Saturday, December 18, 2010

Who are the world’s top 100 global thinkers?

Foreign Policy (FP) magazine’s December issue publishes its list of the world’s top 100 global thinkers for 2010. It honors President Obama as No. 3 “for charting a course through criticism.”

I for one would not rate Mr. Obama quite that high in what FP calls “this very smart crowd.” He lacks the necessary policy understanding of the 21st century global economy, as seems clear from his wobbly course on global trade and investment issues.

Missing from the FP list is a bold thinker and quiet doer, John Ruggie, a professor whom a 2005 FP survey called one of the most influential academics in the field of international relations. Since 2005, his main occupation has been as UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights. During three years of work, he developed a new “Framework” on the duty of the State to protect against human rights abuses, on the Corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and on the need to provide remedies for violations – all toward better managing 21st century business and human rights challenges.

As a self-styled “principled pragmatist,” Ruggie establishes a “foundational principle” that corporate responsibility includes respecting the ILO’s eight core conventions,” but doesn’t leave it there. That commitment, he adds, belongs in the corporation’s own human rights policy statement to show it is exercising human rights “due diligence” in-house but also in relationships with partners, suppliers, and other entities.

In 2008 the Human Rights Council unanimously approved that “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” Framework. But how apply its principles in a world of 192 UN member states, 80,000 multinational enterprises, 800,000 subsidiaries, and countless millions of national firms, most of which are small and medium-sized enterprises.

Ruggie has now posted a 27-page-long set of Guiding Principles for implementing the framework. To gather feedback, he has created a special website,, which remains open until January 31. After that, the document will undergo final editing and translating in time for the June meeting of the Human Rights Council.

Wide acceptance of the new paradigm would mean a historic change in the culture of globalization. Just reading a brief summary like this one will not convert skeptics. A careful reading of the Framework and key supporting documents, however. will be instructive even to those who already support what constitutes the beginning of a social movement.
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Monday, December 06, 2010

Goobye to EPI's ‘State of Working America’ in book form

The State of Working America, published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in book form since 1988, is going all-electronic. The full Website will begin in early January 2011.

Like its predecessor publication, the new one will present comprehensive data from eight broad issue areas -- income, mobility, wages, jobs, wealth, poverty, health, and international comparisons – all designed to give readers a deep understanding of the effect of the economy on low- and middle-income American workers and their families.

The 2008-2009 edition, a book of 460 pages, is still available from EPI and still useful for its trenchant analysis.

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Root Canals and the Roots of Human Rights

What is the basis for human rights? I've been wondering. The question is especially timely now that, on December 10, we are celebrating the 62nd anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I had the chance to think about its roots one day this month during an hour-and-a-half session in a dentist's chair. I was there for two root canal procedures.

Between waiting for the Novocain to take hold, X-rays to be developed, and drillings to be refined, I jotted down some ideas in the Notes & Memo pages of my July Day-Timer booklet. Here's a transcription of my scribblings:

* God creates human beings in his own image and likeness, thus bestowing on humankind a unique kind of dignity.
* From early on in human history, humans violate that dignity.
* Laws, regulations, and rules of various types (ranging from the Ten Commandments to corporate codes of conduct) are written to counter the wrong-doings committed by humans.
* People gradually expand their recognition of the wrongs committed against human dignity (e.g., eventual recognition of the moral evil of slavery and compulsory racial segregation).
* Human ingenuity, however, is ever at work in devising new forms of evil (sweatshops, e.g., and causing people to be "disappeared," which is not listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
* Globalization adds a vast new dimension to human existence, one which expands opportunities both for violating human dignity and for respecting it.
In a real sense, everyone favors human rights, at least within a limited scope: for yourself and those close to you. Controversies flare up when you go beyond that: to your responsibilities for respecting the human rights of others, especially the weakest members of the human family.

Any fuzziness here I blame on the Novocain.

(Adapted from an article I published in the July 1998 issue of my website, Human Rights for Workers.)

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