Engagement & Inclusion: How the United Nations governs business responsibilities for human rights

Sebastian Damm

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis concerns itself with the way the United Nations (UN) has sought to create a role for itself within the issue area of business responsibilities for human rights. This issue area is not something that the UN is traditionally associated with, but since the UN has since its inception had four major attempts at creating a role for itself. Two of these – the UNCTC and the ‘Norms’, never really took on an impactful existence outside of the UN system, while two others – the Global Compact and the Guiding Principles continue to exist and shape how business responsibilities for human rights are understood. The way this thesis investigates the question of how the UN has sought to create a role for itself, and consequently how this has affected how the UN can exert power, is through an inventive research design that transforms existing scholarly knowledge and imbues it with new meaning, adding to the literature on the subject. In this thesis it is claimed that the Global Compact can be seen to constitute a precondition for the Guiding Principles, which is not an accepted truth. As such, this thesis goes on to investigate and challenge the assumptions underpinning this claim. In this process existing knowledge about the different attempts of the UN to create a role for itself is sifted through and discussed, and similarities and dissimilarities between the different attempts, which regulatory strategies they each rely on, and how they respectively wield power, are discerned. It is found that the Global Compact and the Guiding Principles have been successful in constructing a role for the UN, and that this role relies heavily on including businesses in the process of governance It is found that in using a regulatory strategies that seek to induce 2 change in business behavior not through hard regulation, but through setting norms and inducing endogenous change. It is concluded that the characteristics of the, at the time highly novel, approach of the Global Compact has become the accepted way for the UN to seek to regulate business conduct. As such, this thesis argues that the often criticized Global Compact has had a positive and meaningful role in global governance, not least in the form of a precondition for the highly successful Guiding Principles.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages86