Did you know that 51% of the world’s top revenue-generating companies Private corporation?

There is no doubt that companies have the potential to generate investment, employment and economic growth and can play an important role in poverty alleviation, increasing respect for the rule of law and the democratic process. They can provide high-quality work, equal opportunities, non-discrimination, and access to knowledge and technology through markets, expand political, economic and social opportunities for people, thus contributing to the realization of various human rights.

There may also be market failures or gaps, and Company May not always be willing to respect human rights. For example, they may pay wages below the legal wage, endanger the health and safety of their workers, violate freedom of association, or participate in the forced displacement of indigenous communities in certain countries.

For example, according to Amnesty InternationalIn 1984, a toxic gas leak from a Union Carbide chemical plant in India killed more than 20,000 people. 100,000 people received treatment for various health problems after toxic waste was dumped at various sites in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, in August 2006. The waste was generated by the multinational oil company Trafigura.

Although the relationship between business and human rights is not new, it has become increasingly important due to the rapid expansion of international economic activity and the failure of global governance. Therefore, the question arises: Is it possible to hold organizations accountable for human rights violations in the international human rights protection system?

To address this issue, the United Nations adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, the first global framework to promote corporate respect for human rights. This document includes the responsibility of states to counter adverse business impacts on their territories and establishes the responsibility of organizations to respect human rights. It should be noted that for private organizations, this is not a legally binding duty. However, this agreement offers a global standard of behavior that applies to all companies, regardless of where they operate (Isea, 2011).

Generally, states have the greatest obligations under international human rights law. Similarly, states cannot waive these international obligations by privatizing the provision of services. Suppose the state cannot ensure that the companies providing these services comply with its human rights obligations In that case, the consequences could tarnish the country’s reputation and create serious legal consequences.

According to Ruggie (2007), when the state controls a company, or for other reasons its behavior can be attributed to the state, human rights violations by the company may mean a violation of obligations under international law, since a company is close to the state, or it is a public institution. Or the more it relies on taxpayer support, the more reason the state must ensure that it respects human rights.

In this sense, states that are signatories to legal instruments that oblige them to respect human rights, their violations can only and exclusively be committed by them. Hence, the possibility of appeal Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rejected human rights violations committed by transnational corporations since states would be legally responsible at the international level for the actions of individuals.

However, this does not mean that transnational corporations are exempt responsibility; The company has a domestic Legal duty to respect human rights based on legal instruments related to human rights.

The UN Resolution 17/4 (2011) Noted that transnational corporations and other business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights and states should ensure appropriate regulation through national legislation as their responsible actions can contribute to the respect of human rights and help channel the benefits they derive. Towards the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The traditional nature of human rights has been much debated. Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada Nevsun Resources v. Arya It has been held that the customary nature of international law clearly implies the domestic application of international human rights law as domestic law applicable to corporations. Newsun is a compelling case to highlight as appellant; A Vancouver-based mining company can be directly held responsible for violating existing international law standards against slavery, forced labor and cruel treatment in the operation of a mine in Eritrea.

This is why it is important to analyze the company’s value chain and understand where a company’s activities begin and end in order to calculate its human rights and social responsibility impacts.

People today are more aware of the role of business in human rights, and based on this, they demand that their social, economic and cultural rights are respected and guaranteed. Public opinion is important in this case. On the one hand, society demands change in how companies conduct their business operations. On the other hand, the law increases the financial burden on business, as the state cannot undertake all its administrative and public purposes.

It is not only ethically and legally necessary for companies to be a source of positive impact for people. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a strategic part of business, and is not philanthropic because companies are oriented to make social investments in their business activities, reduce risks associated with their stakeholders and maintain a positive reputation with the public. Opinions that give them a “license to drive”.

Companies must innovate in how they produce, manufacture and distribute their products or services. It is no longer a question of entrepreneurship just to make a profit; Companies must add value to consumers’ lives.

For some, the dilemma posed by corporate social responsibility is the intersection between competitiveness and the goal of a just society. The answer is clear: respect for human rights and social responsibility does not make one company financially less competitive than another. Both CSR and human rights represent opportunities that companies should capitalize on for the benefit of all because only a responsible company can truly do business in today’s world.


Isea, R. (2011). Business and human rights. IESE Business School: University of Navarra.

Verdict of Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Gize Yebeyo Araya, et al., February 28, 2020: https://decisions.scc-csc.ca/scccsc/scc-csc/en/item/18169/index.do.

United Nations. (2011). Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Geneva.

United Nations. (2016). Principles of Responsible Procurement: Integrating Human Rights Risk Management into State-Investor Negotiations: Guidelines for Negotiators. Geneva.

Ruggie, J. (2007). Business and Human Rights: The Evolving International Agenda. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University: Cambridge.

Tangarif Pedraza, M. (2010). Legal Framework of International Responsibility of Transnational Corporations and Other Commercial Companies for Human Rights Violations.

Michel Barnier is an attorney specializing in international law and commercial law. He is studying a Masters in Law and International Business with a double degree from Universidad Internacional Iberoamericana and Universidad Europa del Atlantico in Mexico. He is also a part of the inaugural team of Students for Liberty Fellowship for Freedom in India.

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