Last International Human Rights Day, December 10th, marked the 4th anniversary of the launch of the RightingFinance (RF) website.
Human rights is one of the areas of public interest where the disconnect with the representation in financial regulation becomes most evident. The choices on global and domestic financial regulation carry critical consequences for the ability of governments to comply with their human rights obligations. For an extreme and recent illustration of this one needs only examine the impacts of the 2008-09 global financial crisis. It prompted the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to state that “As a result of the crisis and the threat posed to national economies by the potential collapse of systemically important financial institutions, . . . the ability of individuals to exercise their human rights, and that of States to fulfil their obligations to protect those rights, has been diminished.”
But the impacts are not less clear in normal times. The way governments choose to regulate the financial sector carry important implications for economic measures conducive to the realization of human rights, including public decisions on allocation of resources, the destinations of credit activities, employment and social protection.
In spite of the broad set of interests affected by the choices made on financial regulation matters, the debate on such choices, on account of its technical and complex nature, has typically been restricted to a few experts. Human rights are a subset of the public interest that, as ably argued by colleague organization Finance-Watch, one rarely finds represented in debates on financial regulation. Neither would groups representing such interests demand more involvement, precisely upon the wrong notion that lacking the technical expertise they cannot make a meaningful contribution. As a result, the debate ends up subject to lobby by large financial firms, with little access and accountability to the broader public.
Since 2011, RightingFinance, a consortium of four networks and five organizations with human rights and gender advocacy mandates, has taken precisely on the mission of promoting a human rights approach to financial regulation.
Because of the nature of its members, RightingFinance crafted its mission around three basic pillars: education, analysis/ research and advocacy/coalition building.
A crucial aspect of RF’s approach has been the education of human rights constituencies so they are empowered to weigh in on financial regulatory debates. In approaching this task RF deliberately avoided trying to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach for drawing the link between finance and human rights and imparting that knowledge to target constituencies. The false premise that there is such a thing as “a” human rights approach to financial regulation, highly technical and which only a few could understand and access, if having the proper training, would have been a perverse replication of the problem which we were trying to tackle.
Conversely, RF believes in unleashing the creativity and political power of human rights to reshape finance. Supporting that process requires demystifying the financial regulation debate by helping target groups understand the essential elements of it and grow the confidence to develop their own responses and approaches.
This philosophy could be seen at work, for instance, in RF’s series of 2-pagers. The building of the website has operated as a clearinghouse for financial regulation –broadly understood– and human rights issues that accepts submissions by groups working on a variety of ways to characterize the connection. The current blog is open to submissions that link finance and human rights and serves to feature a diversity of approaches to finance and human rights.
Research and analysis
Using human rights to reshape finance does certainly include RF members’ own approaches and proposals to do so. Thus, RF members have provided their contribution to a body of knowledge on the matter. They publish their own analyses – featured in their blogs and on the website. RF has worked to strengthen analytical work in human rights mechanisms such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council and its Advisory Committee, and thematic mandates on right to housing, right to food, right to water, extreme poverty and foreign debt. RF sees the further engagement by human rights mechanisms on financial matters as a key pillar of generating confidence among human rights constituencies to weigh in on such debates themselves. One of the areas where RightingFinance has seen this strategy pay off was its close collaboration with a crucial report by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty on the links between human rights and tax policy, which has bolstered enthusiasm on addressing this issue in both human rights and tax advocacy communities alike.
In pursuing this stream of work, RF strived to rely on a network of economists and experts from legal, economic and other fields, including those in its advisory board, thus creating an interdisciplinary community of intellectual and human resources.
Advocacy and coalition-building
Finally, although a good part of its work is devoted to reclaiming financial matters as a local issue, RF also faces the inescapable reality that finance is global and so are the venues deciding on many of the most pressing financial regulatory matters it is concerned with.
An important part of RF’s resources has gone into building and broadening support for positions to address the finance and human rights intersection in forums like the Group of 20 and the United Nations processes on Financing for Development and debt. Sometimes this meant becoming a relevant voice in civil society platforms for delivering such positions, sometimes it meant creating such platforms, such as when in 2013 RF co-convened, with the OHCHR, the first ever seminar to bring together financial regulatory bodies, human rights mechanisms and civil society experts.