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Global Human Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility
The international ‘Human Rights’ concept was advanced in the UN Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1945, and was built upon in subsequent covenants, with concepts focused initially on protecting individuals and groups from abuses by states. The idea that corporations should not violate human rights evolved as a result of expansion of industry and trade supply chains into the competitive global market economy . Increasingly, business activities take place outside of the country where the business is registered. Transnational corporations (TNCs) are one step ahead of the globalisation phenomenon and their influence continues to grow, to the extent that their budgets and sphere of influence may exceed those of the nations in which they operate. Breaking up their spheres of influence between different countries restricts state ability to ensure corporate accountability and domestic social welfare.
The development of a legislative framework for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been challenged in several ways. International law is increasingly shaped by transnational corporations, and some authors are sceptical of the real potential for good behaviour by corporations without binding legislation to keep human rights abuses in check. Corporations’ stated commitments to responsible behaviour is linked to broader respect for accepted norms in human rights laws, such as the right to life, children’s rights and environmental sustainability. These goals are often in tension, however, with existing binding legislation such as the World Trade Organisation’s rules for reducing barriers to trade, which may result in weaker states compromising national health requirements and consumer demands. In the absence of any global authority for regulating CSR, attempts have been made in domestic courts to litigate against corporate violations of human rights.