This seminar explores a variety of dimensions of the multifaceted intersection of business and human rights. While some consider that the social responsibility of business is merely to increase its profits, the idea that business has human rights responsibilities – moral and/or legal – has been steadily gaining acceptance.
Awareness of the increasing power of transnational corporations vis-à-vis the States in which they operate as well as of the impact that business can have on human rights – positive and negative – is raising the volume on calls for businesses to ensure that human rights are respected within their own spheres of influence. Major international organizations, such as the United Nations, the International Labour Organization and the OECD, have issued principles and standards outlining the social responsibilities of businesses, and a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights has been appointed. Well-known human rights organizations, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have launched human rights and business campaigns and monitor and report on human rights abuses by businesses. Consultancies and law firm practices have started to appear advising business how to improve their human rights performance. A growing number of multinational corporations have introduced human rights policies and training programmes, have begun reporting on their human right performance and have hired experts in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and human rights. Some companies even find themselves being sued for human rights violations. These developments beg questions – which will be explored in the seminar – such as why human rights are or should be a business issue; if so, which human rights are relevant and to what extent; and what can a company do to implement them, and can they be enforced?