David Kinley, chair of human rights law at the University of Sydney, addressed economists, financiers, consultants, human rights activists and students in his talk Monday morning entitled, “Principle, Pragmatism or Prostitution? Speaking Human Rights to Global Finance.”
He focused on the possibility of establishing a relationship of equal reciprocity between global finance and human rights.
“The whole thing is very murky,” he said. “To use Dick Cheney’s terms, of course in a different sense, we are working in the shadows.”
Kinley emphasized that construction of a global economy and finance will act as an engine to push for greater attention to human rights within the sphere of the worldwide economy.
“A global economy and finances is not an end, but rather a means to a better life for as many individuals as possible,” he said.
Yet Kinley said that so far, global finance and human rights efforts have not been as cooperative as they should be, and sometimes seem to directly oppose each other.
Kinley analyzed three major concepts: the composition of the global economy and its relationship with human rights, the attitudes of both sides and, ultimately, the effort to make a connection between both camps.
The global economy consists of two parts: a real, tangible economy, including such things as foreign and direct investment and taxation that normal citizens are fairly familiar with, and a surreal economy, which consists of such things as derivatives and remittances, which everyday citizens are less aware of, Kinley said. He described the real economy as hinged and the surreal as unhinged.
Kinley stressed the importance of taking action in redistributing funds to benefit the population at large and in doing so, advocating for human rights and a better understanding of the surreal economy.
Kinley also discussed the attitudes between global finance and human rights. At its extreme, the attitude of global finance is that human rights issues are for the state, and because corporations are private, they are not accountable for the rest of the population.
Kinley said that in order for human rights ideals to be achieved in cooperation with global finance, this attitude needs to change. He said global finance is still largely disconnected from reality and from the general population. The human rights camp, at its extreme, holds the attitude that commerce is inherently bad. According to Kinley, though, this view is unrealistic, as there cannot be pure evil in the economy and pure good in human rights.
Kinley’s final point was about making a connection between these two stances.
“The need to augment leadership is an issue of engaging global finance and human rights,” Kinley said. “Here, political leadership is key. Political leadership will push the private sector leadership, causing there to be less lip service and more real service.”
“I expected the talk to be all about corporate responsibility,” said Masako Ichichara, a Stanford student’s spouse and a volunteer with a human rights program. “But it was news to me that Kinley’s point of view extends beyond the corporate economy to shareholders and outside things.”
Linda Kimball, manager of investment responsibility at the University, asked how discussion might change perceptions of aid and finances in a global setting.
“How can we get everyone to recognize philanthropy as a good thing but furthermore to realize that equity is key?” she asked.