The current financial crisis is likely to have devastating impacts on poor people and poor countries – the 1.2 billion members of our human family denied their human rights to food, water, sanitation and other fundamental needs. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon warns: “It would be unacceptable that the least developed countries and the most vulnerable populations were asked to pay for the consequences of a crisis the making of which was entirely outside of their control. … It could be the final blow that many of the poorest of the world’s poor simply cannot survive.” The crisis is not simply affecting financial institutions. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The financial collapse is already compounding the food crisis, the energy crisis, Africa’s development crisis and undermining existing progress in eradicating poverty and disease and the efforts to fight climate change.
But like the Chinese symbol wei ji, which comprises symbols for both danger and a crucial point, crisis often provides an opportunity. The current financial crisis provides a unique chance to build a new, just and sustainable world economic order.
A number of initiatives are already underway. At the recent Paris Summit (13 October, 2008), Prime Minister Gordon Brown stressed "We must create a new international financial architecture for the global age.” At the ASEM meeting in Beijing (24-25 October 2008), Asian and European Leaders pledged “to undertake effective and comprehensive reform of the international monetary and financial systems”. On November 15th, 2008, the Washington Summit will bring together global leaders to establish principles for the reform of regulatory and institutional regimes for the world’s financial sectors.
This focus at the highest political levels on restructuring the financial system provides an entry point for a more profound reshaping of global economic governance to create a system that benefits all. For some time now, there have been calls for values and principles to shape policy and practice across the board. In the corporate sector, there is increasing recognition that business success, human rights, equity and sustainability can, and should, be mutually supportive and reinforcing. Similarly, the various codes of conduct adopted by the corporate and investment sectors and the introduction of social principles into the World Bank provide examples of the commitment to introduce a principled approach to the global economy.
Even more significant are the legal obligations voluntarily adopted by states across the globe to comply with the principles enshrined in international human rights law. These human rights principles should provide the bedrock of the new emerging global economic paradigm, reinforcing the political commitments made to protect the environment and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
In shaping the new economy, the international community also has the benefit of the wealth of experience gained through:
• the adoption of responsible investment practices and of the triple bottom line business model, giving equal weight to economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and social responsibility; the experience of Islamic banking practices
• rights-based constitutions and the implementation of a human rights approach to development by UN agencies, governments and NGOs
• community-centred democratic processes and empowering economic initiatives such as micro-credit, cooperatives and other participatory models of ownership.
The Washington Declaration recognised the importance of the rule of law. Central to this are the legal obligations voluntarily adopted by states to comply with the international human rights law, including the obligation to ensure to everyone a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing. nternationally recognised human rights principles should provide the bedrock of the new emerging global economic paradigm, reinforcing the political commitments made to protect the environment, achieve the Millennium Development Goals and reactivate the Doha Development Agenda.
The Washington Declaration emphasised the key process principles of transparency and accountability. Building on this, the Congress will develop both process and outcome principles. For this we need a vision - a world in which an equitable and sustainable global economic system ensures that every child, woman and man can enjoy their fundamental rights to adequate water, sanitation, healthcare, education, housing and livelihood; a world in which every sector of society fulfils its responsibilities to humanity and the environment. The human rights and responsibilities approach is no longer simply the right thing to do. It is the essential thing to do.