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Corporations & human rights obligations

"Corporations and Human Rights Obligations," 21 April 2016

The claim that corporations have human rights obligations remains contentious and can be fraught with confusion. This article synthesizes existing corporate human rights theory and responds to objections to the idea that transnational corporations (TNCs) have human rights obligations...

[This article argues that] TNCs have the kind of ontological status necessary for moral agency and moral responsibility and that they are capable of ignoring human rights obligations or of integrating human rights protections into their international operations. It has been argued that there are compelling reasons to believe that TNCs have agentically grounded moral obligations to respect basic human rights and that there are also sound social contract based reasons for concluding that businesses have human rights obligations. The international legal system of human rights includes explicit expectations for TNCs to respect the international human rights regime, an obligation endorsed by mainstream business organizations as well as individual companies and by most national governments. Arguments against corporate human rights obligations have been shown to be unsupportable in the case of the shareholder primacy ideology [the proponents of which are committed to the view that TNCs should meet human rights standards only when doing so generates more revenue than not meeting human rights standards], and obscure and inconsistent in the post-Westphalian era in the case of the status egalitarian objection [which contends that corporations, as private actors, are not the proper type of institution to protect status egalitarianism in society].

[Altogether] [t]he arguments of this article are intended to facilitate movement away from a debate about whether TNCs have human rights obligations, so that attention might be focused on management strategies for implementing human rights standards and political and legal strategies for holding firms accountable for the violation of human rights obligations in their global operations. [refers to Walmart]

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