While it is commonly accepted that corporations have negative duties to respect human rights, the question of whether rights also imply positive duties for corporations is contentious. The recent reports of the UN special representative on business and human rights contend that corporations do not have positive duties, but the arguments this is based on are flawed from an ethical point of view. In particular, the reports fail to consider the implications of interactions between corporations and states. For rights to be secured, corporations may face duties to use their power to pressure governments into performing their assigned duties, and duties not to undermine the role of the government. The interaction of corporations and governments also has implications for choosing effective instruments to advance human rights. International initiatives that do not take this interaction into account will be ineffective or, at worst, counter-productive.

Ivar Kolstad

Associated Research Professor