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Human Rights and Capitalism

A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Globalisation

Edited by Janet Dine and Andrew Fagan

Human Rights and Capitalism brings together two important facets of the globalisation debate and examines the complex relationship between human rights, property rights and capitalist economies.
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Chapter 11: The UN Norms

Tom Sorell


Tom Sorell In what ways, if any, should transnational corporations take account of international human rights law? Since they are not parties to the treaties on which some of this law is based, it might be thought that they need not be directly concerned with it at all. And though transnationals are bound by domestic law in the countries in which they operate, domestic law rarely connects their operations with human rights standards. Are such standards inapplicable to transnationals, then? The only comprehensive and up-to-date answer to this question from a source close to the treaty bodies is the ‘UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations’, adopted in August 2003 by the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.1 The UN Norms lay out responsibilities for transnational corporations in employment, security, development, environmental and consumer policy, dealings with governments, and other activities, and they outline ways in which transnational corporations can be held to their obligations. ‘Transnational’ in the Norms covers any business operating in more than one country, and this brings within the scope of the Norms many organizations that do not fit the popular stereotype of the transnational, that is, businesses that are not huge, particularly rich, or headquartered in the developed countries. Though they are covered by the Norms, such businesses are not their main preoccupation. The Norms have been inspired by what are taken to be the bad and good practices of the biggest transnationals, and except where the context makes clear...

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