Introduction Human Rights and Business Assignment

Introduction Human Rights and Business

KEY WORDS: business, human rights, UN Framework, Ruggie, corporations

DISCUSSION OF BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS from an expUcitly ethicalperspective has a unique history. Prior to the last decade of the last century, it was rarely discussed or examined. This might at first glance seem rather surprising. The idea of human rights has been the subject of intense inquiry and debate now since the renaissance and on some accounts before (Lloyd 1991, Lee and Lee 2010). The pursuit of human rights has motivated revolutions, for example the American and French revolutions. Debates about their ethical, political and legal status and foundations have played a central role in academic and political discourse since the Enlightenment. In the twentieth century, the practical political challenges of embed- ding human rights in intemational law have dominated the agendas of emerging intemational institutions like the United Nations, particularly since the end of the Second World War. In contrast, the first discussion of business and human rights in intemational institutions can be traced back only to the 1980s with the draft UN Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations (United Nations 1984). Even with this UN initiative, significant academic attention to the topic was ignited only in the early to mid-1990s (an important early work is Donaldson 1991). Surprising as this late emergence of the subject might seem, the reasons are not hard to find. Until late in the last century, it was conventional wisdom that the responsibility for protecting and advancing and etihancing respect for human rights lay with govem- ment (Ruggie 2006 and 2007). On this view, the only human rights responsibilities of the private business sector were indirect legal responsibilities. It was only in the 1990s that doubts about the efficacy of this allocation of responsibilities began to gain widespread attention, driven, it is widely agreed, by the phenomenon of glo- balization (Chan

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