Human Rights vs. Global Capital

Human rights discourse is often mobilized to justify and reproduce economic inequities through the creation and development of social and governmental institutions for use in developing countries.  Tariq Ali said eloquently in his book Pirates of the Caribbean — Axis of Hope, “the pillars of the new global order [Washington Consensus] were viewed as almost divine institutions whose authority derived from the mere fact of their existence: a global corporation is beneficial because it is a global corporation and it is a global corporation because it is beneficial. In reality, this logic had to be imposed by NATO’s eastward expansion and a network of US military bases in a hundred and twenty-one countries.”  Naturally, human rights language obfuscated the nature of this global order and gave it an image of divinity, or at least, the humanitarian.  Anghie stated in his book that, ”human rights is the one area of international law that is explicitly committed to the protection and furtherance of human dignity. Globalization, with the inequalities it promotes, challenges if not threatens the integrity of human rights law, precisely because it uses human rights as a means of furthering itself.”(Anghie 2005).  The mobilization of this discourse through the Washington Consensus has had both creative and destructive force within human rights discourse and international law.  It’s built the image of the global order and destroyed the soul of human rights.  Anghie quoted Baxi whom stated, ”I believe that the paradigm of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being steadily supplanted by a trade-friendly, market-friendly, human rights paradigm. This new paradigm reverses the notion that universal human rights are designed for the dignity and well being of human beings and insists, instead, upon the promotion and protection of the collective rights of global capital in ways that justify’ corporate well being and dignity over that of the human person”

This is such an interesting insight into how positive notions of human rights can be used to reproduce inequalities between the global south and north.  Maybe this is why there is such a large group of individuals and academics that fully support some SAP’s and other economic reformations and don’t feel guilty about it.  I often try to understand why people would want to enforce economic structures that produce such inequality.  While I haven’t read any Hayek or Friedman, I’ve read plenty of criticism.  Critiquing and dismantling the capitalist system almost seems a necessity.  Re-framing the world and discourse through lenses that do not involve the global capitalist system, but instead focuses on the importance of equality, health, and human rights — for humans.

But how do we re-frame?  Through books like Anghie’s and other post-colonial theorists we learn the ”other” story — the story of the rest of the world that is subjugated through colonial and imperialist practices.  The first step in re-framing is education.  By learning the story we can see how it manifests today.  By acknowledging the problem we can take steps to promote and create laws that will restructure the world for the better.  And this would manifest by decreasing the power of global capital and returning it to the people of the world.



Anghie, A. (2005). Imperialism, sovereignty, and the making of international law. Cambridge, UK; New York, NY, Cambridge University Press. 256


Upendra Baxi, Voices of Suffering and the Future of Human Rights, 8 Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems 163–164 (1998), 125–169.