A rules-based international order and the concept of human rights

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Gordon Kricke (The Philippine Star) - August 2, 2018 - 12:00am

It is an understatement to say that we are facing today a world of remarkable complexity. Looking around it seems the world today is increasingly polarized by nationalism and populism, chauvinism and protectionism. The concept that has governed international relations for the past 70 years is under unprecedented strain. It seems old pillars of reliability are crumbling before our eyes. Populists thrive on people’s fear and disorientation. However, the notion that all are bound by a global set of rules, an international law above power is certainly worth protecting. A world where only the law of the strongest prevails, not the strength of the law, where stronger countries browbeat smaller ones in territorial disputes or where trade wars are started without hesitation would be much more unsafe and detrimental for all of us. 

So how do we deal with that situation? By strengthening multilateralism and by working together. From the German point of view a strong EU with a common foreign policy is a key factor. Germany, which has just been elected again as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2019/2020 term, will also continue to do its bit to fulfill its international obligations and will cooperate to resolve the problems of the world. There are many challenges where all countries have to work together: climate change, combatting terrorism, environmental protection, human rights and migrations issues are just a few examples. The recent “International Justice Day” on July 17 reminded us of the importance of the rule of law and the fight against impunity in international affairs. It is now the 20th anniversary of the International Criminal Court which has just been celebrated on that day. Germany played an active role in drawing up the statute of the court. Together with a group of like-minded countries it has worked assiduously for an effective, functional, independent and thus credible International Criminal Court. 

An important part of human rights are social and economic rights and it is necessary that governments and the private sector work hand in hand to protect these rights. The German government adopted the “National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights” with the objective to implement the UN Guiding Principles. The Action Plan was drafted in consultation with business associations, trade unions and NGOs. The expectation is clear: Companies must give due diligence to human rights in Germany and worldwide. An increasing number of consumers not only in Germany but worldwide now expect products which are in line with environmentally friendly, humane and sustainable practices. German companies are already known for usually strictly following existing rules and regulations and for having high labor and safety standards. The Action Plan will reinforce this reputation even further. But even more important is to have in mind that only a society that guarantees some degree of fairness and social justice is stable and peaceful in the long run. This concept played a key role in facilitating the often admired post-war economic track-record of Germany. Part of its success can be attributed to its co-determination model, or “Mitbestimmung”, that is entrenched in its corporate structures and is deeply rooted in the tradition of German corporate governance. The notion that workers should have a meaningful stake in their companies’ decision making processes complements the economic legitimacy of a firm’s management with a social one. It forces companies into long-term thinking and more concern for market share than for short-term profit maximization, with the survival and wellbeing of the company being paramount goals. It is an essential part of the social market economy model, it has served Germany incredibly well after the war and is supported overwhelmingly by business. It guarantees that capitalism works for everyone – not just the privileged few.

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(Gordon Kricke is the Ambassador of Germany.)

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