Sebastian Strangio’s “Welcome to the post-human rights world” shows how the global rise of populism takes a toll on the human rights movement. He also points to areas of dynamism in the civic space where NGOs are rethinking their strategies and narratives. This led me to a lecture by Philip Alston who paints a bleak picture: “These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so, at least in my life time.” He asks the human rights community to be innovative and offers 4 strategies to international NGOs: (i) create more synergies between international and local human rights movements, (ii) embrace economic and social rights (in addition to civil and political rights), (iii) use persuasion techniques that go beyond stating principles, and (iv) engage with new actors such as large corporations. Alston was in my “purist human rights guru” mental box so this made me pay attention. It also led me to another human rights guru, John Ruggie, who in a recent speech, asked businesses to step up their game and go beyond do-no-harm and “shared value creation”. He argued that the single largest contribution businesses could make is to drive respect for human rights throughout their global value chains as this could impact over 2 billion people. I felt that these were important readings at a time when the UN leadership reflects on the future of the normative agenda while the World Economic Forum ponders on the future of human rights.
Meyers et al’s “The nexus of microwork and impact sourcing: implications for youth employment” reviews 90 documents and interviews 40 stakeholders to give the latest picture of the microwork landscape. Microwork refers to outsourced online micro-tasks such as data entry or image tagging and is a market projected to grow to $2.5 billion and to provide work for 2.9 million people by 2020. The hype around the microwork potential for development peaked a few years ago when many warned of a possible race to the bottom with very low pay rates and no benefits — the creation of digital sweatshops. This paper looks at the combination of microwork and impact sourcing, a business model where companies work with intermediaries who deliberately employ disadvantaged or vulnerable populations. The paper also gives interesting illustrations of impact sourcing intermediaries training their workers, introducing them to the formal economy and serving as bridges towards better employment opportunities. But this remains a space with little regulation and no social safeguards. Connecting this conversation to Ruggie’s call for action, one can see how the promotion of human rights through these digital outsourcing platforms could have a big impact on young people and their employment prospects.
My graph this week is from Ben Parker’s “US funding for the UN in chart” illustrating the break-down per agency of the $10 billion annual US contribution to the UN. To be read in light of the announced (but not yet specified) cuts to the UN system.
In line with the overall theme this week, here is a quote from Kara Swisher in her Ezra Klein interview [47’35”]: “Whatever you think of Silicon Valley, at least they make stuff, stuff that changes lives. IMB was one of the first to do integration and gave their employees rights, so did Apple. I put less of my faith in policy makers than I do in businesses.”