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Challenging Corporate Power Through Human Rights

Author: Chris Jochnick, Director of Private Sector Department, Oxfam America - forthcoming chapter in "Business and Human Rights: Beyond the End of the Beginning" ed Cesar Rodriguez-Garavito (2015), Published on: 24 September 2014

From the birth of the corporate form, companies have been embroiled in abuses and scandals. Struggles against corporate crimes have been led by abolitionists, anti-colonialists, workers, unions, consumer advocates, community groups, social movements and environmentalists, among others. It is only in recent years, that the human rights movement has joined the fray. The UN endorsement of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011 marks the arrival of "business and human rights" and begs a question – what do human rights bring to the long-standing struggle against corporate abuse? The pursuit of human rights is often conflated with work at the global level around international human rights instruments and treaty bodies. Viewed through that prism, the Guiding Principles and recent steps towards a more binding treaty represent significant progress. But the real power of human rights lies in their ability to affect the day-to-day circumstances and capacities of people on the ground. Viewed from that perspective, there is still a long way to go and the starting point must be more directly tied to shifting those power dynamics that lie at the root of corporate abuses. This paper argues for an approach to business and human rights that is informed and driven by issues of power.

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