Law, Business and Human Rights
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Law, Business and Human Rights

Bridging the Gap

Edited by Robert C. Bird, Daniel R. Cahoy and Jamie Darin Prenkert

The intersection of business and human rights contains substantial economic, social, and political implications. Global business enterprises and civil society groups must establish a constructive and meaningful dialogue in order to work cooperatively to protect human rights. In this innovative book, the authors explore the role of firms in respecting human rights and explain the need for a better understanding of the human rights of affected stakeholders. The goal is to draw attention to these issues and generate common ground between two potentially disparate and conflicting interests.
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Chapter 1: “Respect” human rights: Concept and convergence

Radu Mares


If one were tempted to affix labels on the field of business and human rights, a few words would come immediately to mind: contestation, distrust, illegitimacy, polarization, stalemate, incompatibility. Few moments pinpoint more eloquently the diversity of stakeholder expectations than the making – and demise – of the U.N. Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations (Norms), shelved in 2004. The reasons for that demise were diverse, but one of them surely had to do with the way corporate responsibilities were conceived. According to the Norms, businesses were expected “to promote, secure the fulfilment of, respect, ensure respect of, and protect human rights” within their spheres of activity and influence (U.N. Commission on Human Rights, 2003, art. 1). The mandate of the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises (SRSG), entrusted to Professor John Ruggie, began in 2005, with one of its goals being explicitly to reduce polarization and find some common ground (U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General, 2011). In 2011, only seven years after the U.N. Norms debacle, the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (GPs) simply reference “respecting” human rights: “the corporate responsibility to respect [human rights] is the basic expectation society has of business in relation to human rights” (Ruggie, 2011b, p._4).

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