by David Kinley. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 272pp. Hardback. £60.00/$110.00. ISBN: 9780521887816. Paperback. £24.99/$40.99. ISBN: 9780521887816. Adobe eBook. $33.00. ISBN: 9780511654312.

Reviewed by Catherine Lu, Department of Political Science, McGill University. Email: [at]


The title of David Kinley’s book is meant to be a double entendre: in one interpretation, ‘civilising’ is a verb that refers to the need to tame agents, structures and processes of economic globalization in order to protect and promote human well-being; in a second interpretation, ‘civilising’ is an adjective that describes the beneficial impact of increasing economic globalization on the advancement of human well-being. In this articulate, even-handed and empirically rich book, Kinley shows that both interpretations are valid to some extent and need to be taken into account by policymakers and activists concerned to build a morally progressive global economic order.

In arguing that room must be made for both views of globalization, Kinley takes to task extreme positions on both ends of the debate about the role or utility of the global economy for the promotion of human rights and well-being. On the one hand, he finds fault with the ‘dangerous, naïve tendency’ in human rights circles ‘to ignore, resist or dismiss economic solutions to social problems if they are not explicitly couched in human rights terms’ (p.207). On the other hand, he criticizes those proponents of globalization who have been ‘too ready to extol its virtues without any reference to, let alone addressing of, its problems’ (p.24). Kinley acknowledges that the development of the global economy has helped to improve socio-economic conditions for many people; a free trade and market economy is a necessary, albeit insufficient ‘ingredient in the human rights recipe’ (p.238), and the human rights concerns that attend globalization cannot be resolved by seeking to eliminate or dismantle the global economy. At the same time, against economic liberalisation and free market ideologues, Kinley argues against the ‘harmony of interests’ thesis (Carr 1946, Wyatt-Walter 1996), that the pursuit of greater market efficiency, growth and consumption automatically or eventually raises standards of living, or supports public goals such as poverty alleviation. Kinley’s rich empirical analysis shows that the relationship between human rights and the global economy is far more complex: ‘The dynamics of the relationship are neither as simple as correlating economic expansion with growth in human rights protection, nor the inverse, that human rights are degraded as the economy grows’ (p.209). The problem for policymakers is how to order the relationship between human rights and the global economy so that the latter facilitates rather than undermines the realization of the former.

To examine how the global economy and human rights are and should relate [*292] to each other, Kinley first has to challenge the notion that they are ‘two solitudes’ that have nothing to do with each other. Kinley explains in the book’s preface that he was inspired to write this book after a meeting with a senior economist at the World Bank, who expressed a prevalent view that human rights could not or should not be central to the Bank’s policies and goals. The economist understood the Bank’s main goals to be advancing the socio-economic circumstances of people, including poverty alleviation, but he did not think such issues were the proper concern of human rights. Rather, human rights were legally enforceable obligations, primarily the responsibility of states, to guarantee individuals’ civil and political rights.

Kinley’s book seeks to correct errors in this view of the relationship between global economic actors/ activity and the human rights agenda. One correction has to do with what human rights are, and whose concern they ought to be. While many economic practitioners tend to think of human rights only in civil and political terms, and their violation as a problem mainly of repressive dictatorships, Kinley shows that international human rights doctrine encompasses economic, social and cultural rights, and that global economic actors ought to be concerned about such rights, given the profound impact their activities have on the protection and enjoyment of such human rights. Another correction has to do with how we should think about the purpose of global economic relations. Kinley advances ‘the essential notion that the economy is, ultimately, in the service of societal goals, including and especially the protection and promotion of human rights, and not only in the service of its own, autopoietic goals of efficiency, growth and consumption’ (p.206). Given this teleological account of the global economy, the recognition of socio-economic rights as a part of international human rights doctrine, and the significant impact of the global economy on human rights, he argues that debates about the responsibility to protect and promote human rights have rightly moved beyond the state, to include intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as non-state actors such as transnational corporations (TNCs).

The World Bank economist does have a point, though. A human right to an adequate standard of living (Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), for example, is quite different in terms of implementation or realization from a human right not to be tortured (Article 5). In the case of torture, the responsibility of the state is clearly to refrain from using torture as a defence or security practice, and to prosecute anyone who violates the legal prohibition against torture. Poverty, however, often stems from state incapacity rather than willful repression, and results from a confluence of many social causes, with no clearly traceable perpetrators. In this sense, it is difficult to see how the right to an adequate standard of living can be enforceable in the same way as a right not to be tortured. The lack of clarity regarding the agents causing socio-economic human rights violations translates into a lack of clarity on appropriate remedial policies or strategies for combating [*293] conditions such as global poverty (Ashford 2006, Roth 2004).

The real challenge that Kinley confronts in his book, then, is to provide some guidance on how global economic actors, structures and processes may be better organized (regulated or constrained, structured or incentivized) to produce outcomes that avoid inhumanity and injustice. Kinley takes on this challenge by interrogating the relationship between human rights and three branches that comprise the global economic system: trade, aid and commerce. While the rules that govern international trade and commerce operate primarily to foster trade liberalization and commercial (profit-maximizing) enterprise, the aid regime has a direct concern to promote human rights by alleviating poverty and promoting socio-economic development.

Despite this difference, there is growing recognition in all these areas of the global economy to pay at least lip-service to human rights as a goal with which the pursuits of economic actors and activities ought to be consistent. In the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO, for example, the preamble calls on state parties to conduct international trade ‘with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment, and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand’ and in particular, to ensure that developing countries ‘secure a share in the growth in international trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development’ (quoted on p.31). Despite the growing rhetorical agreement, however, Kinley observes that ‘what yet remains to be seen is evidence of their sustained translation into practice’ (p.218).

In the project to civilize globalization, Kinley notes a ‘fashionable’ trend to focus on the ‘responsibilities of the myriad non-state actors in the transnational field – especially international institutions, TNCs and international advocacy groups and NGOs’ (p.222). While sympathetic to these developments, he convincingly highlights the centrality of the state in harnessing the benefits of globalization, while limiting its worst excesses and eliminating its injustices: the state ‘constitutes the most appropriate, accessible and powerful forum within which to generate suitable regulatory responses’ (p.222). This point comes out clearly in Kinley’s discussion of the commercial sector, which has embraced the notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a way to meet human rights commitments. More than 1,000 codes of conduct are now available to measure corporate conduct (p.180); such (largely voluntary) codes typically offer principles, guidelines and standards for corporations to acknowledge and integrate into their business strategies, social and environmental interests that condition their pursuit of the bottom line, profit. Kinley observes, however, that the proliferation of CSR initiatives has generated confusion and evasion, and been better for business’ bottom lines rather than human rights improvement; thus, legal regulation, through hard or soft laws at domestic and international levels, is ‘not only appealing, but necessary’ (p.186).

The argument about the centrality of the state to civilising globalization does not [*294] mean that international institutions and non-state actors are somehow off the moral hook. Rather, it is an argument about the enduring importance of coercive political authority in regulating and shaping effectively and legitimately the agency, accountability and responsibility of private non-state actors, such as corporations and international institutions like the IMF operating in the global economy. Economists tend to think that economic problems require economic solutions, but in the case of making good on the promise of globalisation to be a civilising force for the realization of human rights and social justice, politics is paramount. At the same time, Kinley is clear that state-imposed legal innovations, while promising, are not enough; even legal regulation may not operate effectively if not bolstered by ‘parallel policies and practices and governments, civil society, international organisations, commentators, community opinion and corporations themselves’ (p.179).

In CIVILISING GLOBALISATION, Kinley exposes a plethora of challenges arising from the fraught and complex relationship between human rights and the global economy with a lucid and accessible writing style. His informative book offers many rich anecdotes to illustrate the problems and promises of civilizing globalization. One can only hope that policymakers and activists, as well as all participants in the global economy, will heed his call to avoid extreme positions and get to work on devising creative and constructive solutions.

Ashford, Elizabeth. 2006. ‘The Inadequacy of Our Traditional Conception of the Duties Imposed by Human Rights.’ CANADIAN JOURNAL OF LAW AND JURISPRUDENCE 19, 2: 217-235.


Roth, Kenneth. 2004. ‘Defending Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Practical Issues Faced by an International Human Rights Organization.’ HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY 26: 63-73.

Wyatt-Walter, Andrew. 1996. ‘Adam Smith and the Liberal Tradition in International Relations.’ REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 22:5-28.

© Copyright 2011 by the author, Catherine Lu.