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Business ethics & human rights: An overview

Author: George G. Brenkert, Published on: 11 February 2018

"Business Ethics and Human Rights: An Overview," 7 April 2016

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...general terms or frameworks [for businesses so they might recognize and address the human rights challenges they face]... Second, they have sought to answer several questions that these different frameworks pose [for example]: 

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?...

c.  What are the general features of business's human rights responsibilities? Are they mandatory of voluntary? How are the specific human rights responsibilities of business to be determined?

...[T]his article seeks to critically examine where the discussion of these issues presently stands and what has been the contribution of business ethicists...

The moral, social and political movement that maintains that business has responsibilities for human rights is a complex, expanding, and diffuse movement. It has made significant progress and yet has far to go. It suffers from the different views people have of human rights, the reluctance of most businesses to engage human rights, and from the many challenges that businesses have to take up human rights responsibilities... [refers to Shell]

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Related companies: Royal Dutch Shell (Shell)