Beyond Guilty Verdicts: Human Rights Litigation and its Impact on Corporations’ Human Rights Policies

Journal of Business Ethics 145 (3):545-562 (2017)
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Abstract

During the last years, there has been an increasing discussion on the role of business in human rights violations and an increase in human rights litigation against companies. The result of human rights litigation has been rather disillusioning because no corporation has been found guilty and most cases have been dismissed. We argue that it may nevertheless be a useful instrument for the advancement of the business and human rights agenda. We examine the determinants of successful human rights litigation in terms of judicial, educational, and regulatory effects. This article reviews more than 40 corporate foreign direct liability cases and their effects on corporate human rights policies and conduct. The review shows that most corporations adjusted their human rights policies and adopted additional measures to cope with human rights issues during or shortly after the legal proceedings. Opening legal channels for human rights litigation may be one way for governments to incentivize firms to respect human rights. These findings have implications for the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as well as on our interpretation of the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Shell.

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