Development is not the expansion of consumption

Latest issue of Sur Journal discusses the human rights impact of development defined as economic growth Latest issue of Sur Journal discusses the human rights impact of development defined as economic growth

August 9, 2013


The difficult relationship between human rights and the imperative of development is a daily concern, especially in the countries of the Global South. The construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is an emblematic example of this tension. In our countries, this conflict is being resolved in favor of so-called “economic growth” and against the communities that are directly affected. Belo Monte is also an example of how this tension can affect the entire human rights architecture: it was the adoption of precautionary measures against Brazil by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the Belo Monte case that unleashed the worst ever crisis in the Inter-American System.


The issues surrounding this conflict between development and the defense of human rights are the central theme of the latest issue of Sur Journal, which is now available online.


The introductory article summarizes the arguments that were raised during a meeting of 24 Latin American organizations in May 2012. It concludes that “today we are facing a new wave of violence and criminalization against those who defend alternatives to the model of economic growth understood as merely the expansion of consumption”. As a strategy for addressing these tensions, the article proposes working on local issues without losing sight of their transnational importance. “We must continue to act strategically at the micro level, case-by-case, but with a clear and solid discourse of principles,” it concludes.


In addition to the introductory text, the 17th issue of Sur also contains another four articles on human rights and development and an interview with Sheldon Leader, director of the Essex Business and Human Rights Project, in which he discusses the role of the UN human rights system in holding companies responsible for human rights violations.


Section on “Development and Human Rights”


Development and Human Rights: Some Ideas on How to Restart the Debate

César Rodríguez Garavito, Juana Kweitel and Laura Trajber Waisbich


The Contribution of the UN Special Procedures to the Human Rights and Development Dialogue

Irene Biglino, Christophe Golay and Ivona Truscan


The Right to Water: Understanding its Economic, Social and Cultural Components as Development Factors for Indigenous Communities

Luis Carlos Buob Concha


Toward a New Paradigm of Human Rights Protection for Indigenous Peoples: A Critical Analysis of the Parameters Established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Andrea Schettini


Can Economic Growth Translate into Access to Rights? Challenges Faced by Institutions in South Africa in Ensuring that Growth Leads to Better Living Standards

Serges Alain Djoyou Kamga and Siyambonga Heleba


Transnational Corporations and Human Rights

Interview with Sheldon Leader




Juana Kweitel, program director at Conectas, comments on the relationship between human rights and development, which is the underlying theme of the latest issue of Sur Journal.


Other voices

Dilemmas of the Collective: institutions, poverty and cooperation in the local management of common pool resources, by Juan Cárdenas

“The physical space that sustains our natural resources is collective in its essence – even though not de jure, or on paper – and the benefits that as a society we reap from them are, therefore, also collective. But collective too are the environmental costs of the individual decisions that affect this social well-being; from this derives the social responsibility that we have to design effective local institutions (rules of the game).”


Ethincity.gov: natural resources, indigenous peoples and the right to prior consultation in social minefields, by César Garavito

“Put to the test in contexts that are radically different from the negotiations imagined by governance theorists and international regulators, the procedural rules of [prior] consultation have unexpected and ambiguous consequences. On the one hand, they dilute indigenous political claims into procedural discussions that are dominated by companies, with limited State mediation. However, the shift from substantial disputes to procedural ones is both incomplete and imperfect, to the extent that the fundamental differences reappear constantly and generate a fundamental confusion that leads to frequent miscommunications during negotiations – some of which are unintended, while others are deliberately caused by companies, indigenous communities or state officials seeking to strategically exploit this confusion.”


Far beyond the green economy, by Ricardo Abramovay. Editora Abril. São Paulo: 2012.

“Twenty-one scientists, winners of a type of Nobel Prize for the environment, published a manifesto early in 2012 that starts with the famous phrase by Martin Luther King: we have a dream. Its diagnostic is implacable: the human ability to produce has gone beyond the human capacity to understand; contemporary civilization is experiencing the explosive combination of rapid technological evolution and slow socio-ethical evolution. It is necessary to go far beyond the green economy, precisely because we cannot continue stepping on the accelerator of technological innovation to prevent ecosystem frontiers, already overstepped on some scale, from being trampled globally, which would have catastrophic consequences for social life.”


Cases and Initiatives


Conga mining project – Peru

Mineral exploration in protected areas in the region of Cajamarca by the companies New Mont and Buenaventura has mobilized the local population, which is now engaged in mitigating the environmental and social effects of the contracts signed by the Peruvian government under the terms of the free trade agreement the country maintains with the United States and Canada – which all but prevents its suspension. According to Rocío Silva, of Peru’s National Coordinating Coalition on Human Rights, the project was developed without prior consultation and local leaders are systematically persecuted by security agents.


Cerro de Oro – Mexico

In the 1980s, indigenous groups from the state of Oaxaca, which is rich in natural resources, were affected by the construction of a hydroelectric plant on the site of an old dam. The construction work, financed by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a U.S. government agency, displaced some 26,000 indigenous people. There was no prior consultation with the affected groups, nor were any studies conducted to determine the social and environmental impact of the project. According to Mariana Gonzáles, of Mexico’s Center for Research and Analysis (Fundar), mobilization by local communities caused the company to halt the construction work in 2011 until an agreement was struck between the parties.


Celco Case

A natural sanctuary in central Chile was the site chosen by the company Celco to build a wood pulp mill. According to José Araya, of the Chilean NGO Observatorio Cuidadano (Citizen Observatory), the construction caused an environmental hecatomb. However, the local population came together and managed to pressure the government to implement a waste management project that now serves as a model for the entire country. The mobilization also resulted in important and positive changes in Chilean environmental legislation, such as the approval of a law on the use of protected coastal lands.


Affected by Vale

The presence of the Brazilian mining company Vale in more than 30 countries is problematic from a social and environmental point of view, and from the perspective of protecting the human rights of the populations affected by its large mineral extraction projects. This assertion has led people from around the world to come together and form a platform to denounce the problems caused by the company and to demand change. Besides producing reports that demystify the company’s corporate social responsibility marketing, the group organizes strikes and demonstrations and runs public campaigns, such as the one that elected Vale the world’s worst company in the Public Eye Award.


BNDES Platform

According to João Roberto Lopes Pinto, of the More Democracy Institute, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) is a shareholder in 22 of Brazil’s 30 largest companies. Its enormous financing contracts, in the tune of R$145 billion in 2012, frequently contradict other government agencies and threaten the human rights of vulnerable populations in Brazil and abroad. Considering the challenge of opening a dialogue to raise the transparency of the contracts and to monitor the impacts of the financed projects more closely, a coalition has been created called the BNDES Platform, which in 2009 organized an international meeting of people affected by the bank.


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