Business and Human Rights

Business and Human Rights

Edited by Wesley Cragg

Topics discussed include the debates leading to the creation of the ISO 26000 standard and the United Nations human rights framework for business entities, as well as the nature and limits of the human rights responsibilities of business, the roles and responsibilities of international trade bodies like the World Trade Organization in protecting human rights, and the implications of the current debate for international trade agreements and trade with China. The contributors also explore the effectiveness of voluntary human rights standards in the textile and clothing trade, mining, advertising and the pharmaceutical industries.

Chapter 1: Business and human rights: a principle and value-based analysis

Wesley Cragg

Subjects: business and management, business leadership, corporate governance, economics and finance, corporate governance, law - academic, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


The thesis that business firms have human rights responsibilities is one of the least and, at the same time, one of the most contested theses in the field of business ethics. Explaining why this is the case and how it has come to be the case is the central task of this chapter. Until very recently, for reasons explored in Section 1.1, the protection and promotion of human rights has been thought to rest more or less exclusively with the state. As a result, it has been taken for granted that the human rights obligations of corporations were indirect and legal in nature. That is to say, it has been widely assumed that the human rights obligations of corporations were those assigned to them by the laws of the countries in which they had operations. Since virtually all countries do assign human rights obligations to corporations, and virtually all corporations accept that they have a moral obligation to obey the law, it follows uncontroversially that corporations have human rights obligations. It is in this sense that the proposition that business firms have human rights obligations is uncontested. Under conditions of globalization, however, assumptions about the nature of the human rights obligations of business firms, but more particularly multinational corporations, are undergoing significant re-evaluation. This re-evaluation of the relation between business and human rights in the global economy is being fostered by the importance of the modern shareholder owned multi-or transnational corporation in shaping economic development worldwide, allegations of human rights abuses on the part of multinational corporations and limitations in the capacity of nation states to control the international operations of corporations.

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