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Water For All: The Case Against The Commodification Of Human Rights

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Manuel Branco (ivora, Portugal), Pedro Henriques
University of Évora1

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 7: Global challenges for water governance,
Oral:
AbstractThe commodification of goods and services, i.e. a process within which economic value is assigned to something not previously considered in pure economic terms, is the very essence of the development of market capitalism. For a long time the irresistible rise of market capitalism did not seriously challenge the relative consensus that private enterprise could not substitute the state in providing those goods and services that are necessary to secure human rights, such as water. However, in recent years, state inefficacy in delivering some of these goods and services to everyone (inability to provide both the goods and services themselves and universal access to them) has been set forth to argue that private provision should play a more active role and, thus, in many parts of the world, pressures have been felt for privatizing water distribution, for example. The commodification process is not exhausted in privatization, though. The marketization of the state, in other words the growing tendency of the state to behave like a market-oriented firm, is another of its facets. The providers of goods and services necessary to secure human rights in general, and the right to water in particular, besides efficacy are bound to respect a set of fundamental principles, namely universality, equality, indivisibility and accountability. This article makes a case against the commodification of water as a human right arguing that commodification, or marketization, of water delivery does not guarantee that the above-mentioned principles will be observed because markets do not state social preferences and are neither accountable nor effective. This case will be grounded on the confrontation of the logics of the market and of human rights, both in theory and in practice. Most of the argumentation resorts to the confrontation of the theoretical behavior of markets when delivering water according to their internal logic with the requirements of compliance with the human right to water than any water provider must abide. As a result of this confrontation we will conclude that private provision of water - without a very strong regulatory system that in fine means the distortion of market logic - does not meet the conditions for providing water as a human right. Deep down, while filling human rights with exchange value commodification empties them of political significance. 1. Albuquerque, C. 2009. "Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development: Report of the Independent Expert on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations Related to Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation." http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/12session/A-HRC-12-24_E.pdf. 2. Arrojo, P. 2006. El Reto Ético de la Nueva Cultura del Água: Funciones, Valores y Derechos en Juego [The ethical challenge of the new water culture: functions, values and rights at stake]. Barcelona: Ediciones Paidós. 3. Bakker, K. 2007 "The ‘Commons’ Versus the ‘Commodity’: Alter-globalization, Anti-privatization and the Human Right to Water in the Global South." Antipode 39 (3): 430–55. 4. Bel, G., X. Fageda, and M. E. Warner. 2010. "Is Private Production of Public Services Cheaper than Public Production? A Meta-regression Analysis of Solid
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