[PDF] The Human Rights Obligations of Business: Reimagining the Treaty Business

Author: Surya Deva, City University of Hong Kong , Published on: 12 March 2014

In view of the four decades of experimentation with voluntary initiatives, there is a legitimate scepticism about the efficacy of any new avatars of voluntary initiatives, including the GPs. The limitations of municipal measures in regulating transnational activities of MNCs are also well known. The business and human rights discourse, therefore, need something more in addition to entirely voluntary and entirely municipal initiatives. Against this backdrop, a legally binding international instrument, as part of a coherent combination of regulatory strategies, has an important role to play in defining and enforcing the human rights obligations of business. The paper reimagines the role of international law in global human rights governance beyond the present: the present that treats human rights as negotiable social expectations in terms of their application to non-state actors, the present in which specialised social organs like companies have no legally binding obligations under international human rights law, the present in which calls are made to negotiate an international treaty applicable only to certain egregious corporate human rights abuses, the present that confers on states an almost exclusive right to create and enforce international norms, and the present that does not fully utilises the potential of CSOs in creating as well as enforcing norms in informal, horizontal and non-state-centric ways.

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