Business Responsibilities for Human Rights

Elena Niculae

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

In light of numerous allegations of business human rights violations, the business and human rights agenda has entered the spot light of international regulation at UN forum. The goal of the regulatory process was to open the door for consent based, multi-stakeholder consultations that would lead to a common definition on business responsibilities for human rights (BRHR). Discussions have more than often centered on binding regulation on BRHR versus soft recommendations for corporate actors. Given the difference in outcome concerning two multi-stakeholder intergovernmental initiatives in the area of BRHR, this paper has set to inquire on the dynamics at play concerning UN’s latest definition of BRHR. Therefore, the following research question has been formulated: How do current corporate governance models and theories of international law influence the way corporations perceive their human rights responsibilities? Answering the question above requires an interdisciplinary approach: given the demarcation between corporate actors as private legal actors and human rights as principles of international law which are non-binding on corporations, the research method employs theories of corporate governance, informed by finance-economics and business ethics/strategic management and theoretical legal models outlined in the field of international law, such as CSR beyond voluntary action and legal critical studies; to a lesser extent the paper approaches the political concept of governmentality. Making use of two UN initiatives on BRHR regulation, which led to different outcomes, the paper argues that corporate governance models do contribute to some extent to shaping corporate perceptions and behavior in relation to binding regulation under human rights law. Human rights normativity becomes influential on corporate self-regulation on BRHR through hybrid -formal and informal, public and private- channels of dissemination regarding social normativity, such as standards or soft law guiding corporate human rights policies and their codes of conduct. The paper answers to the research question by making recommendations for regulation on BRHR: in light of the theoretical assessment on the topic and of UN’s rendition of BRHR, this study tentatively concludes BRHR need to be approached by employing a balanced calibration between soft normativity and hard regulation.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageEnglish
Publication date2011
Number of pages85