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Human resources is the set of individuals who make up the workforce of an organization, business sector, or economy. “Human capital” is sometimes used synonymously with human resources, although human capital typically refers to a more narrow view (i.e., the knowledge the individuals embody and can contribute to an organization). Likewise, other terms sometimes used include “manpower”, “talent”, “labour”, or simply “people”.

One major concern about considering people as assets or resources is that they will be commoditized and abused. Some analysis suggests that human beings are not “commodities” or “resources”, but are creative and social beings in a productive enterprise. The 2000 revision of ISO 9001, in contrast, requires identifying the processes, their sequence and interaction, and to define and communicate responsibilities and authorities. In general, heavily unionised nations such as France and Germany have adopted and encouraged such approaches. Also, in 2001, the International Labour Organization decided to revisit and revise its 1975 Recommendation 150 on Human Resources Development, resulting in its “Labour is not a commodity” principle. One view of these trends is that a strong social consensus on political economy and a good social welfare system facilitates labour mobility and tends to make the entire economy more productive, as labour can develop skills and experience in various ways, and move from one enterprise to another with little controversy or difficulty in adapting.

Another important controversy regards labour mobility and the broader philosophical issue with usage of the phrase “human resources”. Governments of developing nations often regard developed nations that encourage immigration or “guest workers” as appropriating human capital that is more rightfully part of the developing nation and required to further its economic growth. Over time, the United Nations have come to more generally support the developing nations’ point of view, and have requested significant offsetting “foreign aid” contributions so that a developing nation losing human capital does not lose the capacity to continue to train new people in trades, professions, and the arts.

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