Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Giving People Some Voice in Policy

John Ruggie, the UN general secretary’s special representative for business and human rights, has appointed Gus Ryder, general secretary of the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC) to a global leadership group to advise him how to ensure that businesses worldwide respect human rights.

The group’s 15 members also include Kofi Annan, former UN general secretary and Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who also served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and is now executive director of the Ethical Globalization Initiative. The 13 other members are leaders from business, diplomacy, and civil society around the world.

Ruggie, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has a UN Human Rights Council mandate to provide concrete guidance for governments, businesses, and other “stakeholders” on how they can make the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights more universal in the global economy.

Ryder, 52, born in Liverpool, heads the world’s largest trade union body with a membership of 168,000,000 working men and women in 155 countries. The biographical list distributed with the September 22 announcement says that Ryder’s work “is based around the ITUC’s belief that our globalized world requires effective global governance.”

The UN has long debated how active it should be in promoting human rights in business. Ruggie succeeded in ending the stalemate in June this year, when he won the unanimous endorsement of the Human Rights Council for a three-year project seeking to embed human rights in the policies and practices of multinational corporations.

He succeeded because he made special efforts to consult business leaders across the globe. His new leadership group, which includes a former secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce, Maria Livanos Cattaui of Swtzerland, continues that outreach.

(For background on this UN initiative, click here for one of my blog articles. For others, see “categories” in the right-hand column of this page, and click on John Ruggie.)

Is there a lesson here for Secretary Paulson?

U.S. Secretary Treasurer Paulson would be wise to follow Ruggie’s example. Paulson, a former top dog on Wall Street, is leading the bailout of Wall Street. In any other situation, that would be considered a conflict of interest. And it is indeed a conflict of interest, but it is unfortunately made necessary by the longtime practice of letting groups of wealthy insiders monopolize the nation’s financial policy.

The current crisis is evidence of how badly they have blundered. Appointing an advisory group of independent outside experts might be a start at making sure that the Paulson team dedicates itself exclusively to the national interest.

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