No society functions without trust

Thoughts on the  2nd UN Business and Human Rights Forum, Geneva 2-4 December, 2013

Joseph Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001, made the keynote address to the audience of almost 2,000 people on Tuesday, 3rd December, 2013 at the 2nd UN Business and Human Rights Forum in Geneva. Governments, business, academia and civil society were present at this important 3-day gathering.  The reason for this Forum?  To discuss the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011.  (

Stiglitz, well known for his criticism of how globalization is being managed, spoke about the responsibility of states and business and he made many significant statements. For Professor Stiglitz:

  • The rights of companies to do business should be balanced by their responsibility to respect human rights.
  • Without strong systems of accountability there are no incentives for companies to respect human rights.
  • Companies should be bound by a Hippocratic Oath – they must do no harm.
  • The State-corporate nexus is unhealthy for society.
  • Corporate Responsibility should include, not oppose, laws that advance human rights.
  • There is an imbalance in economic power between corporations and those defending human rights in face of their activities.
  • Bilateral Investment Treaties increase economic imbalance, allowing cigarette companies to use these agreements to pursue their right to kill people.
  • Despite the advances in technology, potential in terms of prosperity has not been reached.
  • Cross-border mechanisms are needed to extend human rights protections.
  • Business should take an active role to set laws and regulations.
  • International cross border enforcement in Business and Human rights cases is very important.
  • Soft law is insufficient – there is a need for binding instruments.
  • Respect for the dignity of others includes a workplace that is as safe and pleasant as possible.

The need for companies to pay taxes, the importance of workers and their right to collective bargaining;  the problems relating to intellectual property that deny rights to medicine; the fact that companies should embrace corporate responsibility- it is the right thing to do, were all eloquently discussed.

What really touched me was Professor Stiglitz statement about trust.  “No society” he said “functions without trust”. This is fundamental to human beings ability to live together.

Without trust we cannot create the world we need!

Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin, BCL, LL.M, Solicitor


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