Ethics, Enlightened Self-Interest, and the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: A Critical Look at the Justificatory Foundations of the UN Framework

Business Ethics Quarterly 22 (1):9-36 (2012)


Central to the United Nations Framework setting out the human rights responsibilities of corporations proposed by John Ruggie is the principle that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights in their operations whether or not doing so is required by law and whether or not human rights laws are actively enforced. Ruggie proposes that corporations should respect this principle in their strategic management and day-to-day operations for reasons of corporate self-interest. This paper identifies this as a serious weakness and argues that identifying the responsibility to respect human rights as an explicitly ethical obligation to be respected for that reason would provide a much stronger justificatory foundation for respecting the principle seen from a corporateperspective, given that corporations are accountable to their shareholders for their deployment of the firm’s financial resources.

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