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Keywords:

  • human rights violations;
  • global economic order;
  • complicity;
  • poverty;
  • WTO

I challenge an influential analysis (the ‘participation account’) that attributes human rights violations to the global economic system, and attributes complicity with those violations to citizens of affluent countries. The participation account is shown to rest on a faulty account of wrongful action. An alternative, and superior, account of wrongful action (the ‘agency account’) is proposed, and used to analyse the rules of the global economic order. These include the ‘foreground rules’ of trade agreements and the ‘background rules’ of state privileges. The agency account identifies wrongful action with unreasonably imposing losses/risks. The systemic bad effects of the economic system and its rules are shown not to be due to agents in the system acting unreasonably in this sense. The metaphor that the economic system ‘violates rights’ and that we act in complicity with this are thus shown not to stand up to analysis.