The idea that rights exist whether or not society has realized its existence implies that a complete list of human rights is impossible. Any society’s concept of human rights is based only upon its distinct personal and inherited experiences with violations of those rights.

Thus, one cannot answer the question which introduced this section: “What are human rights?” Instead, one must ask, “What is this society’s present concept of human rights?” It follows that the definition of human rights must revised from “the ri ghts that one derives from the condition of being human,” to “the rights that this society recognizes as deriving from the condition of being human.”

This new definition of human rights begs a more precision concerning the term “society.” A society can refer to any group bound by common interests: a group of 20 people who meet twice per week to study shoes, 300 million people known as citizens of the United States, or creatures who are called human beings. Clearly, as previously discussed, each specific society would have its own specific concept of human rights. Youcef Bouandel cites cultural differences as the biggest challenge to developin g a truly international set of human rights standards:

Concepts alien to particular societies are the source of the difficulties surrounding the process as a whole. In many instances, problems are viewed from one angle: the viewpoint from which the scholar sees the phenomenon in their own societies. What can be considered as a human right in a given country might not be automatically considered as such in a different country. The difference in perception, in turn, leads to a completely different understanding of what a violation is, and thus to an overall misplacing of countries’ positions if a misunderstanding is undertaken.

 

To further complicate the issue that different cultures have inherently different conceptions of human rights, one must recall that human rights is not the only system that has been created to protect human dignity. Ceding the fact that the idea of human rights has existed for centuries, Jack Donnelly argues that human rights did not become an applied system of protecting human dignity until the industrial revolution in 17th Century England:

. . . prior to the creation of capitalist market economies and modern nation-states, the problems that human rights seek to redress, the particular violations of human dignity that they seek to protect, either did not exist or were not widely perceived to be central social problems. The rise of a monetized market economy based on largely unlimited private property rights gradually destroyed the social bases of traditional communities and created separate and distinct individuals (in pl ace of persons who are ascriptively defined by their position in a status hierarchy) who would become the bearers of human rights.

It is tempting to conclude that human rights are a western concept due to the fact that the development of human rights as a system to protect human dignity arose due to industrialization in the capitalist economies of nort hwest Europe. This conclusion is erroneous.

The concept of human rights was developed by western society, but that does not make human rights a western concept. Take the example of another system of protecting human dignity: Christianity. The religion was developed in the Middle East, yet one should not conclude that it is a Middle Eastern religion. Christianity has taken root in the minds of humans living all over the globe. If one were to tell a fundamentalist Southern Baptist that he was practicing a Middle Eastern religion, he might be inclined to disagree.

However, it is certainly true that a system might be more likely to be practiced and preached in the region where it was developed. Christianity was not widely practiced in Chapel Hill in the year 50 AD because the society of human beings living i n what is now called Chapel Hill shared none of the specific experiences with the Middle Eastern men and women who had been influence by a guy named Jesus. Over time, however, as stories of those experiences were shared, they became familiar to people ac ross the world. Many, but not all, of those people chose to accept the religion as, among other things, a system of protecting human dignity.

Again, one must avoid making a tempting conclusion. The fact that the sharing of experiences might lead people in other societies to accept an ideology developed within a specific region does not mean that all people who share those experiences wi ll in fact accept the ideology. There are quite a few people on the planet who have heard all about Jesus but have chosen not to live by the religion that he inspired.

Thus, the system known as human rights was developed in the west, but it might be adhered to in other parts of the world once they undergo similar industrial and economic transformations. However, not every society that “develops” will not automat ically accept the principle of human rights. This concept has proven quite difficult for many western scholars of human rights to understand.

For example, in Indonesia, a country oft criticized for its perceived violations of human rights, President Suharto’s common response to complaints about his government’s policies is that “human rights” is a method of ensuring human dignity -- but not the only method. He objects that foreign critics, though speaking with good intentions, speak from a viewpoint that is inherently not Indonesian.

Thus, even using the definition “the rights that this society recognizes as deriving from the condition of being human,” one must be cognizant that specific societies do not necessarily recognize the same rights. Furthermore, one must bear in mind that not all societies accept any concept of human rights. When speaking about international human rights, debate over a specific society’s adherence to human rights must hold that society accountable for only those agreements into which it has specific ally entered.

The next two issues to consider when investigating the concept of human rights are the perceived importance and the practicality of implementation of rights in those nations that have actually agreed to uphold them.

The international community’s current conception of human rights is presented over a series of documents and covenants among nations. Scholars furiously debate the process of such categorizing the internationally recognized rights. The most com mon breakdown of rights separates economic, social, and cultural rights from civil and political rights. Arguing that the common compartmentalization contributes to judgment of one group against the other, Jack Donnelly lists eight basic categories: pers onal rights, legal rights, civil liberties, political rights, subsistence rights, economic rights, social rights, and cultural rights. Donnelly contends that many scholars have adopted an idea of “basic” human rights for the sake of political expedienc y. By doing so, they make a tacit implication that beyond a few “basic” rights are numerous “non-basic” rights which are somehow not quite as important. Using such problematic logic, individuals and states curtail their criticism of violations of the “n on-basic” rights.

The simple separation of the economic, social, and cultural rights from civil and political rights into separate categories does not inherently create problems. However, subsequent judgments that some rights are more important than others creates systemic problems of implementation. The uneasy relationship between two post-World War II global entities -- the capitalist marketplace and the commitment to internationally accepted human rights -- has led to judgment-making on which human rights are “ basic” and which can be ignored. Economists, business leaders, and politicians generally place development as a higher priority than economic, social, and cultural human rights. William Warden, Executive Director of the University of Calgary’s Internatio nal Centre, characterizes the philosophy:

In a world where the primary goal of the great majority of the people is to eke out a subsistence-level existence, human rights activism is regarded as a “luxury” affordable by the more affluent and the few.

Operating in a profit-oriented business environment, nations seeking development make themselves appeal to potential investors by reducing labor and operating costs to bare minimums. Casting aside possible criticism over h uman rights infringements as “luxury” criticisms, governments enact policies which convince or force citizens to accept certain short term sacrifices of their economic human rights in order to reach a long-term development utopia, a utopia where human rig hts will presumably be a luxury afforded to all.

Donnelly discusses what he calls the three trade-offs. First, a “needs trade-off” means that individuals accept high poverty levels in order to encourage long-term capital accumulation and reinvestment. Second, the “equality trade-off” actually encourages a growth in wage-disparity so that the wealthy might gain increased expendable capital deemed necessary for investment and growth. Third, the “liberty trade-off” is meant to eliminate the pesky complaints from those suffering the consequences of development; their complaints might derail a careful plan by the state to increase the nation’s wealth and later redistribute that wealth throughout its citizenship.

In order to gain long term security, some people are asked, first, to suffer poverty, second, to gracefully accept the ensuing accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few, and, third, to allow the infringement upon their political and civil libe rties to protest. Again, according to Donnelly, conventional wisdom asserts that such trade-offs are “necessary, temporary, and self-correcting.” Donnelly masterfully guts this wisdom:

The political components of inequitable growth are stressed here because the orthodox trade-off theses . . . are blindly apolitical. All three trade-offs aim to remove the political and moral restraints of human rights in order to free the state to direct a maximally efficient development strategy. The assumption seems to be that this liberated state apparatus will act as a neutral, even beneficent, instrument to technocratic management. In fact, though, the removal of the moral and political constraints of human rights only protects the power of the established elites. The trade-offs exclude the mass of the population, but not the traditional elites, who with their new allies in the bureaucracies and public enterprises, are given a free hand. The exclusion of the masses is thus perpetuated, even reinforced, and the poor receive few benefits in return for their sacrifices.

Economic growth . . . will not assure increased enjoyment of economic and social rights. That is a contingent political consequence of the distribution of power and benefits.

 

One should not infer from Donnelly’s comments that development itself is at odds with human rights. Rather, he argues that economic development does not inherently assure improvements in human rights. Developing natio ns must refrain from minimizing the importance of economic or other rights. In fact, their governments must ensure a respect for human rights at every step of the development process. William Warden reemphasizes the point, contending that

governments in a growing number of countries are belatedly coming to the conclusion that development, prosperity, and human rights are inextricably linked. Genuine respect for the individual and dignity cannot exist without development ; nor can development have a substantial and fundamental impact without parallel progress in human rights.

This section, “What are ‘Human Rights,’” proposed that society cannot hope to present a list of the inalienable human rights. It can only aspire to solidify its own concept of human rights. Just as historical trends change the perceived needs for recognizing human rights, different cultural settings complicate the ability to form a universal concept of human rights or even a universal agreement to live by the system of human rights. Furthermore, this section discussed the problematic nature of s eparating and judging the importance of individual human rights against one another.

Despite enormous challenges, the modern world has developed certain international standards of human rights: “the rights that this society recognizes as deriving from the condition of being human.”

 

 

International Standards

 

The modern concept of human rights has been developing since the 1940’s. The international community -- through the United Nations, regional bodies, and individual state governments -- has been shaping the protection and provision of human rights from broad, loose concepts towards more specific, binding documents.

Jan Martenson, UN Under-Secretary-General for Human Rights, describes the UN’s conception of how the system of human rights should work:

The United Nations’ human rights programme is carried out in an action-oriented, factual, and objective manner and is founded conceptually upon the triangular relationship between legislation, implementation, and information/education.

To realize the programme initiatives, Martenson sees four important steps by the international community. First, the UN must spread awareness of and emphasize the importance of international standards of human rights. S econd, the UN must provide technical assistance to help nations strengthen individual laws and institutions. Third, human rights monitors must target specific issues which require special international attention; examples of such topics are women’s right s, children’s rights, and abuse of migrant farm workers. Fourth, the UN and the national organizations which it supports must remain vigilant for abuses of accepted human rights. Obviously, none of the four steps were possible before completion of the t ask of creating international standards.

In 1941, amidst a wartime climate swirling with obvious conflicts and rumors of little-known yet massive atrocities towards human dignity, United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a speech envisioning an international struggle towards universal acceptance of four essential freedoms:

The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want -- which . . . means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peace-time life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which . . . means a world-wide reduction of armaments in such a thorough fashion that no nation would be able to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- everywhere in the world.

AsbjÆ rn Eide, Director of the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights, calls Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms Speech” the fundamental vision for the modern struggle to protect human rights. The challenge of such rhetoric is translating the idealistic goals into practi cal, clearly defined doctrine.

The formation in 1945 of the UN provided a strong body capable of beginning that translation. In its first session, the UN created the Human Rights Commission and called for it to work towards a “basic international statement of the inalienable an d inviolable rights of all members of the human family.” On December 10, 1948, two years of work on the statement came to fruition when the member nations of the UN unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Universal Declaration), which, in the words of former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali,

represents a major milestone in human progress, bringing realization to the [United Nations] Charter principle that universal respect for human rights is the common concern of all Governments and all peoples. The Universal Declaration is a document of widest significance, serving in its field as the conscience of the world and a standard against which the attitudes of societies and Governments can be measured.

Since it is an official UN proclamation, the Universal Declaration is considered to apply a broad moral authority to all members of the UN. Recalling the challenges discussed in the previous section, “What are ‘Human Rights,’” one can realize the enor mous step that the Universal Declaration represents for the international community.

Familiarity with the Universal Declaration is paramount for a full understanding of the modern concept of human rights. Thus, while it might be considered awkward form to list the 30 articles of the document within the text of a paper, it would be less justifiable to relegate these fundamental principles to either an appendix or brief summations. The articles of the Universal Declaration are:

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, prop erty, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or un der any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all other forms.

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any inc itement to such discrimination.

Article 8: Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11: 1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on the account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12: No one shall be subjugated to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such inter ference or attacks.

Article 13: 1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14: 1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15: 1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16: 1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its disso lution.

2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17: 1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of this property.

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manif est his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of fron tiers.

Article 20: 1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21: 1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equiva lent free voting procedures.

Article 22: Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23: 1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitations of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25: 1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to se curity in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26: 1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all natio ns, racial and religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27: 1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28: Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29: 1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of m eeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare of a democratic society.

3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised in contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30: Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth here in.

 

On the day that the UN formally adopted the Universal Declaration, the General Assembly directed the Human Rights Commission to extend the force of the Declaration through the creation of a legally binding treaty. When the Commission had trouble aligning all human rights concurrently, they decided to designate sub-categories of the rights and to split the proposed treaty into two separate covenants for those categories. Thus, in 1966, numerous member states of the UN ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Rather than establishing additional rights to the Universal Declaration, the two covenants elaborate upon the Declaration’s previously stated rights. More significantly, the covenants established the procedures for UN monitoring of ratifying state s’ adherence to the human rights doctrines. UN Under-Secretary -General for Human Rights Jan Martenson claims that the UN has created

A system of committees of independent experts charged with critically examining State compliance with their international undertakings, encouraging improved respect for human rights, and dealing with individual complaints.

 

For example, Part IV of the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) stipulates that its signatory governments (there are currently 99 states who have adopted the CESCR) submit detailed reports conce rning the measures taken and progress made in observing the rights of the covenant. Reports are reviewed by the Economic and Social Council of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The confidential reports cover situations of systemic abuses rather than particular incidents. In general, the UN Commission on Human Rights is perceived to be an informational body to publicize issues with member states and the international community. However, the Commission gained critical investigative authority when the 1970 passage of UN Resolution 1503 established confidential procedures for the Commission to examine individual allegations of “a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights” covered in the CESCR.

Part IV of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) establishes a Human Rights Committee which can request reports from its signatory governments and, after closed meetings, offer recommendations “with a view to a friendly so lution of the matter.” Furthermore, the CCPR offered two “optional protocols” to the states which ratified the covenant itself. The first optional protocol offers individuals the chance to file complaints of human rights violations made by signatory s tates. The second optional protocol states that its ratifying states “must take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty.” The “optional” aspect of both the covenant and the associated protocols weaken the effectiveness of the Human Rights Committee. Ninety-five nations, roughly half of the UN member states, have adopted the CCPR. Furthermore, there have been examples of inadequate enforcement of the information exchange and reports by those who have signed the CCPR. Jack Donnelly r emarks:

The reports of many countries are thorough and revealing, but others are farces, and some are not even submitted (as illustrated by the extreme case of Zaire, due in 1978 but still not submitted [in 1988] despite ten reminders.

The two UN covenants and the Universal Declaration, collectively known as The International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR), are the fundamental documents which set the international standards for the protection and assurance of human rights. Despite his concerns about the forthrightness of some nation’s reports to the UN and the weak enforcement of its doctrines, Donnelly asserts,

The list of rights in the IBHR can be seen as resting on a moral vision of human nature that views human beings as equal and autonomous individuals who are entitled to equal concern and respect.

 

In addition to the international standards established by the UN, governments have formed a number of regional human rights organization. According to Jan Martenson, the major purpose of the IBHR is to encourage the adoption of its principles in l ower levels -- regional covenants, national constitutions, and national legal systems:

Important though international standard-setting and implementation are, in the final analysis it is on the national and local levels that human rights are enjoyed.

The major regional regimes are based in Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

The European human rights standards are based upon the 1949 Council of Europe, the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the 1961 European Social Charter. Taken together, they list a set of huma n rights that is similar to that given by the IBHR. However, the European regime shows a commitment to those rights with strong monitoring, decision making, and sanctions that go beyond the controls used by the UN. The European Commission on Human Righ ts and the European Court of Human Rights work to thoroughly review the legislative bodies of the member nations and to make recommendations to nations to help bring their laws and practices in line with the human rights goals of the region. The effect iveness of the European Commission and the European Court is based not so much upon more effective language or legislation as upon the deep commitment of individual nations, similar interpretations of the practical implications of human rights, and a taci t pressure upon the nations of Europe to join their peers. Another reason for the depth of the European commitment to human rights is Europe’s wealth. Most of the European nations have the luxury of avoiding the previously discussed development dilemm a; without reasonable or unreasonable worry of economic collapse, they can advocate full protection and provision of human rights for all of its citizens.

The European region exemplifies an important concept concerning international standards of human rights: the espoused values of the UN and its regional counterparts are only as effective as the individual nations’ commitment to enacting them. The strength of the European region’s human rights bodies lies in the European nations’ widespread acceptance of their principles at the governmental level.

With slightly less fervor than Europe, the Americas have developed a regional commitment to human rights through several organizations and doctrines. The 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights closely parallel the rights listed in the UN’s IBHR. The Americas’ monitoring bodies are the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Court hears cases filed by states, non-governmental or ganizations, or individuals. The Commission is mainly an information gathering and distributing center, though it makes recommendations to American governments about bringing their policies in line with regional standards on human rights. A particular s trength of the American system is that the Commission is a self-operating component of the Organization of American States (OAS), and it can respond to complaints against any OAS member state whether or not it is a signatory to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man or the American Convention on Human Rights. A weakness of the American region’s human rights commitments is based in its wide diversity of economic development status. Ian Brownlie, an Oxford University Professor of Intern ational Law and the editor of Basic Documents on Human Rights, explains:

. . . in the absence of general social and economic development, the position relating to civil and political rights is itself precarious. The successful use of international machinery to improve standards of government must normally de pend upon the existence of a certain, reasonably uniform, level of development in the States concerned.

The nations of Africa, by action of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), have accepted the standards set forth in the IBHR, but their monitoring, recommendations, and sanctions have been displaced due to an aversion from intervening in nations’ internal politics. However, the OAU has taken positive action on behalf of human rights victims of former colonial southern Africa.

The Asian region suffers from a lack of national commitments to applying the principles of the IBHR. The only prominent Asian organization that is associated with human rights is the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and its activit ies are extremely limited. Some Asian governments, like their counterparts in areas of Latin America and the Middle East, have found Western governments’ verbal love affair with human rights disingenuous when taken in context with their political and e conomic foreign policies.

In addition to the bedrock human rights standards established by the United Nations and regional covenants, single-issue declarations and organizations have contributed to the global concept of universal human rights. The first such single-issue p arty was the International Labor Organization (ILO), established with the Treaty of Versailles. The ILO concentrates on workers’ rights, a sub-set of human rights and a universal concern. The strength of the organization is a highly professional review committed comprised of three levels of representation: workers, employers, and state representatives. The committee reviews individual state reports to the UN’s Commission on Human Rights regarding the nations’ adherence to employment standards of human rights as proclaimed in the IBHR, the Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and numerous covenants put organized by the ILO itself. The ILO recommendations are thorough, impartial, and well heeded.

Other single-issue advocacy groups have gained international attention. While many of the fundamental and more elaborate documents on human rights deal with a wide range of topic, single-issue group and covenants keep a sharp focus on specific obj ectives. While able to provide incisive analysis, such movements avoid hesitant commitments of nations who might agree with one article of a covenant but not another that deals with a completely different topic. In addition to the more full commitment o f individual nations, the single-issue campaigns are able to rapidly increase state and public awareness of issues of widespread importance. Thus, there have been numerous successful UN supported single-issue movements such as those concerning genocide ( 1948), the status of refugees (1951), the specific rights of women (1953), racial discrimination (1964), disappearances (1980), summary and arbitrary executions (1982), torture (1984), and religious intolerance (1986).

Having briefly sketched some international standards of and institutions to protect human rights, one must consider the conditions of monitoring nations’ adherence to those principles. Conceding the point that effective monitoring is important, th e first issue to be addressed is which nations should be monitored.

The first point is obvious: advocates of human rights should monitor only those nations which have specifically agreed to respecting human rights standards. No matter how deeply one society’s belief might be in the system it uses to protect human dignity, that society clearly holds no moral authority to force another society to accept that system.

The second point is question to debate: advocates of human rights should not monitor societies which were coerced to accept human rights standards. Consider the case of two societies involved in the production of music; one society is a band of mu sicians, and the other is a recording and production conglomerate. Imagine that they hold two completely different opinions concerning the value of music. The band holds its value to be the ability to communicate moods, images, and messages to listeners . The production company holds its value to be the ability to sell compact discs. Suppose that the company offers the band a $5 million contract to make a recording that includes one pre-written song for which the company’s research predicts widespread popularity. If the band accepts the contract, does it necessarily change it’s conception on the value of music?

One might argue that numerous nations which have signed human rights documents or entered into the UN -- a step which requires acceptance of the UN’s

general operating principles including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights --

were coerced into doing so. Consider that most nations which first promoted the use of human rights as a system to protect human dignity are also the nations that hold most of the world’s purse-strings. Clearly, a nation that endeavors to develop its economy greatly benefits from access to the capital concentrated in the hands of the nations which advocate human rights. Noting the developed nations’ connection of human rights to foreign loans and investment, one could argue that developing nations a ccepted certain human rights standards as a precondition for attracting investment. By publicly accepting principles of human rights, the developing nations are not actually changing their conceptions towards the proper method to protect human dignity.

The debate over the validity of human rights monitoring over some reluctant human rights nations centers around two questions. First, if a nation accepts the human rights not as a genuinely revised value but as a precondition to the “development contract,” can that nation be held accountable for violating human rights, for violating the terms of the contract? Second, is a “human rights” clause to a development contract valid if it is accepted only because it is tied to terms which are essential to the developing nation?

What It Means to NIKE

NIKE bears the uncomfortable role of the moral punching bag in the world’s struggle with the complicated issues of the justification for and practicality of creating international standards of human rights. Human rights activists assault NIKE for not leveraging its economic muscle toward concretely improving standards of human rights in the nations that produce NIKE shoes and apparel. Furthermore, activists criticize NIKE’s Code of Conduct and other labor-friendly initiatives as reactive, image-o riented public relations schemes rather than forward-thinking, genuine attempts to help the subcontracted workers.

One can understand the frustration that has led NIKE to claim that it has been unfairly targeted. Yet while the massive critical attention paid to NIKE might be excessive of that given to NIKE’s peer companies, such attention is most certainly not unfair. The practical business challenges and ethical dilemnas which stem from operating in foreign nations are quite complicated, but NIKE nonetheless chooses to operate such. Because it voluntarily outsources its labor in order to find the lowest pos sible costs of production, NIKE must be willing to accept the criticism that has accompanied that outsourcing. NIKE bears the responsibility to meet the labor standards of the subcontractor nations as well as any standard of the United States concerning American-based multi-national companies.

Contrastingly, human rights activists must understand that NIKE cannot realistically be expected to singularly raise the standards of human rights in developing nations. Activists must recognize that their hopes to install and increase standards o f human rights in developing nations might be paternalistic and unjustified. Furthermore, they must realize that the ideal method for increasing human rights standards is through education rather than through the application of economic leverage by NIKE, the US government, or any international body.

References

Basic Documents on Human Rights, edited by Ian Brownlie. Oxford University Press: New York, 1994.

Bouandel, Youcef. Human Rights and Comparative Politics. Dartmouth Publishing Company: Brookfield, Vermont, 1997.

Bussuyt, Marc. “International Human Rights Systems: strengths and weaknesses” in Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: a global challenge, edited by Kathleen Mahoney and Paul Mahoney. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Boston, 1993.

Clark, Joe. “Human Rights and Democratic Development” in Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: a global challenge, edited by Kathleen Mahoney and Paul Mahoney. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Boston, 1993.

Cotler, Irwin. “Human Rights as the Modern Tool of Revolution” in Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: a global challenge, edited by Kathleen Mahoney and Paul Mahoney. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Boston, 1993.

Dias, Clarence. “Rural Development, Grassroots Development, and Human Rights: some Asian perspectives” in Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: a global challenge, edited by Kathleen Mahoney and Paul Mahoney. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: B oston, 1993.

Donnelly, Jack. Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, New York, 1989.

Eide, AsbjÆ rn. “The Four Freedoms and Human Rights in the New International Order” in The Future of Human Rights Protection in a Changing World: fifty years since the Four Freedoms Address, edited by AsbjÆ rn Eide and Jan Helgeren. Norwegian University Press: Norway, 1991.

Goulet, Denis. “Development: creator and destroyer of values” in Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: a global challenge, edited by Kathleen Mahoney and Paul Mahoney. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Boston, 1993.

Martenson, Jan. “The United Nations and Human Rights Today and Tomorrow” in Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: a global challenge, edited by Kathleen Mahoney and Paul Mahoney. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Boston, 1993.

Neier, Aryeh. “Remedial Human Rights Strategies” in Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: a global challenge, edited by Kathleen Mahoney and Paul Mahoney. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Boston, 1993.

Shenan, Philip. “Annual UN Ritual Condemning China Loses U.S. Support” in The New York Times: March 14, 1998, p. A1, c3.

United Nations. The International Bill of Rights. United Nations: New York, 1993.

Van Boven, Theo. “Prevention of Human Rights Violations” in Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: a global challenge, edited by Kathleen Mahoney and Paul Mahoney. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Boston, 1993.

Warden, William. “From Analysis to Activism” in Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century: a global challenge, edited by Kathleen Mahoney and Paul Mahoney. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Boston, 1993.

 

Copyright, 1998
Jennings Durand, INTS 092
UNC - Chapel Hill