A Miscalculated Bet: Business, Human Rights and the Battle against Global Poverty

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Christian Olaf Christiansen


Aarhus University


DKK 720,493




Monograph Fellowships


Human rights represent some of the finest, progressive ideals we have: ideals of fundamental equality and dignity for all persons. This book will trace the histories of two ideas for poverty reduction: social and economic human rights (such as the right to an adequate standard of living), and the idea that poverty reduction is best accomplished through the spread of private business enterprises. It will mainly focus on the history of these two ideas from within the international organization most devoted to the cause of fighting global poverty: the United Nations. My thesis is that the ambition of securing material well-being for many people has failed partly because international development organizations made a miscalculated bet on business.


The history of social and economic human rights is not well developed. Of the intellectual history of the United Nations that does exist, none focuses explicitly on the problematic of this book. By focusing on thinkers such as management theorists, this book also contributes to broadening the source base of intellectual history. Similarly, while there is a rich scholarship on the role of business in society, much less has been written on the subject from an intellectual historical perspective, especially in a non-US perspective. The book will combine a scholarly account of the intellectual history of anti-poverty policies with a timely intervention into current debates on poverty. It will be a contribution across the fields of neoliberalism, business, global inequality and human rights.


The book will build upon a broad variety of written sources examined from an intellectual history perspective, such as works by key development economists within the UN. It will also draw upon interviews with various UN experts, including Under-Secretary Generals. The book will be chronologically and thematically ordered, starting out with a long historical view, then investigating its key problematic from 1948 until today, mapping out the intellectual history of two ideas - business and human rights - that have been called upon to reduce global poverty.

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