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Status: Published

Business: obligations under international human rights law (2002)



BusinessThe 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.

Research team




“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