Globalization and Human Rights

Globalization and Human Rights

What is globalization? What is the history of globalization? What are the pros and cons of globalization?  How does globalization impact states, businesses, and individuals? These are just some of the questions that are brought up when thinking about this topic in international relations.

In this article, we want to examine the relationship between globalization and human rights. As linked to above, elsewhere we look at how globalization is often viewed as a negative by many, particularly those that cite the human rights violations by states and corporations in this more globalized system. However, we want to examine other ways that globalization and human rights can go together. More specifically, how has the human rights movement been affected by globalization?

Human Rights and Globalization

It could be argued that the human rights movement (and international human rights law) has greatly benefited from the rise of globalization. Within less than a century, international activists have been able to use the benefits of globalization for their own work on ensuring that all individuals are guaranteed legal rights in their own state, as well as internationally. Of course, these goals are far from being fully reached. There is not a day that goes by in which someone cannot find an article published about particular human rights abuses that are taking place in a country.

However, while that is of course the case, through globalization, human rights activists have been able to expand their reach both domestically and in the international system.

Prior to the most recent rise of globalization, the idea of human rights, while existing, was not given nearly the same level of international attention as one could argue we see today. States were the primary actors, and little could get in the way of how they treated their citizens.

However, with the rise of globalization has come numerous possibilities for increased pressures on government to respect their rights of their citizens.

Take international human rights law, for example. Through the globalization of international norms (and international codified norms through the United Nations), there have been a host of legally binding documents related to issues of human rights that have been passed. Activists have been able to spread messages of common values and rights, speaking with one another throughout the various parts of the world about how to increase human rights. As a result, while state power is still very real in international relations, one could argue that the international human rights system has ways that states’ influence and ability to get away with crimes is far less than it has ever been in history.

Social Movements

Social Movements are very important to understand when thinking about the relationship between human rights and globalization, and more specifically, social movements and globalization. 

Social movements arise based on individuals seeing or experiencing rights abuses in a system that continues to be oppressing. At some point, individuals, understanding that their actions might lead to additional abuse, are willing to overcome their fears and begin to challenge the existing system. Then, “[o]ver time, problems with existing social relationships may accumulate, initiating a process of change. These problems usually affect particular social groups–for example, particular communities, nations, classes, racial, ethnic and gender groups, religious and political groupings, and the like.. The process may start with some people internally questioning or rejecting some aspects of the status quo.” However, these feelings move into something more “…as people discover that others are having similar experiences, identifying the same problems, asking the same questions, and being tempered to make the same rejections” (Brecher, Costello, & Smith, 2012: 278-279). 

Social Movements and Globalization

As mentioned above, people throughout the world are using globalization to advance their own human rights agendas. Interestingly, many of these human rights and social movements (within the space of globalization) often began as a counter to human rights violations within the increased globalization space. Brecher, Costello, & Smith point out that movements related to fighting acid rain, the power of the economically wealthy state, as well as related economic rights abuses were established within the very same globalized system that abusers were using to further their own agenda. 

Individuals were connecting with one another in this globalized world in order to speak out against rights injustices. 

Furthermore, through the rise of globalization and technology, and more specifically, globalization and media, human rights activists are able to better monitor, as well as publicize government rights abuses. Through telephones, the Internet, online communications, etc…, individuals can better document and relay information about rights abuses to others. Now, with mobile phones, people have the ability to record rights abuses as they are taking place, which makes it much more difficult for the perpetrators to deny involvement in such activities. Moreover, through the formation of human rights organizations, individuals can stay more in touch with one another, sharing ideas, raising money, or writing on human rights in the international system. This interconnectivity is something that has been quite helpful to the international human rights movement.

We see this taking place with new media forms. Namely, globalization and social media has allowed people to discuss human rights norms, violations, and strategies for protests against unjust regimes (such as the 2010-2011 protests during the Arab Spring, for example). People are able to share their work, and share stories with others, who in turn might work to publicize the events that transpired, lobby their respective governments, or other sorts of activities in the name of advancing international human rights. These sorts of activities, while existing in some form for over a century (and arguably more, in some form) are sped up with the influences and tools of globalization.


In this brief article, we wanted to discuss the relationship between globalization and human rights. We wanted to analyze the ways in which human rights have been aided by developments in globalization. Again, there are still many human rights abuses that have resulted from practices within this more globalized system. However, here, we want to look at ways that human rights and globalization have worked in a positive way.

Social movement have the ability be very powerful, and influential with regards to bringing about social change. Social movements embody individual cooperation, and the unified “withdrawal of consent” from actions such as state leaders, or globalization itself. Through the development of networks, what seem to be small, individual actors can quickly grow into a much more powerful, combined force (Brecher, Costello, & Smith, 2012: 279).



Brecher, J., Costello, T., & Smith, B. (2012). Globalization and Social Movements. Chapter 33, pages 272-290. In Globalization: The Transformation of Social Worlds. Edited by D. Stanley Eitzen & Maxine Baca Zinn. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Cengage Learning. 

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