Business and Human Rights

Corporations are confronted with a plethora of human rights issues. Particularly global business enterprises are exposed to public scrutiny, frequently accused of being in breach of human rights principles, in particular along their supply chain, and blamed of knowingly or unknowingly benefitting from human rights abuses. In the meantime many corporations have developed specific measures to avoid human rights violations and guarantee human rights protection. It often remains unclear, however, which actions deliver appropriate and effective results. Corporations frequently find themselves in a dilemma, in which all decisions inevitably lead to undesired outcomes. Thus, corporations increasingly assume political responsibility by means of business initiatives geared towards improving human rights practices.

The Competence Centre for Human Rights is committed to analyzing the corporations' responsibility as well as the opportunities and limits of their human rights enforcement, and develops possible practical suggestions for the enterprises' daily business.

The Changing Role of Enterprises

In recent years we have witnessed a fundamental shift in global politics. Globalization leads to a stronger network of social and economic exchange relationships, which erode the traditional mechanisms of national regulations and politics. Today international institutions are not sufficiently equipped to cover the regulatory gaps. Therefore, private actors such as business enterprises and NGOs increasingly assist in finding solutions to public challenges  (“Global Governance”). The development towards a non-territorial and networked form of authority including private business enterprises is also mirrored in the realm of human rights protection. The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls on every individual and every organ of society to respect, promote and comply with the human rights set out in the Declaration. In response to the mounting public and media scrutiny and the related rise of reputational risks, but also due to ethical considerations, more and more corporations now accept that the Declaration’s requirements also apply to them in their role as collective actors. Businesses have started adopting detailed human rights policies and regulations that systematically show how to prevent human rights violations within the company’s sphere of influence. For instance, companies develop environmental programs in the realm of climate protection, or enforce labor laws along their global supply chains.

What We Do as a Research Institution

As more companies acknowledge the economic importance of complying with human rights standards and accept their ethical obligation to deal with human rights issues, there is a growing need for information on local regulations and human rights situations in various regions and countries. However, there is also a need for structural and process-oriented advice for a successful implementation of a corporate human rights strategy.

Under the umbrella of the Competence Centre for Human Rights our researchers focus and deepen their attention on

contribute to advance the important agenda on improving corporate performance on human rights by scrutinizing the implemen-tation of human rights principles in corporate structures and processes. Various projects examine the “organizational embeddedness” of human rights issues in corporate govern-ance and processes, whereas other projects investigate the relationship between corporate responsibility and financial performance. We also investigate the legitimacy problems that arise when business firms become involved in the politics of human rights protection.

For further information please contact Patrick Haack

For a more detailed description of our current research projects click here.