Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility: Competing or Complementary Approaches to Poverty Reduction and Socioeconomic Rights?

Journal of Business Ethics 136 (2):329-347 (2016)
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Abstract

Following the situation of poverty in the rights paradigm, this paper explores the links between the rights-based and corporate social responsibility approaches to the realization of socioeconomic rights in the broader context of an emerging recognition of CSR as private regulation of business behaviour. It examines complex theoretical and practical dimensions of responsibility and potential contributions of businesses to poverty alleviation and clarifies the apparent paradox of legal compulsion of essentially voluntary CSR activities. Rather than treat rights and CSR as parallel approaches to protecting socioeconomic rights, it is argued that CSR can be part of a coherent framework of laws and policies for legally translating broad human rights commitments to poverty reduction into concrete programmes. The paper demonstrates how legally propped CSR arrangements can support poverty reduction and appropriate task-specific contextualised definitions and boundaries of CSR that complement the rights-based approach. It is argued that human rights principles have normative dimensions to guide and help formulate policies, programmes and practices, which in turn allow for a creative use of and legal prop to CSR. The conceptualization of human rights is not restricted to one implementation method, and CSR can partly satisfy states’ human rights obligations and transcend the narrow conventional human rights discourse on obligations of non-state actors.

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