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NGO expectations of companies and human rights

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For more content, see International Community Law Review.

Factors such as 'globalisation', the perceived growth in the power and influence of transnational corporations (TNCs), media coverage of company involvement in human rights violations and perceived weaknesses in international regulatory frameworks have raised public concerns about corporate responsibility for the protection of human rights. Human rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International have invested significant effort in campaigning against companies, lobbying for binding regulation and defining their expectations of companies.

This article provides an overview of the business and human rights debate, and assesses the manner in which NGO campaigning activity is starting to create soft law obligations, with the emergence of some consensus around the norms or standards against which companies should be judged, a growing acceptance on the part of companies that they do have responsibility for the protection and promotion of human rights and the growing involvement of government in voluntary initiatives relating to human rights. The debate on business on human rights also has broader implications as it sees one set of non-state actors (i.e. NGOs) working to define norms and legal obligations for another set of non-state actors (i.e. companies), with limited involvement of government. This contest of influences, which is duplicated in many other corporate social responsibility debates, is likely to be an ever more common approach to the development of soft, and probably hard, international law obligations.


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