Business: obligations under international human rights law (2002)
The private sector increasingly accepts that it has social and moral responsibilities. In recent years many companies have introduced codes of conduct and other forms of voluntary initiatives. But do private companies have a legal responsibility to respect human rights? In the last 50 years the world’s governments, particularly through the United Nations, have agreed dozens of standards that define and guarantee basic human rights and freedoms. To what extent might these standards – originally aimed at states – create binding legal obligations on companies?
This report sets out the legal obligations of states when business activity has an impact on human rights, and explores the degree to which companies might have direct obligations under international human rights law.
Biographical affiliation was accurate when research took place.
David Petrasek, Research Director, ICHRP, 1998-2002. For more information on this project, please contact Fairouz El Tom, Outreach and Publications Coordinator, ICHRP.
Nicholas Howen, was at the time of the project an international human rights lawyer who has studied and practised law in Australia. Mr Howen has also served as Director of the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Peacekeeping operation in Angola. During the 1990’s, Mr. Howen was the chief legal counsel at Amnesty International, where he headed the International Secretariat’s Legal and International Organisations Programme. He has also worked as a human rights consultant in Asia, dealing extensively with human rights issues in Tibet and was a co-founder of the Tibet Information Network.
Christopher Avery, international lawyer; independent researcher.
Sumitra Dhanarajan, Business Standards Advisor, Oxfam, United Kingdom.
Virginia Leary, Professor, international law; member of ICHRP; has worked with the ILO.
Deepika Udagama, Professor, international law, University of Colombo; Alternate Member of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
Maria Socorro I. Diokno, Director, Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Philippines.
Caroline Dommen, international lawyer, International Centre on Trade and Sustainable Development, Switzerland.
Tamás Gyulávári, lawyer, Hungary.
Sarj Nahal, lawyer, private law firms in Britain and France.
Romina Picolotti, lawyer, Director of the Centre for Human Rights and the Environment (CEDHA), Argentina.
Usha Ramanathan, lawyer, independent law researcher, India.
Lene Wendland, consultant on international human rights issues.
Sam Zia-Zarifi, Senior Research Fellow, Department of International Law, Erasmus University, the Netherlands.
Addo, Michael K., ed. Human Rights Standards and the Responsibility of Transnational Corporations, The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1999.
Akehurst, Michael B. A Modern Introduction to International Law, 6th edition, London: Routledge, 1996.
Allman, Warren. Trading in Human Rights: The need for human rights sensitivity at the World Trade Organization, a briefing to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Canadian Parliament), Rights and Democracy, 24 March 1999. See www.ichrdd.ca/flash.html, accessed on 4 December 2001.
Alston, Philip, ed. The EU and Human Rights, European University Institute: Oxford University Press, 1999.
——— ed. The United Nations and Human Rights: A Critical Appraisal, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.
Amnesty International (Dutch Section) and Pax Christi. Multinational Enterprises and Human Rights, Utrecht, November 1998.
Avery, Christopher L. Business and Human Rights in a Time of Change, London: Amnesty International-UK, February 2000. The report is available at www.business-humanrights.org.
Bhagwati, Jagdish, and Robert Hudec, eds. Fair Trade and Harmonization, Vol. 2, The MIT Press, 1996.
Bhala, Raj. “Clarifying the Trade-Labor Link”, Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 1, 1998, pp. 11-56.
Black, Edwin. IBM and the Holocaust: the Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation, 1st edition, Little Brown: Crown Publishers, 2001.
Bowersett, Laura. “Doe v. Unocal: Tortuous Decision for Multinationals Doing Business in Politically Unstable Environments”, Casenote, The Transnational Lawyer, Vol. 11, 1998, pp. 361-382.
Brownlie, Ian. Principles of Public International Law, 4th Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Cane, Peter and Jane Stapleton, eds. The Law of Obligations: Essays in Celebration of John Fleming, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.
Charney, Jonathan I. “Transnational Corporations and Developing Public International Law”, Duke Law Journal, 1983, pp. 748-788.
Charnovitz, Steve. “The Moral Exception in Trade Policy”, Virginia Journal of International Law, 38 (4), Summer 1998, pp. 689-745.
——— “The NAFTA Environmental Side Agreement: Implications for Environmental Cooperation, Trade Policy and American Treaty making”, 8 Temple International & Comparative Law Journal, 257, 1994.
Chinkin, Christine M. “The Challenge of Soft Law: Development and Change in International Law”, International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 38, 1989, pp. 850-866.
Clapham, Andrew. “The Privatisation of Human Rights” European Human Rights Law Review (1995) pp 20-32.
——— Human Rights in the Private Sphere, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.
——— Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Actors, (forthcoming) provided to International Council on Human Rights Policy.
Compa, Lance A., and Stephen F. Diamond, eds. Human Rights, Labor Rights and International Trade, Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1996.
Dupuy, P.-M. “Soft Law and the International Law of the Environment”, Michigan International Law Journal, 12, 1991, pp. 420-435.
Eaglesham, Jean. “Lords rule Cape cases can be heard in UK”, Financial Times, 21 July 2000, p. 2.
Ehrenberg, Daniel. “The Labor Link: Applying the International Trading System to Enforce Violations of Forced and Child Labor”, Yale Journal of International Law, (20) 2, Summer 1995, pp.361-417.
Eide, Asbojrn, Catarina Krause and Allan Rosas, eds. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: A Textbook, 2nd edition, Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 2001.
Fatouros, Arghyrios A. The OECD Guidelines in a Globalising World, revised version of paper presented to Budapest Conference on the OECD Guidelines, November 1998, published by OECD, Doc: DAFFE/IME/RD(99)3, 16 February 1999.
Fleming, John. An Introduction to the Law of Torts, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.
——— The Law of Torts, 9th edition, Australia: LBC Information Services, 1998.
Forcese, Craig. Commerce with Conscience: Human Rights and corporate codes of conduct, Vol. 1, International Centre for Human Rights, Democracy and Development, 1997. See www.ichrdd.ca/flash.html, accessed on 4 December 2001.
———. Putting Conscience into Commerce: Strategies for Making Human Rights Business as Usual, Canada: International Centre for Human Rights Democracy and Development, 1997. See www.ichrdd.ca/flash.html, accessed on 4 December 2001.
Frankental, Peter and Frances House. Human rights: Is it any of your business?, Amnesty International and the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, April 2000. Accessed at www.business-humanrights.org/Guidelines-NGO.htm, on 4 December 2001.
Frey, Barbara. “The Legal and Ethical Responsibilities of Transnational Companies in the Protection of International Human Rights”, Minnesota Journal on Global Trade, Vol. 6, No. 153, 1997, pp. 153-188.
Fridman, G.H.L. Torts, London: Waterlow, 1990.
Giliker, Paula and Silas Beckwith. Tort, London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2000.
Global Witness, A Rough Trade: The role of companies and governments in the Angolan Conflict, London, 1999. Accessed at www.oneworld.org/globalwitness, on 4 December 2001.
Gordon, Kathryn. Rules for the Global Economy: Synergies between Voluntary and Binding Approaches, OECD Working Papers on International Investment, Number 1999/3, Paris, November 1999.
Gordon, Kathryn and Maiko Miyake. Deciphering Codes of Corporate Conduct: A Review of their Contents, OECD Working Papers on International Investment, No. 1999/2, Paris, March 2000.
Henkin, Louis. “The Universal Declaration at 50 and the Challenge of Global Markets”, Brooklyn Journal of International Law, 25:1, 1999, pp. 17-25.
Higgins, Rosalyn. Problems and Process: International law and how we use it, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.
Horn, Norbert, ed. Legal Problems of Codes of Conduct for Multinational Enterprises, Studies in Transnational Economic Law, Vol. 1, Deventer: Kluwer, 1980.
Howen, Nicholas. “International Human Rights Law-Making – Keeping the Spirit Alive”, European Human Rights Law Review, Issue 6, 1997, pp. 566-583.
Human Rights Watch. Trading Away Rights: The Unfulfilled Promise of NAFTA’s Labor Side Agreement, New York, April 2001. Accessed at www.hrw.org/press/2001/04/nafta0416.htm, on 4 December 2001.
Hunt, M. “The Horizontal Effect of the Human Rights Act”, Public Law, 1998, pp. 423-443.
International Council on Human Rights Policy. Taking Duties Seriously: Individual Duties in International Human Rights Law – A Commentary, Versoix: International Council on Human Rights Policy, 1999.
ILO. Overview of global developments and office activities concerning codes of conduct, social labelling and other private sector initiatives addressing labour issues, document of the Working Party on the Social Dimension of the Liberalization of International Trade, ILO Doc GB.273/WP/SDL/1, 273rd session, Geneva, November 1998 and a follow-up document the next year, GB.274/WP/SDL/1, 274th session, Geneva, March 1999.
Jungk, Margaret. Defining the Scope of Business Responsibility for Human Rights Abroad, Danish Centre for Human Rights, accessed at www.humanrights.dk/download/defining.pdf, on 3 December 2001.
Kamminga, Menno T. and Saman Zia-Zarifi eds. Liability of Multinational Corporations Under International Law, The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2000.
Killman, Bernd-Roland. “The Access of Individuals to International Trade Dispute Settlement”, Journal of International Arbitration, 13, 1996, p.143.
Klar, Lewis N. Tort Law, 2nd edition, Canada: Carswell, 1996.
Lester, A. and D. Pannick. “The Impact of the Human Rights Act on Private Law: The Knight’s Move”, The Law Quarterly, 116, 2000, pp. 380-385.
Markesinis, B. “Privacy, Freedom of Expression, and the Horizontal Effect of the Human Rights Bill: Lessons from Germany”, The Law Quarterly, 115, 1999, pp. 45-88.
Meeran, Richard. “Accountability of transnationals for human rights abuses”, New Law Journal, Vol. 148, No. 6864, 13 November 1998, pp. 1686-1687 and Vol. 148, No. 6865, 20 November 1998, pp. 1706-1707.
Muchlinski, Peter. Multinational Enterprises and the Law, Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.
“North American Agreement on Labor Co-operation”, International Legal Materials, 32, 1993, p. 1499.
“The North American Free Trade Agreement”, Dec. 17, 1992, International Legal Materials, 32, 1993, p. 605.
Parasuraman S. and Unnikrishnan P.V., eds. India Disasters Report: Towards a Policy Initiative, 31 at 32, New Delhi: Oxford Uiversity Press, 2000.
Paul, James A. and Jason Garred. Making Corporations Accountable – A background paper for the United Nations Financing for Development Process. New York: Global Policy Forum, December 2000. Accessed at www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/ffd/2000papr.htm, on 4 December 2001.
Picciotto, Sol, and Ruth Mayne, eds. Regulating International Business: Beyond Liberalization, Macmillan in association with Oxfam, 1999.
Robinson, David and John Dunkley, eds. Public Interest Perspectives in Environmental Law, London: Wiley Chancery, 1995.
Salzman, James. Labor Rights, Globalization and Institutions: The role and influence of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, section 1(A) and (B), monograph prepared as part of a project funded by the Ford Foundation, called the International Organizations and the Social Aspect of the Liberalization of Trade, 2000.
Schlemmer-Schulte, Sabine. “Introductory Note to the Conclusions of the Second Review of the World Bank Inspection Panel”, International Legal Materials, 39, 2000, pp. 243-251.
Scott, C. Torture as Tort, Oxford: Hart, 2001.
Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Shihata, Ibrahim. The World Bank Inspection Panel: In Practice, 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Stirling, Patricia. “The Use of Trade Sanctions as an Enforcement Mechanism for Basic Human Rights: A Proposal for Addition to the World Trade Organization”, American University Journal of International Law & Policy, 11, 1996, pp. 35-39.
Taylor, O’Neal C. “The Limits of Economic Power: Section 301 and the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement System”, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, (30) 2, March 1997, pp. 209-348.
Wade, H.W.R. “Horizons of Horizontality”, The Law Quarterly, 116, 2000, pp. 217-224.
Weeramantry, Christopher G. “Human Rights and the Global Marketplace”, Brooklyn Journal of International Law, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1999.
Wilson, Andrew, and Chris Gribben. Business Responses to Human Rights, Ashridge: Ashridge Centre for Business and Society, April 2000.
WTO. “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – Multilateral Trade Negotiations (the Uruguay Round): ‘Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes’”, International Legal Materials, 33, 1994, pp. 112-135.
Zedalis, Rex. “Claims by Individuals in International Economic Law: NAFTA Developments”, The American Review of International Arbitration, No. 7, Issue 2, 1996, pp. 115-147.
“It will constitute a significant contribution to the debate and will become a standard reference source.” Peter Muchlinski, Professor of Law and International Business, University of Kent, and author of Multinational Enterprises and the Law
“This a valuable and challenging report, central to the current debate on the future role and responsibilities of companies in a more critical world. The arguments are set out with admirable clarity.” Sir Geoffrey Chandler, Founder-Chair, Amnesty International UK Business Group 1991-2001; former senior executive Royal Dutch/Shell Group