Law and Poverty Colloquium kicks off
Transnational businesses are getting away with injustices against the global poor because the Westphalian nation-state system is shielding them from valid claims by the dispossessed, argued philosopher Prof Nancy Fraser at the opening of the Law Faculty’s Colloquium on Law and Poverty yesterday [29 May 2011].
“We airbrush away all actors, processes and mechanisms that operate at the global or transnational scale,” she said, pointing a finger at “foreign investors and creditors, international currency speculators and transnational corporations”, as well as “the governance structures of the global economy, which set exploitative terms of interaction and then exempt them from democratic control.”
Prof Fraser is the Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics and at the New School for Social Research in New York, and currently a Donald W Gordon Fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advance Studies.
She proposed that justice demands “parity of participation” and held up a “three-dimensional view” of the concept: “equal redistribution” of material resources, “equal recognition” of all participants in society, and “equal representation” of their political demands.
When individuals, companies and states do business in ways that deprive people of the means to participate as equals in society – economically, culturally and politically speaking – they are contributing to the “core injustices of the 21st century”, Prof Fraser said.
She highlighted “the rise throughout the global South of mega slums utterly cut off from formal work” as an example of this kind of “injustice on a global scale”, pointing out that “the excluded” are prevented from pursuing “efficacious claims against the offshore architects of their dispossession.”
This is because “the international system of supposedly equal sovereign states gerrymanders political space at the expense of the ‘global poor’, channelling their claims into the domestic political arenas of weak or failed states, and shielding more powerful predator states and transnational private powers from the reach of justice.”
Prof Fraser called for the concept of “the poor” to be reconceived because it casts “the people in question as passive victims instead of agents and potential actors”. She also problematised the term “poverty” because it suggests that people “simply, inexplicably lack the means of subsistence, whereas in fact they have been deprived of those means” [original emphasis].
Prof Sandy Liebenberg, who occupies the HF Oppenheimer Chair in Human Rights at Stellenbosch University and is Director of the Faculty’s Law and Poverty project, said a major challenge in South Africa was to get the legal system to respond appropriately to the country’s “dubious distinction of surpassing Brazil as the country with the highest levels of income inequality in the world.” She pointed out South Africa’s 1996 Constitution aimed to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.”
The Colloquium, which continues today, is being hosted by the Faculty’s initiative on Combating Poverty, Homelessness and Socio-Economic Vulnerability under the Constitution. It forms part of the HOPE Project, a University-wide programme through which the institution is tackling seemingly intractable developmental challenges in society, Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said.
- Visit http://www.sun.ac.za/university/Management/rektor/speeches.html for Prof Botman’s speech.