In Our Own Best Interest

William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA and former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, provides practical reasons for United States foreign policy to champion human rights. Supporting human rights helps make the world safe by moving the developing world toward democracy. Countries that practice basic human rights—including a free press, an independent judiciary, and unimpeded political activity—are stable internally and rarely go to war with other democracies.

Schulz claims that acknowledging the right of workers to form unions and to earn a living wage is good for business, an argument more likely to impress unions and workers in the United States facing competition from low- wage countries, than corporations. The examples he cites, of major American companies raising wages and improving working conditions when their activities were exposed by Amnesty International, may demonstrate the sensitivity of corporations to bad publicity, rather than a belief that observing human rights overseas is good business.

He is more successful in portraying the relationship between public health and human rights. Schulz describes how overcrowded and inhumane conditions in Russian prisons led to the development of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and other diseases. In a global economy in which all countries are only a plane ride from each other, resistant strains easily spread to the United States.

Schulz’s proposals are modest and sensible. He does not demand that human rights be the only, or necessarily the primary, consideration in American foreign policy. Rather he calls upon policy makers to take into account the complicated ways in which matters of health, trade, international stability, and human rights are interconnected.