An initiative to create a more ethical model of a globalized world

The name of Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is practically synonymous with human rights. Her courageous leadership has helped protect, promote and update human rights wherever they are under attack. Robinson will be in Greece on October 24, United Nations Day, to attend the final celebration of Titan, which is devoted to the topic of business responsibility and social solidarity. Her presence is in response to Titan’s respect for human rights, sustainable development and environmental protection. She spoke to Kathimerini about her ongoing commitment to human rights, the recent Johannesburg summit on sustainable development, managing mass immigration and the social responsibility of businesses. This is not the first visit to Greece for Robinson, who has been to Rhodes on official business and other Greek islands on holiday several times in the past. «It is a place I have enjoyed,» she says, «and I am looking forward to this further visit to Athens.» You are known worldwide as a human rights crusader, and also as an unfaltering and outspoken advocate of that cause. Now that you are free again to choose your own path, do you still intend championing that cause? The answer is «yes,» and in particular in relation to the last part of the question. Because I made it very clear when I was leaving the Office of the High Commissioner that I would not be a High Commissioner of the shadows. Meaning that now there is one High Commissioner, my successor, Sergio Veira de Mello, and I am very supported by him and by the team in the office of the High Commissioner. So I will be focusing on a slightly different way of promoting human rights, by bringing human rights into the base of globalization. That is now the new project that I am heading up in New York. It is called the Ethical Globalization Initiative. And it focuses on two issues. The first is to bring the actual doing of the human rights work, meaning the legal commitment by governments – under the governments’ conventions – and the role of civil society and the use of the reporting system to the committees in Geneva. That is the technical doing of human rights. And I want to bring that into the wider context of globalization. I am sure that civil society groups have become very knowledgeable about how to use the tools of the human rights system to make globalization fairer and more equitable. I have the feeling that you need a huge mechanism to deal with this initiative. That’s a good question. My sense is that there are a lot of different bodies including civil society groups and universities and centers watching in an ad hoc way on issues of globalization. I want to provide more of an overall framework and context, but I also – as part of this project – want to focus on helping African countries to strengthen their own protection systems in human rights. The phenomenon of xenophobia and racism is increasing and the implications are serious. Would you advocate a global approach? Yes, I expressed my concern as High Commissioner about what I thought on the increasing evidence of a «Fortress Europe» which encapsulates what you have been saying. And also rising racism and xenophobia. I would advocate both a global and also a regional approach. A regional approach is important because that would be a way of focusing on managing migration and there are different components to manage. First of all, part of the managing would be to reflect that Europe needs inward migration to support the economic development of Europe over the next 50 years. I am told some 70 million immigrants would be required. So that double message should be coherent politically. And this requires the right environment for good relations in the interest of the overall developments of the countries of Europe. And then there needs to be management of the special factors, the vulnerable factors of immigration, that are the refugees and the asylum seekers, and the issue I feel very strongly about, the trafficking of women and children – which I thought so much of as a High Commissioner. And then are the vulnerable undocumented migrants. So I think it is important to have a focus on managing all of the issues in relation to migration, and therefore it is important to have a regional dimension. But it is also now a global problem and needs a framework globally, which is equitable and fair. Management of immigration seems to be very difficult. I agree that it is difficult, but we have not put enough emphasis on the approach of managing in a holistic way a complex problem, and if you focus only on one part of this then the sand slips through the fingers. You have to look at the whole and then what I am saying is to have a framework that is fair and equitable to manage the issue. Including having controls in order to have human security. How can the problem be handled in Europe, so that Europe will not be turned into a fortress? I was aware that the Seville meeting of the European Union was addressing this issue and while I was High Commissioner I wrote to the head of the governments in Seville not to focus on a Fortress Europe but to approach it from the point of view of this overall management of migration, knowing that European countries have need for inward migration and therefore must focus on multicultural societies, on respect, on tackling xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Arab, anti-Islamic attitudes. All of them. And I think we need political leaders at national and local level who are giving leadership in this; society’s awareness as well and schools and education. Critical issues, such as the North-South divide, wealthy versus poor countries, and the exhaustion of natural resources seem to have been taken over by the pros and cons of globalization. Is there too much bickering instead of determination and action? Yes, I do agree, in the sense that I think we are seeing a wide divide and no meeting of minds between those who champion the free markets and those who are – who like to be described – as anti-globalization. It is very divided, the base. And that’s precisely part of the focus of the project that I am now leading. To create a more ethical globalization and to build bridges around that ethical globalization and part of doing that is to encourage those groups who are protesting in the streets, who are activists against globalization at the moment, to use the tools of international human rights. And to become aware that these tools are a way of pinning governments to progressively implementing economic, social and cultural rights. So, that means the right to food, to social shelter, clean water, education, healthcare. And therefore, it can be a positive way of discussing these issues instead of the dividedness which you described as «bickering.» So in a way I try to focus on creating bridges of democratic discussion to the tools of human rights. If I have understood rightly, you think as well that those people protesting against globalization could channel their voices to put pressure on their governments. Exactly. And if they become more informed about and aware of the human rights commitments, they can use them as tools and be much more effective. I would think that awareness, information, are high priorities. They are essential, yes. But there are also examples of civil societies that are using those tools. And I have seen lots. For example, recently in Cambodia, in East Timor, and before that in Mexico and Peru. Civil society and social solidarity are being promoted among local and regional partnerships, to which you have devoted much time and effort. How can these partnerships be made effective, when there is a diversity of culture and goals among the potential partners? Could you mention some successful examples? Certainly. I have focused on this area and on encouraging the business sector to become more involved in local community and in support for work, either in their own country or in developing countries. And there are lots of positive examples. For example, the work of the ETHOS Institute in Brazil, in Sao Paolo, in the southern part of Brazil. It is an institute that brings together both small and large business to work with very poor communities in Brazil. And a second good example is a body called Business for Social Responsibility, based in San Francisco. And they work with businesses all over the world, in Asia, in Latin America, in Africa, helping businesses to be supportive. And another good example is the Prince of Wales Trust in Britain. And also they have a special Business in the Community group and I want to encourage this throughout Europe and elsewhere. I would be interested to know how business in Greece is working in this area. I do not know as yet, but I will be interested when I come to Athens to talk to Titan itself and other companies about what they are doing.