Regarding Rights

Academic and activist perspectives on human rights

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Transnational Corporations and Positive Human Rights Duties

By Ned Dobos

School of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNSW @ ADFA

 Image: Virginia Warren, Toby Worscheck, Paul Wolf; OccupyDesign

When doing business in host countries, Transnational Corporations (TNCs) must not directly engage in, contribute to, or be complicit in human rights violations. By now this much is relatively uncontroversial—it follows from the consistent application of the basic moral injunction to “do no harm”. Ordinarily, doing no harm simply means remaining passive; it requires only that we refrain from acting in certain ways. But this is not always the case, and it does not hold true for TNCs according to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie (2008). Unless a TNC actively undertakes certain programs geared towards securing human rights, says Ruggie, its routine and seemingly innocuous business activities can wind up aiding and abetting rights violations. Thus for TNCs, the negative duty to do no harm demands that positive steps be taken. Continue reading