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 8: Challenges to secure human rights through voluntary standards in the textile and clothing industry

Brigitte Hamm

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

Extract

In 2008, John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) on Business and Human Rights, presented his policy framework. His aim is to strengthen the corporate responsibility for human rights and to close governance gaps with regard to the global economy, thereby considering internationally recognized social, ecological and human rights standards. Ruggie’s framework is based on three pillars: the state duty to protect, the business responsibility to respect and access to effective remedies (Ruggie, 2008). He understands these three dimensions as being interdependent and reinforcing each other. Based on this, the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework in June 2011. Ruggie perceives the corporate responsibility to respect human rights as an obligation to perform due diligence at all levels of business activity. To this end, he emphasizes the need to incorporate a human rights impact assessment into corporate risk assessments. In defending his recommendations, he points to the many already existing codes of conduct and their references to human rights as an expression of the willingness of business to accept that they have a responsibility to respect human rights and to include human rights in their day-to-day business. However, the impact of voluntary codes is subject to controversial debate, and only few impact assessments on the effectiveness of such voluntary codes exist, for example, Barrientos and Smith, 2007. Stephanie Barrientos and Sally Smith state that ‘after 15 years of existence, questions are increasingly being asked as to how effective corporate codes are as a means of improving labour standards in global production’ (Barrientos and Smith, 2007, pp. 713ff.).Corporate governance and corporate social responsibility (CSR) involve internal and external expressions of the operational imperatives of business firms. Whereas corporate governance generally entails principles of business efficiency, CSR involves principles of social justice. While CSR involves primarily issues of relations between business firms and the outside community, corporate governance is largely an internal matter. And while CSR concerns challenges of justice (social, economic, environmentaland so on) for those who are affected by business behavior in the world, corporate governance generally addresses internal issues of efficiency in business management within the firm. Including CSR norms in the processes for strengthening corporate governance faces challenges similar to those facing the problem of coordinating compliance between international trade and human rights standards. These difficulties stem in part from conceptual differences and assumed trade-offs between regimes of efficiency and justice, as well as from general lack of communication and collaboration between specialists involved in these different sectors of trade and human rights. While these tensions may be somewhat less pronounced in relationships between corporate governance and CSR discourses, due in part to their being subsumed under the broader rubric of company law, they are significant nonetheless. Drawing on the author’s paradigms of ‘selective adaptation’ and ‘institutional capacity,’ this chapter will examine the normative and organizational challenges to coordinating CSR norms with corporate governance practices in China. Drawing on these normative and organizational perspectives and local examples, the chapter will examine the possibilities and obstacles to coordinating CSR and corporate governance standards. The chapter will serve as a case study on the broader topic of coordinated compliance.

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