HUMAN RIGHTS AND INTERNATIONAL FINANCE
A Synthetic Overview*
Researchers delving into the questions of human
rights related to international investment have often modestly emphasized
the need for further research. As a result, we now have an impressive array
of studies on the subject. These studies provide enough documentation for
sketching broad syntheses about the realities and dilemmas that human rights
considerations—or lack of their consideration—create for international
capital; and international capital creates for the exercise of human rights.
Yet, little overall projection of the nature of the phenomena has been
done. The purpose of this study is to make a preliminary attempt at a synthesis.
Servitude or Entitlement:
The title of this study implies the juxtaposition
of two human dimensions: the affectional and the functional.
Human rights relates to such concepts as care, respect, dignity and understanding
among human beings, hence the affectional. International finance connotes
transfer of capital across frontiers for gain and therefore the functional.
Combining the human dimension with finance (in
general and not necessarily international at this stage) we can conceive
of different outcomes. At one extreme we are presented with financing for
profit with little human consideration. But along the line we will find
occasions when the affectional may, or may seem to, condition finance’s
Take, for instance, the financing of a friend
or one's own child without interest—in a way giving ones money away. The
motivation for the act, however, is more important than the altruistic
appearance. The child may even be charged interest or be required to reimburse
the capital; not because of a desire for direct material gain by the parents,
but in order to make the child socially responsible. In this case despite
the functional appearance of the transaction, the motivation is affectional.
Inversely, a friend or a protégé may be advanced funds without
interest, “out of the goodness of ones heart,” yet the motivation may be
a functional investment in the future and expectation of the return of
the favor based on an evaluation of the recipient’s potentials for success.
The operation is functional.
Transferring these interpersonal instances of
the affectional and the functional to the socio-political arena, we may
find that the functional extreme of financial gain may reduce the human
factor to a mere tool; producing the phenomenon of slavery. In such a situation,
the relationship of the human factor to the capital is that of servitude.
On the other hand, the human consideration may reduce capital to a tool
whose use is not to produce profit but to serve social welfare irrespective
of financial cost effectiveness. In the extreme case of the claim of social
welfare on the capital the relationship of the human factor to finance
will be that of entitlement. This situation may be approached in a social
democracy with strong egalitarian labor unions or in a totalitarian state
capitalism with centralized democracy.
While the interpersonal affectional/functional
and the sociopolitical servitude/entitlement tendencies can be traced in
time and space to different cultures, when they are transferred to the
international domain, they acquire a patently Western characteristic. It
is that international finance is associated with capitalism and the human
dimensions translated into human rights and identified with democracy:
both developments of modern Western culture. To some extent, this Western
association of the proposition is a distorting factor; because it projects
the interaction of capitalism and human rights into societies and cultures
whose historical evolution has been different from the West. In order to
better grasp the proposition it may be useful to briefly scrutinize the
development of capitalism and human rights within the Western culture and
see whether the two were interrelated and, if so, what the nature of this
interrelation was and to what extent it can be transferred to modern international
The developments we are concerned about here are
those of post-reformation Europe. The Calvinist and puritan concept of
the “elect” did not, as such, contain a direct human rights component.
God had chosen the “elect” to become rich probably because they were pious,
hardworking and frugal and did not indulge in the joys of the tavern. By
the very fact of the godly distinction between the “elect” and the others,
the elect did not have to feel guilty for the lot of the downtrodden. Of
course, as they amassed wealth and their reputation as conscientious craftsmen
and businessmen grew, the elect could expand their activities and provide
employment for the poor.
In the course of the centuries, however, riches
became the measuring rod dissociated from the pious characteristics which
were to bring it about. Indeed, as Protestant ethics metamorphosed into
social Darwinism in the nineteenth century, social institutions, notably
the churches, tried to attenuate its impact by emphasizing Christian charity
and creating charitable foundations.
Human rights, however, were not originally developed
in reaction to this state of affairs but as another concern of the emerging
bourgeoisie and as a complement to capitalism. Locke’s life, liberty and
property . were safeguards that the bourgeois capitalism wished to wrestle
out of the monarchs. These ideas inspired the English Bill of Rights and
the American and the French Revolutions. The human rights they proclaimed
were civic and political, leaving free rein to liberal economy.
This free rein, combined with social Darwinism
and the industrial revolution, caused economic and social disruptions in
the nineteenth century. Christian charity was not enough to counter balance
the encroachments of free enterprise capitalism. Trade unionist and socialist
ideas and institutions emerged to counteract and interact with the free
enterprise and the government to secure social and economic justice. Conflict,
compromise and cooperation between the four dimensions (government, capital,
labor, and, to some extent, the church) provided economic, social and political
settings oscillating somewhere within the spectrum going from servitude
In the process, the intrinsic characteristics
of most of these dimensions within the national boundaries of Western countries
were compromised: governments assumed more and more social, economic and
regulatory responsibilities beyond their political, military and judicial
authority. Labor movements, originally inspired by Marxism, eventually
sat down to negotiate with capital and government instead of wiping them
out by revolution. And capital moved from sweatshops to unemployment and
health insurance for the workers. These evolutions did not take place because
they were intrinsic to the characteristics of each of these social dimensions
but because of the presence and potentials of the other dimensions within
the national boundaries and their input within the legal system.
Servitude or Entitlement: International
In the course of the colonial and imperial expansions
of the West, each of these dimensions produced different impacts on the
penetrated territories. In general, and naturally, they reverted, circumstances
permitting, to their intrinsic characteristics. The interactions in the
new non-Western environments produced different complexes. The Western
Governments, for example, while essentially political and military powers,
were creating frameworks for the international economic penetration of
their national capital. We thus could encounter home countries with well-developed
human rights conditions whose international financial arms extending into
other parts of the world needed not occupy themselves with human rights
Capital moved to non-Western regions of the globe
in search of profit: its intrinsic characteristic. One of the incentives
for the capital to move was the absence of the restraints encountered in
the home country—notably in the domain of economic and social human rights.
Of course, in some cases some residual developments of the interactions
within the home country did move on with the capital. For instance, during
the nineteenth century industrial revolution, capital had come to realize
that the Malthusian misery of the workers was not cost-effective and that
providing some standards of hygiene and housing were more efficient both
for better production and better control of the workers.
Of course, the introduction of such standards
in traditional societies could, at times, disrupt local ways of life and
cultural patterns. Thus, in addition to possible lack of Western style
civic, political, economic and social human rights in the countries penetrated
by international finance and other dimensions of Western culture, such
penetrations had the potential of disrupting the local traditional cultures.
In the aftermath of World War II, human rights
became one of the major concerns of the United Nations. With the moral
implications of decolonization the United Nations' efforts to improve human
dimensions through international finance were inspired by affectional factors
defined earlier. Governments were to contribute, with little or no interest,
to such programs as the Special United Nations Fund for Economic Development
or in later years finance arrangements made by the World Bank and IMF to
help developing countries. Contributions to these international programs
and institutions and aids and grants provided through bilateral arrangements
between governments did not have profit or interest or capital as their
direct functional goal. Their goals were economic and political and each
government had its own ideological rationale to contribute to it. The indirect
functional goals of such programs have become more apparent in the recent
role played by the IMF in bailing out developing countries with huge debts
which are unable to meet deadlines on their payments.
In 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights which served as basis for the “International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and the “International Covenant
on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights,” adopted by the General Assembly
in 1966. The two covenants came into force in 1976. As the title of these
covenants indicates, they are aimed at securing the two different kinds
of human rights discussed earlier. But the forms and the circum-stances
in which they have been formulated are far different from the evolution
of these rights within the Western culture. At the UN, it is the governments
of different countries who proclaim principles with little or no enforcement
instruments at the international level. They can, of course, enforce the
principles they proclaim within their national boundaries; although this
is not always the case.
For international finance an international covenant
or any other principle of behavior is only effective to the extent that
it is enforced by the governments of the countries within which they operate.
This applies to the home as well as the host countries. International finance
seeking gain on the international market place is not in charge of enforcing
human rights. If the government of the United States forbids, under penalty,
the U.S. firms to deal with the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union is
helping the Polish government to suppress human rights in Poland, the U.S.
firms will find it difficult to disregard such law—unless they can find
some international trade practice or legal loophole permitting them to
go around the prohibition. Similarly, where a host country has laws on
minimum wage, workers insurance or taxes for welfare and education, international
finance will find itself obligated to abide by those laws—unless it can
negotiate concessions from the government. The side comments in the last
two sentences above are, for some, the crux of the problem.
So far, we have touched upon the international
projection of the attitudes of the governments and the capital towards
human rights. A look at the international projection of the other dimensions,
namely, the church and labor, which we discussed in the context of the
development of human rights within the Western countries will throw light
on other human rights restraints on international finance.
The church has, of course, an involved relationship
with international finance; too extensive to delve into within the limits
of this study. Suffice to say that over the centuries, while saving the
souls of non-Western people, the church in general created favorable grounds
for the international movement of capital and at times served, more or
less, as the conscience of international finance in cases of flagrant abuses.
Churches have played important roles in influencing international capital
in the field of human rights in the last two decades. They have, in fact,
taken the lead in the popular pressure on multinational corporations to
respect human rights.
As distinct from other popular protesters, such
as civic and student groups which act on the outside and around international
capital by such tactics as demonstrations, lobbies, boycotts and using
the mass media, the churches have had leverage within multinational corporations
and financial institutions as shareholders and investors. Together with
such other institutional investors as universities, they have been able
to influence corporations and financial institutions by threatening to
withdraw their investments and accounts. Above all, as shareholders, churches
have brought human rights issues in the corporate policy making process
through proxy resolutions.
In the domain of human rights the impact of churches
on international finance can be significant due to the parallelism of church
structures with those of international finance, extending from within the
home and host countries into an international network. Some, such as the
Catholic church, have been inherently international. When the Pope tours
Central America and tells the campesinos of their human worth, international
finance and the government with which it works will have to cope with the
new political awareness. When the Central Committee of the World Council
of Churches adopts a resolution, as it did in 1977, considering multi-cultural
corporations as oppressors and exploiters, it is addressed to its nearly
300 member churches and over a billion adherents around the world.
Trade Unionism and Socialism
The internationalization of institutions, which
emerged as a consequence of trade unionist and socialist ideas, has had
a checkered history. In the course of its evolution the trade unionist
dimension did not lend itself to an integrated international growth. It
enmeshed with the government and capital within the national frontier to
gain job security, social benefits and favorable wages. This, of course,
happened in those Western countries where negotiation—not always without
conflict--among labor, capital and government was possible. In these contexts,
labor movements recognized capital as a legitimate component of the social
and economic process and distinguished between their claims on capital
as syndicalist action for improvement of labor conditions and their political
action for influencing the government through social democratic parties.
As the symbiosis between labor and capital developed, more often than not,
it pitted the national labor against foreign labor.
Where cultural, economic and political conditions
were not favorable for symbiotic evolution, such as Southern and Eastern
Europe, and later other parts of the world, the socialist dimension inspired
by Marxism turned into militant political action. These evolutions can
be traced through the history of the international labor and socialist
movements. The International Secretariat of National Trade Union Centers
created in 1901 fell apart in 1913, precisely because of the conflict between
the pragmatic social democratic unionism and revolutionary socialism. When
World War I started, workers of Western industrial nations picked up arms
to defend their “bread baskets” against each other. But the end of that
War was marked by the implantation of Revolutionary Communism in Russia
where international and national capital was nationalized. The conditions
surrounding the Russian revolution, however, did not lend themselves to
putting capital at the service of entitlement programs. Eventually a state
capitalism was instituted which, under Stalin, brought human rights conditions
closer to the servitude end of the spectrum.
The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution further crystallized
the differing characteristics of trade unionism and militant socialism.
The post WW1 Western inspired international trade unions, whether the International
Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) founded in 1919, or the International
Trade Secretariats of various crafts and industries, remained conglomerations
of national trade unions. Among the international labor organizations,
the International Confederation of Christian Trade Unions created in 1921
by Catholic workers unions was probably, in aspiration, more universal
because of its religious orientation. The Comintern as an international
political arm of Soviet communism was to mobilize the proletariat under
the slogan of “Workingmen of the world unite.” In that spirit it created
in 1920 the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU) to counteract Western
inspired trade unions. It is interesting to note that RILU was dismantled
in 1935 to permit its national units to act more freely within their respective
countries. The brief cooperation of the Soviet Union and Western
democracies during WW2 saw the end of the Comintern in 1944 and IFTU in
1945. By the end of WW2, however, the Marxist socialist ideology had consolidated
its home and widened its sway. The countries of Eastern Europe that had
embraced it, despite the fact that they were not practicing it, had become
the official standard bearers for the emancipation of the proletariat and
in that role condemned international finance as the new form of Western
Soon after the end of WW2 the trade unionist and
ideological dimensions of labor reorganized in modified forms reflecting
the new realities at the international level; but with little change in
their intrinsic characteristics. (International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions (ICFTU) created in 1949 can be reasonably considered a successor
to IFTU while World Confederation of Labor (WCL) was the post-WW2 de-confessionalized
merger of ICCTU and some Protestant unions.)
The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) provides
an interesting case. Despite its trade union appellation, it contained
within it the two trade unionist and ideological characteristics with striking
emphases. Created in 1945 under the influence of the Soviet Union, WFTU
is mostly composed of workers’ organizations within the Eastern European
countries. The national trade unions within these countries are enmeshed
with the state capitalism of their government beyond recognition. An Italian
trade union delegation to Moscow—having in mind Fiat automobile corporation
which has factories in the Soviet Union—inquired from the Soviet unionists
whether they would take solidarity action, if asked, against a multinational
corporation within which workers in a Western country were on strike. The
answer of the Soviet workers was that “... this is a political question
and trade unions in the USSR are not involved in politics.”
Inversely, the relatively small portion of the
member organizations of WFTU which are outside Eastern Europe have been
the more militant unions in the West and the developing countries such
as CGT in France, CGIL in Italy CUTch in Chile, or CNT in Uruguay—the latter
two suppressed by military regimes.
Underdevelopment and nationalism
The main international thrust for the ideological
promotion of human rights, however, has not been the use of trade unions—precisely
because of their intrinsic characteristics of symbiosis with the national
government and the capital. The international setting has not lent itself
to the Marxian scenarios of proletarian consciousness and revolution in
the highly industrialized societies. Instead, the consciousness has been
that of underdevelopment and nationalism, and in some extreme cases, that
of religious fanaticism. The methods have been those of militancy, creation
of national liberation fronts, guerrilla warfare, coup d’états and
terrorism. And the target has been imperialism and its manifestation in
the form of international finance. If there needed to be any proof for
the justification of this scenario, Allende’s attempt at gaining control
through democratic process in Chile and the circumstances of his overthrow
The threat of national liberation fronts and other
forms of disruption have become a check on international finance for consideration
of human rights; but usually they are perceived too late, basically because
of capital’s primary intrinsic characteristic of profit making and also
because where the international finance does promote human rights in the
host country, it generally does it according to Western standards which
often disrupt the cultural pattern of the host country and accelerate the
process of social change. Unfortunately, when the political and social
unrest become serious, consideration of human rights by international finance
further precipitates the process. By trying to improve the economic and
social conditions, it admits pate shortcomings and points the way. And
by supporting the ruling class, yet nudging it to ease the situation by
granting some civic and political human rights, it creates contradictions
within the established order, thus weakening its position against the militant
elements. The past history of these events, from the Soviet Revolution
to Nicaragua has shown that once the process begins, the compromise between
international finance and militant factors is unlikely.
Past history has also shown that once the revolutionary
elements have succeeded, the regime they install is not that of entitlement.
They invariably call international finance back in. By suppressing and
controlling civil and political rights and by standardizing economic and
social human rights they create favorable and predictable conditions for
international finance to follow its natural goal to seek profit which,
at the same time, helps develop the economy of the authoritarian “socialist”
or “state capitalist” host country. This transition process has not yet
fully taken shape. In the early seventies a number of Eastern European
countries and more recently China passed laws to facilitate the influx
of international finance. Some efforts were made in that direction. But
the economic and political upheavals since the seventies have brought that
movement to a practical halt. For other more recent regimes issue of revolutions,
wounds are still too fresh for accommodation.
We thus return to the realities of symbiosis between
international finance and the government, and by doing so to their intrinsic
characteristics. Governments are, in the last analysis, political, military
and legal entities. International finance is a balance sheet. Balance sheets
don’t have a soul. Whether it is Romania, Honduras, South Africa or Haiti,
for the international finance to move across frontiers, its forecast printouts
should show that the balance sheet will be in the black. The human dimensions
of international finance lie outside of it, affecting and being affected
Human Rights’ Impact on International Finance
The shareholders invest capital in a corporation
for return and banks make loans for interest. If the shareholders do not
know or do not care what happens in South Africa or Haiti, the corporation
calculates the price of labor—in combination with raw material, capital
layout, management, energy costs, etc.—and comes to the conclusion that
it is profitable to invest in those countries. If, however, the shareholders
do know and do care about human rights conditions in these countries and
make a point of it as shareholders, then the corporation may have to take
human dimension of the operations into consideration.
As mentioned earlier, interestingly enough, the
church is the dimension which provides national and international structures
parallel with the international finance and is actually intertwined with
it, therefore having a leverage on it for the observance of human rights.
The church has the intrinsic characteristic of saving human souls. It is
true that it has been known to promise only post-mortum salvation and thus
appease the downtrodden without chastising the profiteers. But in the present
international conjunctures the church seems to have also taken the direction
of promoting earthly human rights among private as well as state (e.g.
Poland) capitalists. The structure and intrinsic characteristics of the
church thus single it out as one of the more likely national and international
dimensions to sensitize international finance to human factors.
It must, however, be noted that the churches themselves
were largely sensitized to human rights issues by “radical” movements of
the sixties and the seventies which, from within the universities and student
movements, were trying to mobilize the public opinion. Although the “radical”
movements subsided or became more institutionalized—such as the Greens
in the German Federal Republic—they helped develop the intellectual components
of the public opinion concerned with international human issues. The intelligentsia/public
opinion dimension runs through the social fabric beyond the structured
institutions so far covered.
International trade unions, despite the national
orientation of their member organizations have taken some critical stands
against international finance. It is, of course, in the interest of trade
unions in the developed countries to promote social and economic human
rights in the less developed countries. The more the labor force in the
developing countries moves towards entitlement claims the more expensive
the price tag for that labor will become and the less interested international
finance will become to move away from its home country labor market.
Governments do have components within their intrinsic
characteristics, notably the political and the legal, which do reflect
human dimensions. Elected officials, and even authoritarian leaders are
sensitive to the intelligentsia/public opinion dimension mentioned above.
Thus, the home country may try to become the soul of international finance
by, for example, prohibiting it from moving to another country because
according to its criteria the target country does not respect human rights
or forbidding certain practices such as bribing officials of other countries.
In terms of international realities, these policies are subjective and
peculiar to the home country’s policy. To the extent that they are not
universal practices, they may handicap the movement of international finance.
Host countries, as we have already discussed, can also establish standards
for human rights. This latter phenomenon, however, can be better observed
from the other perspective
International Finance’s Impact on Human Rights
We pointed out that the international finance
is a balance sheet. On the face of it, unskilled labor at $0.10 per hour
in another country compared to $3.35 in the home country is attractive.
Of course, it has to be fed into a complex of other factors to determine
the feasibility of its use. The labor may be in the Andean Altiplano or
Central Australia and when combined with such factors as transfer of capital
goods, transportation, access to market, etc., may be found not to be cost
In addition to these obviously functional factors,
international finance will need to look into the political and legal structure
of the potential host country in terms of foreign exchange convertibility,
repatriation of capital and interest and other pertinent laws. These considerations
should per force lead into other questions. It is appropriate for the international
finance to find out why labor is at $0.10 per hour. The variables here
will be enormous. For example, we may find that labor is cheap due to an
archaic feudal social pattern where a small oligarchy of families exploits
the masses. It would be quite disruptive and absurd if the international
finance getting into the host country took upon itself to improve the lot
of the people by offering the workers the minimum wage of its home country.
It may equally be the case that in order to have
access to the labor, the market or the raw material in the host country,
or simply to make its capital available there, the international firm may
have to make some donations to the official oligarchs and power holders
of the country. Indeed, the word “bachshish” usually used to imply bribe
means donation. It is true that acceptance of favors by the prince consort
of the Netherlands or the prime minister of Japan to influence a deal in
the context of what we know as a modern culture can be considered reprehensible.
But in our own culture, for many centuries, when the King bestowed titles
to his officials, they were to collect tributes for their services and
even pass on some to the King. The process is feudal and still in practice
in some developing countries. It is not for the international finance or
its home country to impose their own value system on other countries.
It is, however, a fact of social dynamics that
the introduction of a foreign agent into a body will influence it. Whether
it is by “donation” to the ruling class or competing with local job givers
for labor, international finance will contribute to the process of change;
and as a factor, will acquire a certain image. The image, in the long run,
is that of superiority and aggressiveness. The nineteenth century mandarins
who looked down on the Western mercenary commerce soon came to realize
The influx of international finance does not only
awaken a general sense of alienation but contributes to new radii of identification.
The labor in developing countries working for foreign industries, when
receiving special treatment, becomes, so to speak, a separate class. It
may be considered lower by traditional societies which have pride in their
own identity as was the case in China earlier, or it may be considered
superior in cultures which do not have respect for their own identity.
Usually there is a combination of both because
some segments of the society may remain traditional while others may aspire
to modernism. At the same time, those who work for foreign firms, despite
the fact that they may be better treated than the rest of the indigenous
population, may become more conscious about the discrepancy between themselves
and the foreign personnel and resent the discrepancy. Inversely, some,
recognizing the discrepancy, become loyal to their foreign employers in
that context and try to imitate the culture of the latter.
These phenomena, and others, such as the collusion
between the ruling class and international finance, can trigger social
upheavals which will use the concepts of human rights to justify their
cause and in doing so will find international finance and its home country
the appropriate villains. As past events have demonstrated, this process
spirals into confrontation between the discontented elements and the international
finance. The government of home country—especially when it is the USA—gets
involved, and the market mechanisms by which international finance was
attracted into the host country get distorted.
For example, the home country will provide military
and economic aid to the government of the host country to suppress the
social unrest and secure the continuation of the privilege of the international
finance. The beleaguered host government will suspend whatever human rights
which may have existed in the country and the international finance and
its home country by association become implicated in the process.
At some point the situation loses its cost effectiveness
in the overall picture of the home country. Whatever its international
finance may be gaining in the host country may be offset by the expense
to the taxpayers of the home country to maintain the government of the
host country. Unfortunately, at this point the situation is no longer evaluated
in terms of sound financial considerations but gets marred by ideological
and political exigencies. Where social upheavals end up in successful revolutions,
international finance takes a loss during the revolution and its usual
aftermath of nationalization. Further, the antagonism and resentments between
the new regime and international finance handicap the resumption of the
activities of the international finance in the host country for a time.
If international finance is to survive the wave
of state capitalist totalitarian governments with claims of putting capital
at the service of entitlement, it should make sure that not only its own
balance sheet is in the black, but that the overall outcome of its operations
is profitable. In terms of free enterprise capitalism, bombs, tanks and
helicopters which go up in flames in “national wars of liberation,” and
for which the taxpayers foot the bill, are economic hemorrhage. They produce
inflation and reduce our competitiveness. We are still suffering from the
economic consequences of the Vietnam War. In our own enlightened self-interest,
there comes a time when we should cease to prop up unpopular regimes. For
that, we need awareness on the part of the people, governments, and the
international finance. In short, we need broader and deeper education about
international realities, and better political analyses put at the service
of international finance. We can start by offering seminars and internships
in international relations for corporate managers.
*This paper was presented to the 24th Annual Convention
of the International Studies Association in Mexico City, April 5-9, 1983,
and appeared in the
Journal of Social Philosophy, vol. XVI, 1, winter
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