Jan 24, 2018

Business and Human Rights – The Curse of “Destructive Development”

Today, the term ‘development’ is generally associated with political promises of economic growth and prosperity and the full integration of so-called developing countries into the global community. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that large-scale development projects are en vogue with the governments of these nations and supposedly more developed countries in the Western world alike. In most cases, these political ambitions manifest as mega-infrastructure projects, promising global connectivity with technological integration, improved transportation, abundant employment opportunity and other indicators of stability and prosperity. In this article, UNPO will look at the cases of Brazil and Pakistan, minority and indigenous groups in both of which are severely affected by this kind of “destructive development”.

Indeed, the positive contributions that the development of infrastructure has on a nation’s prosperity are in most cases undeniable. At the same time, the unethical and destructive consequences of often brutal implementation of these projects cannot be ignored. Case studies of mega-infrastructure projects in Pakistan and Brazil in particular reveal the detrimental human rights disasters that result when States and businesses are not held accountable for negative externalities.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a bipartisan undertaking between China and Pakistan that promises connectivity between Kashgar in Western China and the deep-sea port of Gwadar of Balochistan in Pakistan.  Along this new “Silk Road”, special economic zones will serve as energy generation hubs that will improve economic cooperation between Asia and Europe.  That is, if you believe official statements by both the Pakistani and the Chinese government. In reality, a deeper look inside the details of this initiative reveals grave human right concerns which urgently demand international attention. The project’s center port is in Gwadar, a small port town on Balochistan’s coast which is inhabited predominantly by indigenous Baloch. The Pakistani State, fearing the heterogeneous population and being wary of legitimate Baloch calls for self-determination and fair resource allocation, has systematically denied these peoples to partake in the local economy and to have a say in how revenues from resources and trade are shared. In addition to these same concerns, Gilgit-Baltistan is meanwhile at risk of falling victim to widespread environmental destruction caused by the implementation of CPEC. Although – at least on paper – each economic zone is set to create thousands of new jobs, China and Pakistan have already planned to resettle an estimated 2.5 million Punjabi and Chinese laborers and armed security forces in the region, rather than including the existing and impoverished population in the job market. To make things worse, the Baloch people are not only discriminated against but also treated with gross state-sponsored violence. Optimistic estimates suggest that about 18,000 Baloch people have been forcibly disappeared since 2003. In January 2014, three mass graves were discovered that uncovered hundreds more Baloch bodies.  Violence has undeniably worsened against the Baloch since the implementation of CPEC has begun.

Unfortunately, the detrimental impacts which come with the implementation of the CPEC project are by no means isolated incidences. In the past decades, Brazil has pushed for the construction of dam projects across its the Amazon basin. These projects were promised to make the transportation of soy, the country’s leading export staple, much easier and boost the country’s international trade. Undeniably, already constructed dams also increased Brazil’s energy supply by 25 percent, helping the businesses of nearby cities whose populations continue to soar.  Yet, what is rarely mentioned in government communiqués is the fact that an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 indigenous peoples have been displaced and left homeless or without work due to these dam constructions.  Worse yet is the violence soy-producing agrobusiness used to expand their company’s access to land, unjustly killing scores of innocent indigenous peoples. Early January 2018, in what constitutes a surprising policy shift, Brazil ceased the construction of environmentally destructive dams in the Amazon Basin. Nevertheless, the consequences of decades of ruthless implementation still remain, as thousands of indigenous peoples are left without their land with no possibility to ever return to their ancestral homes.

Tragically, other examples of big businesses and ruthless governments lining their own pockets at the expense of minorities and indigenous peoples abound. The people of the Ogaden, whose lands are taken away by Chinese oil conglomerates and giant international agrobusinesses, or of Ogoniland, Al-Ahwaz in Iran, or the Turkmen areas of Iraq all suffer under the curse that is “large-scale development”. One only has to look a little closer to discover that disastrous impacts of irresponsible business practices are far too widespread. Without a doubt, globalisation is increasing and an irreversible process.  However, UNPO is convinced that there is a better way for it to unfold, in a sustainable, inclusive way that treats minorities’ and indigenous peoples’ voices and concerns with respect. It is essential to both demand and enforce accountability for unjust, inhumane and deadly practices that occur in the name of ‘development’.


Photo courtesy of CIFOR/Icaro Cooke Vieira @Flickr 2014