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The Monster Under the Bed: Financial Services and the Ruggie Framework

The problems at the heart of the global financial system that were laid bare by the 2007/8 crisis had profound impacts on the world’s poor – both in rich and poor countries. Jobs, livelihoods, health care, educational opportunities, and welfare benefits were and continue to be lost or cut, and the human rights standards of those affected have plummeted. The financial institutions at the heart of the crisis are (or were) corporations, subject to laws and regulatory oversight that clearly failed. But they are also corporations supposedly subject to the tide of corporate social responsibility, human rights and environmental sensitivities sweeping the corporate world. Many, in fact, had and have human rights policies in place that were commensurate with the demands of the UN’s newly minted corporations and human rights Framework and Guidelines, and yet these policies and the processes that underpinned them were inconsequential in the face of the bad-debts tsunami that swamped the financial sector and the global economy. This has much to do with the rapacious culture of ever-growing returns let loose in global finance in recent decades, the inscrutable complexity of the system, the monumental misunderstanding and mismanagement of risk, and the regulatory architecture at its heart that sanctioned excessive risk taking. But this begs the question of what, if anything, the UN Framework and Guidelines can meaningfully contribute to the better management of the financial sector and the protection of international human rights from financial malfunction and excess.

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November 2017
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