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Business Ethics and Human Rights: An Overview*

  • George G BRENKERT
Abstract

In the last several decades a diverse movement has emerged that seeks to extend the accountability for human rights beyond governments and states, to businesses. Though the view that business has human rights responsibilities has attracted a great deal of positive attention, this view continues to face many reservations and unresolved questions.

Business ethicists have responded in a twofold manner. First, they have tried to formulate the general terms or frameworks within which the discussion might best proceed. Second, they have sought to answer several questions that these different frameworks pose: A. What are human rights and how justify one’s defence of them?; B. Who is responsible for human rights? What justifies their extension to business?; and C. What are the general features of business’s human rights responsibilities? Are they mandatory or voluntary? How are the specific human rights responsibilities of business to be determined?

Within the limited space of this article, this article seeks to critically examine where the discussion of these issues presently stands and what has been the contribution of business ethicists.

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Copyright
Footnotes
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*

My thanks to Wes Cragg, Michael Santoro, Ed Soule, and Florian Wettstein for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.

**

Professor Emeritus of Business Ethics, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Footnotes
References
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1 Aaronson contends that ‘as of December 2011, less than 1% of the world’s some 80,000 multinationals have actually adopted human rights policies, performed impact assessments or tracked performance, devised means to ensure that they do not undermine human rights, or developed means to remedy human rights problems’. Aaronson, Susan A, ‘How Policy Makers Can Help Firms Get Rights Right’ (n.d) 5, http://www.gwu.edu/~iiep/events/Boell_GPs_FinalCopy.pdf (accessed 22 June 2015).

2 Seppala, Nina, ‘Business and the International Human Rights Regime: A Comparison of UN Initiatives’ (2009) 87 Journal of Business Ethics 404 .

3 Given the significant number of essays and books on business and human rights over the past 20 or 30 years, it is possible to consider only a small portion of this discussion. This article focuses on contributions by those academics with interests in the normative ethics of business. However, it also gives significant attention to the work of John Ruggie, UN Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, whose work has drawn considerable attention to business and human rights. Accordingly, I interpret ‘business ethicist’ in a broad fashion in this article.

4 Ruggie, John, ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy: A Framework for Business and Human Rights’, A/HRC/8/5 (7 April 2008), para 10.

5 Sen, Amartya, ‘Elements of a Theory of Human Rights’ (2004) 32:4 Philosophy & Public Affairs 317 ; Kolstad, Ivar, ‘Human Rights and Assigned Duties: Implications for Corporations’ (2008) 10 Human Rights Review 569f ; Cragg, Wesley, ‘Ethics, Enlightened Self-Interest, and the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights’ (2012) 22:1 Business Ethics Quarterly 10 ; Wettstein, Florian and Waddock, Sandra, ‘Voluntary or Mandatory: That is (Not) the Question: Linking Corporate Citizenship to Human Rights Obligations for Business’ (2005) 6:3 Zeitschrift fur Wirtschafts-und Unternehmensethik 309 .

6 Rorty, Richard, ‘Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality’ in Stephen Shute and Susan Hurley (eds.), On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures (New York: Basic books, 1983) 112134 ; Donnelly, Jack, ‘The Relative Universality of Human Rights’ (2007) 29 Human Rights Quarterly ; Walzer, Michael, Thick and Thin (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994).

7 Donnelly, ibid, 285.

8 Ibid, 286.

9 Werhane, Patricia H, Persons, Rights and Corporations (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1985) 8 ; see Sen, Amartya, ‘Human Rights and the Limits of Law’ (2006) 27:6 Cardozo Law Review 29132927 ; Kobrin, Stephen J, ‘Private Political Authority and Public Responsibility: Transnational Politics, Transnational Firms, and Human Rights’ (2009) 19:3 Business Ethics Quarterly 349374 .

10 Cranston, Maurice, ‘Are There Any Human Rights?’ (1983) 112:4 Daedalus 12 .

11 Ibid, 6.

12 Kolstad, note 5, 569f.

13 Werhane, note 9.

14 Donaldson, Thomas, The Ethics of International Business (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

15 Feinberg, Joel, Social Philosophy (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1973).

16 Werhane, note 9; Arnold, Denis, ‘Transnational Corporations and the Duty to Respect Basic Human Rights’ (2010) 20:3 Business Ethics Quarterly 384f ; Wettstein, Florian, ‘CSR and the Debate on Business and Human Rights: Bridging the Great Divide’ (2012) 22:4 Business Ethics Quarterly .

17 Arnold, Denis, ‘Human Rights and Business: An Ethical Analysis’ in Rory Sullivan (ed.), Business and Human Rights (Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing Limited, 2003) 71 .

18 Ibid, 71f.

19 Werhane, note 9, 6f.

20 Cragg, note 5, 17; Campbell, Tom, ‘A Human Rights Approach to Developing Voluntary Codes of Conduct for Multinational Corporations’ (2006) 16:2 Business Ethics Quarterly .

21 Sen, note 9, 2921.

22 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN Doc A/810, GA res. 217A (III) (adopted on 10 December 1948).

23 Campbell, note 20, 259.

24 Kobrin, note 9, 351.

25 Bishop, John D, ‘The Limits of Corporate Human Rights Obligations and the Rights of For-Profit Corporations’ (2012) 22:1 Business Ethics Quarterly 129 ; Wettstein and Waddock, note 5, 304–20.

26 Bishop, ibid, 125.

27 Ibid, 111.

28 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, note 22; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN Doc A/6316, 993 UNTS 3, GA res. 2200A (XXI) (adopted on 16 December 1966, entered into force on 3 January 1976).

29 See, e.g., Seppala, note 2, 402.

30 Carroll, Archie, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility: Evolution of a Definitional Construct’ (1999) 38:3 Business & Society .

31 Cragg, note 5, 13; Weissbrodt, David and Kruger, Muria, ‘Human Rights Responsibilities of Businesses as Non-State Actors’ in Philip Alston (ed.), Non-State Actors and Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) 337 .

32 Donaldson, Thomas and Dunfee, Thomas, Ties that Bind (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999).

33 See Cranston, note 10, 1–6.

34 See Sen, note 9.

35 Ibid.

36 Brenkert, George G, ‘Google, Human Rights, and Moral Compromise’ (2009) 85:4 Journal of Business Ethics 453478 .

37 Global Business Initiative, ‘The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights in China and Globally’ (2014), http://www.global-business-initiative.org/work/china1/china-report/ (accessed 7 April 2014).

38 De George, Richard T, Business Ethics, 3rd edn. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 2010); Enderle, Georges, ‘Toward Business Ethics as an Academic Discipline’ (1996) 6:1 Business Ethics Quarterly 4365 .

39 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, note 22.

40 Global Exchange, ‘“Most Wanted” Corporate Human Rights Violators of 2012’ Global Exchange (2012), www.globalexchange.org/corporateHRviolators (accessed 10 July 2013).

41 Donaldson, Thomas, ‘Values in Tension’ (1996) 74:5 Harvard Business Review 4856 ; Sorrell, Tom, ‘Business and Human Rights’ in Tom Campbell and Seumas Miller (eds.), Human Rights and the Moral Responsibilities of Corporate and Public Sector Organizations (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004).

42 See Wood, Stepan, ‘The Case for Leverage-Based Corporate Human Rights Responsibility’ (2012) 22:1 Business Ethics Quarterly ; International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ‘ISO 26000:2010, Guidance on Social Responsibility’, (1 November 2010).

43 Cragg, note 5, 10. Cragg argues that Ruggie has shifted his stance somewhat such that the latest version of the Framework he proposes ‘entails due diligence … [that] for all intents and purposes shifted to an ethical framework’. Cragg, note 5, 25.

44 Ibid, 14.

45 See Mchangama, Jacob, ‘Why free countries should resist the newest wrinkle in international law’ (10 November 2011), http://www.nationalreview.com/article/282792/businesses-and-human-rights-jacob-mchangama (accessed 25 April 2015).

46 See Kobrin, note 9.

47 Ibid, 352,

48 Weissbrodt and Kruger, note 31, 336.

49 See Kobrin, note 9.

50 See Ruggie, note 4, para 3; Whelan, Glen, Moon, Jeremy, and Orlitzky, Marc, ‘Human Rights, Transnational Corporations and Embedded Liberalism: What Chance Consensus?’ (2009) 87 Journal of Business Ethics 374 .

51 Seppala, note 2, 405.

52 Ruggie, note 4, para 3; see also Wettstein and Waddock, note 5, 305f., 310.

53 Ruggie, note 4, para 54.

54 Ruggie, John, Just Business: Multinational Corporations and Human Rights (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013) 91f .

55 Ruggie, John, ‘Business and Human Rights: Mapping International Standards of Responsibility and Accountability for Corporate Acts’, A/HRC/4/35 (19 February 2007), para 52.

56 Ruggie, note 4, para 54.

57 Cragg, note 5, 14.

58 Hsieh, Nien-Hê, ‘Should Business Have Human Rights Obligations?’ (2015) 14 Journal of Human Rights 219 .

59 Ibid, 226.

60 Davis, Keith, ‘Can Business Afford to Ignore Social Responsibilities?’ (1960) 2 California Management Review ; Weissbrodt and Kruger, note 31, 315; Wettstein, Florian, Multinational Corporations and Global Justice (Stanford: Stanford Business Books, 2009) 18 ; Kobrin, note 9, 350.

61 Sorrell, note 41, 139.

62 Santoro, Michael A, ‘Engagement with Integrity: What We Should Expect Multinational Firms to do About Human Rights in China’ (1998) 10:1 Business & the Contemporary World 34 . See also, Santoro, Michael A, Profits and Principles: Global Capitalism and Human Rights in China (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000) 144f .

63 Wettstein, note 60; Palazzo, Guido and Scherer, Andreas G, ‘Corporate Legitimacy as Deliberation: A Communication Framework’ (2006) 66 Journal of Business Ethics .

64 Kobrin, note 9, 352.

65 Seppala, note 2, 406.

66 Weissbrodt and Kruger, note 31, 329–35.

67 Kobrin, note 9, 353.

68 Ratner, Steven R, ‘Corporations and Human Rights: A Theory of Legal Responsibility’ (2001) 111 Yale Law Journal , in Kobrin, note 9, 356.

69 Wettstein, note 60, 207.

70 Cragg, note 5, 26.

71 Wettstein, note 16, 745, referring to Arnold, note 16.

72 See Werhane, Patricia H, ‘Corporate Moral Agency and the Responsibility to Respect Human Rights in the UN Guiding Principles: Do Corporations Have Moral Rights?’ (2016) 1 Business Human Rights Journal, 520 .

73 Donaldson, note 14, 81f., 86.

74 Ibid, 83.

75 Ibid, 86.

76 Ibid, 84.

77 Weissbrodt and Kruger, note 31, 325.

78 Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights, UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/2003/12/Rev.2 (2003) #A. The Draft Norms held that ‘corporations only have such duties where they fall within a corporations’ sphere of influence and that such duties are “secondary” rather than “primary”’. Bilchitz, David, ‘The Ruggie Framework: An Adequate Rubric for Corporate Human Rights Obligations’ (2010) 7:12 International Journal on Human Rights 205 .

79 One disadvantage of the Draft Norms is that there was not, seemingly, a principled manner in which certain rights were identified as ones business was responsible for while others were excluded from that list.

80 Ruggie, note 4, para 6; Seppala, note 2, 403.

81 Ruggie, John, ‘Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development: Clarifying the Concepts of ‘Sphere of Influence’ and ‘Complicity’, A/HRC/8/16 (15 May 2008).

82 Palazzo and Scherer, note 63; Wettstein, note 60; Wettstein, Florian, ‘Silence as Complicity: Elements of a Corporate Duty to Speak Out Against the Violation of Human Rights’ (2012) 22:1 Business Ethics Quarterly .

83 Wettstein, note 60, 164.

84 Ibid, 309.

85 Kolstad, note 5; Mchangama, note 45.

86 Wettstein and Waddock, note 5, 314.

87 Cragg, note 5; Bishop, note 25; Wettstein, note 16; Brenkert, George G, ‘Business, Respect and Human Rights’ in Karen E Bravo and Jena Martin (eds.), Human Rights and Business: Moving Forward, Looking Back (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

88 Ibid, 315.

89 UN Global Compact, https://www.unglobalcompact.org/about (accessed 30 December 2015).

90 Donaldson, note 41, 58.

91 Ibid, 60.

92 ‘Community’ here refers to micro-social communities, not simply all encompassing communities that might be cities or groups of people involving many different micro-social communities.

93 Donaldson and Dunfee, note 32, 184–6.

94 Sen, note 5, 319.

95 Ibid.

96 Ibid, 339f.

97 Sen, note 9, 2922.

98 Santoro (2000), note 62, 154.

99 Ibid, 154.

100 Ibid, 155.

101 Ibid.

102 Kobrin, note 9, 350; see also Palazzo and Scherer, note 63.

103 Palazzo and Scherer, note 63, 79.

104 Ibid, 74.

105 Ruggie, John, ‘Human Rights Impact Assessments – resolving key methodological questions.’ A/HRC/4/74. (2007), #15.

106 Ruggie, John, ‘The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretative Guide’, HR/PUB/12/02 (2012) 42 .

107 Ibid, Q88, 83f.

108 Ibid, 33, 36, 38.

109 Ibid, 40.

110 Ruggie note 105, #26

111 Human Rights Council, ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework’, A/HRC/17/31 (21 March 2011) 21.

112 Brenkert, note 36; Monge, Rosemarie, ‘Institutionally Driven Moral Conflicts and Managerial Action: Dirty Hands or Permissible Complicity?’ (2015) 129 Journal of Business Ethics .

113 Draft Norms, note 78; UN Global Compact, note 89; ISO 26000, note 42.

114 Ruggie, note 81, paras 8–9.

115 Ibid, footnote 8.

116 Ibid.

117 Ibid, para 13.

118 Ibid, para 15f.

119 Ibid, para 6.

120 Macdonald, Kate, ‘Rethinking “Spheres of Responsibility: Business Responsibility for Indirect Harm”’ (2011) 99 Journal of Business Ethics 553 .

121 Wood, note 42.

122 Ibid, 93.

123 Ibid, 73.

124 Ruggie, note 106.

125 Ibid, Q11.

126 UN Global Compact, https://www.unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc/mission/principles/principle-2 (accessed 15 July 2015), elaboration on Principle 2.

127 Kobrin, note 9, 351.

128 Ruggie, note 81, para 30.

129 UN Global Compact, note 126, elaboration on Principle 2.

130 Wettstein, note 82, 37.

131 Ruggie, note 81, para 28.

132 Kobrin, note 9, 351.

133 Ruggie, note 81, para 56.

134 UN Global Compact, note 126, Principle 2.

135 Brenkert, note 36.

136 Ibid, 459.

137 Clapham, Andrew and Jerbi, Scott, ‘Categories of Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses’ (2001) 24 Hastings International and Comparative Law Review 342 , 346.

138 Ruggie, note 81, paras 35–8.

139 Ibid, para 59.

140 Ibid, UN Global Compact, note 126.

141 Ruggie, note 81, para 58.

142 Wettstein, note 82, 41.

143 Ibid, 43.

144 Ibid, 37.

145 Ibid, 38.

146 Kolstad, note 5, 577.

147 Ibid.

148 Brenkert, note 36, 458.

149 Monge, note 112, 162.

150 Ibid, 168.

151 Ibid, 162.

152 Seppala, note 2, 406.

153 Whelan, Moon and Orlitzky, note 50, 375ff.

154 Sen, note 9, 2925.

155 De George, Richard T, Competing with Integrity in International Business (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993) 41 .

156 Wood, note 42, 90.

157 Sen, note 9, 2923.

158 Wood, note 42, 72f.

159 Whelan, Moon and Orlitzky, note 50, 373.

* My thanks to Wes Cragg, Michael Santoro, Ed Soule, and Florian Wettstein for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.

** Professor Emeritus of Business Ethics, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

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Business and Human Rights Journal
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