Transnational Corporations and the Duty to Respect Basic Human Rights

Business Ethics Quarterly 20 (3):371-399 (2010)
Abstract
In a series of reports the United Nations Special Representative on the issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations has emphasized a tripartite framework regarding business and human rights that includes the state “duty to protect,” the TNC “responsibility to respect,” and “appropriate remedies” for human rights violations. This article examines the recent history of UN initiatives regarding business and human rights and places the tripartite framework in historical context. Three approaches to human rights are distinguished: moral, political, and legal. It is argued that the tripartite framework’s grounding of the responsibility of TNCs to respect human rights is properly understood as moral and not merely as a political or legal duty. A moral account of the duty of TNCs to respect basic human rights is defended and contrasted with a merely strategic approach. The main conclusion of the article is that only a moral account of the basic human rights duties of TNCs provides a sufficiently deep justification of “the corporate responsibility to respect human rights” feature of the tripartite framework
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