Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 88, Supplement 4, pp 561–577

Human Rights as a Dimension of CSR: The Blurred Lines Between Legal and Non-Legal Categories



At the UN, important projects laying down transnational corporations’ (TNCs) human rights responsibilities have been launched without ever clarifying the relevant theoretical foundations. One of the consequences is that the human rights principles in projects like the 2000 UN Global Compact and the 2003 Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights can be understood in different ways, which should not cause surprise given that their authors come from diverse backgrounds, including economics and public policy. An examination of these projects and the views of their authors reveals that, although they are superficially linked to international human rights law, they go well beyond it and attempt to deal with corporate social responsibility issues in ways that elude neat classification as fitting neatly in either legal or non-legal categories. Too little attention has been paid to how in the course of developing these projects the legal and ethical dimensions have become entwined and how lines have gotten blurred. Meanwhile, there has been recognition that these UN projects have emerged simply as ad hoc responses to practical concerns about the sustainability of globalization. The lack of any foundational theory or normative framework should be addressed; it is time to bring together specialists from different fields concerned with the human rights responsibilities of corporations to see if it is possible to define a coherent overarching theory for these UN projects.


George Kell Global Compact human rights John Ruggie Kofi Annan norms on the responsibilities of transnational corporations universal declaration of human rights 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Legal Studies and Business EthicsThe Wharton SchoolPhiladelphiaU.S.A.

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