Human rights off the table?

Street scene in Beijing

Street scene in Beijing

This article was originally published at G20 Watch

Given that the G20 is being billed as the most significant leadership meeting that Australia has ever hosted and will ‘address the global growth challenge in an ambitious and meaningful way” we need to ask where the discussion on human rights is taking place.

Should we be worried that there appears to be a distinct lack of reference to human rights at the biggest meeting of world leaders? Does it really matter if human rights are not discussed openly, if at all, in reference to global economic growth?

In a word, yes, because the absence of discussion that takes into account human rights obligations and responsibilities means that the Summit may make recommendations that are counter-intuitive to current human rights instruments.

Take for example The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)which focuses on socio-economic rights and responsibilities such as labour rights, access to education, standards of living and the right to health.  All G20 members have ratified the Covenant except for the US, Saudi Arabia and the EU (France and Germany have ratified the Covenant).

Under Article 6 of the Covenant, State Parties recognise the right to work in an occupation of choice and must take appropriate steps to safeguard this right. This can include ensuring that there are technical or educational frameworks in place as well as ensuring that the State creates specific policies or legislation to realise such a right.

It is encouraging that one of the main focus’ of the Summit will be expanding the paid workforce, especially to boost the participation of women and young people. However, this aim needs to be backed up with concrete plans on how to make it happen, especially in contexts where young people are not able to access proper education and women still face discrimination in the workforce and spend a lot of time caring for children and elderly relatives.

In line with creating new growth in the workforce, the G20 needs to reform current tax and business practices. Under the ‘growth and development stream’, G20 participants will examine tax and banking reform and has, as one of its aims, already suggested a digital approach to the tax and banking environment by digitising payments.

How would a move towards a digital tax and banking system impact upon the ability of a citizen to participate in business when the barrier to access such infrastructure is high?

Arguably, the Summit needs to consider how a global move to digital services will impact upon the day-to-day business of micro-economies in areas such as Africa or Asia where small and medium enterprises (SMEs) deal in small cash transactions and where access to digital infrastructure is minimal and/or prohibitively expensive.

There should be frank and open discussion about the importance of human rights because global growth does not occur in a vacuum. Yet the G20 will not explicitly address human rights. A desktop review of the G20 website, as well as policy papers and working group outputs arguably illustrates a distinct lack of independent research or discussion around human rights and the effect the role that the G20 can or could play in safeguarding or expanding such rights.

How can human rights be heard and seen at the G20?

One obvious suggestion is that the Summit should consider human rights not as a separate issue to be discussed outside of the Summit, but rather something that should be embedded into each and every discussion concerning future and current policies. This means human rights issues will be reflected within the agendas and working groups co-chaired by States.

Surely greater discussion concerning human rights is expected at such an important global platform.

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