Business and Human Rights
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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.
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Chapter 3: The limits of corporate human rights obligations and the rights of for-profit corporations

John Douglas Bishop


Many business ethicists and businesspersons agree on the need for corporations to respect human rights. John Ruggie, Special Representative to the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) on Business and Human Rights, argues that corporations have a ‘responsibility to respect’ human rights (Ruggie, 2008). There is less agreement, and certainly less clarity, on exactly what corporate respect for human rights involves. Problems arise because of both the nature of rights and the nature of corporations. Human rights codes (the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example) were designed primarily with states or governments as the rights observers (and especially as the rights ensurers); this makes extension of rights obligations to corporations problematic. For example, a central problem with extending human rights obligations to corporations is whether corporations have duties with respect to all or only some of the rights that governments are enjoined to respect. Debates over the extension of human rights obligations from governments to corporations centre on several key questions. The most basic question is if and why corporations should have such obligations at all, but even if it is granted that they do, there are further questions: which human rights obligations do corporations have, whose human rights should they consider and are there limits to the corporate resources they should devote to their human rights obligations? The purpose of this chapter is to contribute to this debate by clarifying the nature of corporate human rights obligations, and by arguing that the human rights obligations of corporations should be limited by the limits on the legal rights thatshould be extended to corporations.

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