January 27, 2022
By Daniel Farber Huang
This article was included in the book Driving Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion 1st Edition by Kristina Kohl.
Over 70 years ago, back in 1948, 48 out of 58 member countries of the United Nations voted to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), which sought to promote mutual respect and equity “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”[i]
While there have been some minor successes over the past seven decades in the name of human rights, let’s face it, the small wins are too often outnumbered by humanity’s failures. The concept behind the UDHR is noble, some might even call it beautiful. All people – whoever, wherever – are entitled to certain fundamental rights such as freedom from slavery, freedom from torture, equality under the law, freedom of movement (including leaving and returning to their home country), the right to asylum, freedom of thought, choice of religion, and many other privileges that lay out the architecture for the peaceful world most people would want to live in.
Of particular interest is the UDHR Article 23 regarding every individual’s human right to earn a living for oneself. Article 23 includes four key points:
1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.[ii]
The U.N. today boasts all its member States have ratified at least one of the nine core international human rights treaties, and 80% have ratified four or more, giving concrete expression to the universality of the UDHR and international human rights. But what does it mean in practice, when push literally comes to shove?
In direct contrast to the grandiose intentions of the UDHR, our collective performance has been abysmal. The U.N. calls the current global refugee crisis “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.” As of mid-2020, 80 million men, women, and children have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution.[iii] That obscene level of violence equates to one person becoming a refugee every 2 seconds.
Every 2 Seconds.
That’s over 60 people since you started reading this article and more than 150 new refugees created by the time you finish.
As a Trustee of an international non-profit organization, I was recently required to sign an affidavit confirming that I personally have not been involved in activities that would be considered “Mandatory grounds for exclusion” according to a generally-accepted European procurement standards, specifically Article 67 of the Belgium Act of June 17, 2016 (the “Act”). The purpose of the Act, in part, is to establish a uniform set of standards and requirements for public bidding situations.
The mandatory grounds for disqualifying a prospective contract bidder included several of the typical “bad behavior” standards that would be expected, including any person who has been convicted of
1. participation in a criminal organization,
4. terrorist offences or offences linked to terrorist activities, or the instigation of, the aiding and abetting in or the attempt to commit such crime or offence,
5. money laundering and terrorist financing,
6. child labor and other forms of trafficking in human beings.
Disqualification Point #7 stood out to me, which stated:
7. the employment of illegal residents from third countries who reside here illegally.[iv]
I fully recognize that Points 1 through 6 are criminal activities that rightfully warrant the full weight of local and international laws and penalties. Point 7, however, one might argue should fall into a more of a gray area, which can take into account a more nuanced delineation of who (or “what”) an “illegal resident” is or is not. There also is the debate that no human being should be considered “illegal.” A more accurate descriptor would be labeling someone “undocumented” to represent better their current citizenship status.
I understand the legal minds writing the Act had to contend with the inevitable politics that would attach itself to these issues, but I believe it is a grave mistake to group undocumented individuals (whether they are displaced individuals, refugees, asylum seekers, or other men and women from third countries residing in a new country) in the same category as criminal, terrorists, and human traffickers.
Undocumented individuals may be vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers, but I do not believe the spirit of Point #7 is intended to protect undocumented people in that manner. Rather, I believe it is intended to restrict further that vulnerable population’s ability to earn a living and to develop greater self-sufficiency.
The U.S. has comparable standards against the hiring or employment of undocumented individuals. The net effect is that people who displaced, often fleeing war or persecution in their countries of origin, are further marginalized and forced into poverty by arbitrarily penalizing them for seeking safety in a new country.
Ultimately, denying capable individuals the ability to obtain self-sufficiency through employment, by applying their existing skills and talents (as well as preventing people from obtaining advanced or new skills) does not protect any host country’s best interests. Host countries should consider integrating, welcoming, and leveraging the significant pools of talent, manpower, and knowledge that is ready to willingly contribute to their new communities.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights thought that was a sound, humane philosophy over seven decades ago. It still is today.
About Daniel Farber Huang
As a strategic consultant, documentary photographer, and journalist, Daniel Farber Huang has traveled to 40 countries, regularly documenting humanitarian crises or politically sensitive situations. His projects include a collaboration with his wife and photo partner, Theresa Menders, entitled The Power of Faces in which they provide refugees across the world with physical family photos and seek to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis. He holds a Master’s degree from Harvard University in Journalism with a Certificate in International Security as well as an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
[i] United Nations, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” United Nations (United Nations), accessed May 10, 2021, https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights. [ii] Nations. [iii] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “UNHCR – Refugee Statistics,” UNHCR, accessed May 10, 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/. [iv] “Loi Du 17 Juin 2016,” Public Procurement, July 27, 2018, https://www.publicprocurement.be/fr/documents/loi-du-17-juin-2016.