Human rights have come to play a prominent role in debates about the responsibilities of business. In the business ethics literature, there are two approaches to the question of whether businesses have human rights obligations. The ‘moral’ approach conceives of human rights as antecedently existing basic moral rights. The ‘institutional’ approach starts with contemporary human rights practice in which human rights refer to rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international documents, and in which states are the primary duty bearers of human rights. This commentary argues that the implications of adopting one or the other approach are much greater than most scholars recognize, and that we have reason to reject the moral approach and to adopt the institutional approach instead. The commentary highlights key questions that need to be addressed if human rights are to play a central role in framing the responsibilities of business.
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