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Corporate Moral Agency and the Responsibility to Respect Human Rights in the UN Guiding Principles: Do Corporations Have Moral Rights?

In 2011 the United Nations (UN) published the ‘Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” Framework’ (Guiding Principles). The Guiding Principles specify that for-profit corporations have responsibilities to respect human rights. Do these responsibilities entail that corporations, too, have basic rights? The contention that corporations are moral persons is problematic because it confers moral status to an organization similar to that conferred to a human agent. I shall argue that corporations are not moral persons. But as collective bodies created, operated, and perpetuated by individual human moral agents, one can ascribe to corporations secondary moral agency as organizations. This ascription, I conclude, makes sense of the normative business responsibilities outlined in the Guiding Principles without committing one to the view that corporations are full moral persons.

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