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How The Free Market Is Ignoring Human Rights

Updated: Aug 5


Grace Williams argues against outdated and elitist liberal ideals of unfettered individualism and turning a blind eye to social responsibility.



According to the UN, human rights are 'rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status'.  But at present, basic human rights do not necessarily represent or belong to every individual. The application of human rights currently reflects the free market, private property, minimum government, individualism, and deregulation: the central characteristics of globalising capitalism.


This misinterpretation of human rights has led to extensive suffering from appalling working conditions and inadequate access to education and basic health treatment. For example, within many countries healthcare and medicine is privatised and is only available for those who can afford it, meaning people are deprived of a fair chance in what could be a life or death situation. Our culture is becoming more and more privatised depriving people of their rights, forcing them into poverty and encouraging profit as the only end. If something is not done to fix this, poverty, hunger, and social fragmentation may be of consequence.


Multinational corporations who store and gather information are now making profit from our personal information and essentially selling it back to us via advertisements. They are using our information in order to make profit – whilst there are laws put in place ensuring that we have access to privacy, these are often neglected in order to serve third-party companies' requirements. 


The idead of free trade and free market are considered “free” not because labour is free but only because the product is freely available in the global market. This links to Adam Smith’s “economic theory”. However, what we need to take into consideration is that his theory was based on the economics of the United Kingdom back when we manufactured slave ships and endorsed slave labour. Clearly this is neither up to date nor relevant for today’s economy, and “economic benefit” should no longer favour the upper classes. If we continue down this irreversible path, globalisation will drive down labour costs to slave labour levels. 

Furthermore, this includes places across the globe endorsing slave labour already. Sweat shops abroad producing goods for big Western companies enjoy profit earned off the backs of poor working conditions, including illegal pay, endless hours without food or water and often resulting in poor health conditions. This does not comply with UN human rights standards: we should not be putting profit ahead of people.


In order to provide a fair and truly free market in which both the buyer and the seller have an equal advantage, wealth must be more fairly distributed. The trouble is that even in nations which have achieved impressive levels of political equality, therefore still holding at least some economic equality, there are still some subtle inequalities that surface; some of the market will be inherited to certain heirs of companies. In addition, others will naturally favour from luck, meaning both have an advantage and already have some capital to invest with. In other words, provided everyone has relatively equal access to the basic necessities of life, the inevitable instabilities in the market reward the harder working, smarter thinking, and more adaptable investor.


To treat economic, social, and cultural rights on an equal basis with civil and political rights, we must challenge the liberal ideal of unattested individualism and unfettered access to exploitative wealth creation. | Tru. 🌱

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Sources:

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/globalisation-human-rights/

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights/what-are-human-rights

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