Private Sector

How can the human rights community better engage corporations as human rights actors?

In the last decade, there has been increasing discussion on how human rights organizations need to move away from traditional grant models and think more like businesses, or at least to engage with corporations as partners and allies. After all, corporations play an inevitable role in human rights, whether activists want them to or not—could we change this role into something positive? How can the human rights community better engage with corporations as allies, while also holding companies to account when they violate rights? What is the role of corporations in creating ethical standards in artificial intelligence, or in fighting against climate change and the rights violations that come with it? And can activists help nudge corporations in the right direction, or does that change need to come from within? Consumers also have a role to play, as more and more people are voting with their wallets and demanding ethical investing options and sustainable business practices. But how effective are these changes in the long run?

The pieces in this series explore these themes and aim to challenge our thinking when it comes to the relationship between corporations and human rights. While the two are often antagonists, many of these articles show that they do not have to be—we just have to find common ground to forge a new way forward.

 

Workplace sexual harassment in Mexico: towards gender-transformative remedies

By: Paulina Madero Suárez
Español

Can new, non-judicial approaches to gender-based violence and harassment in Mexico effectively supplement judicial avenues?

Creating a feminist alliance for trade justice

By: Aishu Balaji & Diyana Yahaya & Michelle R. Maziwisa
Español

Trade liberalisation is incompatible with women’s human rights and gender equality when corporations exploit women’s cheap labour as a source of comparative advantage.

Twice the work and half the support: COVID-19 and single working mothers

By: Kayla Winarsky Green
Español | Français

How can businesses help to reduce the pandemic’s unequal burden on single mothers?

A feminist vision to address labour exploitation in Ethiopia

By: Sehin Teferra
Français

Ethiopia needs a stand-alone feminist campaign calling for a new vision of job creation that prioritizes dignified work and decent wages for both men and women.

The Case of “Lote Ocho”: Indigenous women hold corporations accountable for violence

By: Andrea Bolaños Vargas & Andrea Suárez Trueba
Español

Indigenous women in Guatemala are using the concept of extraterritorial obligations to hold corporations accountable for violence—and to set important precedents ...

Businesses for Black Lives Matter: a human rights-based approach

By: Manel Chibane

What role do corporations have in advocating for the rights of Black people and other racialized populations?

How can national human rights institutions improve access to remedy for rights abuses?

By: Nora Götzmann & Sébastien Lorion
Español | Français

New data from Africa provides insights into the role of national human rights institutions in access to remedy for business-related human rights abuses.

Systemic bias in data models is a human rights issue

By: Isabel Laura Ebert & Thorsten Busch
Español | Français

The tech industry must engage with those affected by data errors and embedded discrimination to avoid systemic bias in data models.

How can human rights impact assessments contribute to responsible business conduct?

By: Nora Götzmann
Español | Français

It's time to ask important questions about the integrity of human rights impact assessments and their application.

Using legal empowerment to fight exploitative land investors in Sierra Leone

By: Hassan Sesay & Daniel Sesay
Español | Français

Legal empowerment helps locals to understand and claim their rights, resulting in a legal victory for communities in Sierra Leone against exploitative corporations.

Can corporations play a role in changing harmful social norms?

By: Cynthia Trigo Paz
Español | Français

A “gender-neutral” approach to human rights due diligence is insufficient, and corporations should take proactive steps towards addressing systemic gender discrimination.

Waorani women resist Ecuador’s extractive agenda in the Amazon

By: Vanessa Daza Castillo
Español | Português

Indigenous women in Ecuador are standing up to an extractive industry that has displaced vulnerable communities and concentrated land ownership in the hands of ...

Seeing business and human rights as a web of corporate accountability

By: Joanne Bauer
Español

A “web of corporate accountability” illustrates the multiple ways in which actors can hold corporations to account for human rights harms—and the leeway that remains ...

Facebook’s new recipe: too much optimism, not enough human rights

By: Stefania Di Stefano
Español | Français | Italiano

Because social media platforms dominate public forums worldwide, a governance system rooted in “social values” instead of human rights may be convenient for companies, ...

When technology facilitates ICE raids that violate rights, who is responsible?

By: Jacinta Gonzalez
Español | Deutsch

Palantir has argued that its technology does not play an active role in deportations and the human rights violations that have occurred under the Trump administration, ...

What can national action plans on business and human rights do for women’s rights?

By: Nora Götzmann & Wangui Kimotho
Français | Español

National action plan processes can—and must—do more to contribute to the realisation of women’s rights.

For new narratives, human rights needs new forms of economic power

By: Alejandro Bautista
Español | Français

If compelling human rights narratives are not grounded in sustainable, replicable and scalable projects, it will be hard to outweigh the political and economic ...

The US can play a role in tackling global corporate abuse

By: Phil Bloomer & Alison Friedmann
Español

The recent declaration of the US Business Roundtable on the purpose of a corporation is a seismic shift and is symbolic of the growing power of the movement to ...

Social media complicates mainstream media goals of pluralism and diversity

By: Maria Luisa Stasi & Pierre François Docquir
Español

Freedom of expression demands and facilitates the development of pluralistic media landscapes. But as more people get personalized news feeds from social media, ...

How a UN Committee Contributed to End a Controversial Mining Project in French Guiana

By: Alexandre Sommer-Schaechtele
Français

The indigenous peoples of French Guiana used an urgent procedure of the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to help stop a mining development—more ...

WhatsApp sues NSO Group: is this what it takes to hold surveillance tech to account?

By: Ana Zbona & Phil Bloomer

A lawsuit exposing the use of surveillance software to target human rights defenders shows the urgent need for better regulation.

Turkey’s fast fashion is rising on the backs of Syrian refugees

By: Salma Houerbi
Español | العربية

Weak labour legislation in Turkey, paired with brands that put profits before people, is causing harmful working conditions that exploit refugees.

Why do emerging AI guidelines emphasize “ethics” over human rights?

By: Alison Berthet
Français

It’s clear that regulation of AI must start now, but why do emerging frameworks primarily talk about ethics rather than law and human rights?

Competition rules could protect human rights on social media platforms

By: Maria Luisa Stasi
Español

Social media platforms are abusing their dominant position and exploiting users with terms of service that fail to protect their human rights. Competition rules ...

New strategies help investors hold corporations accountable on human rights

By: Gabe Rissman
Español

A sustainable business model could help human rights groups apply shareholder pressure to improve corporate human rights behavior.

Rising restrictions on labour rights threaten the heart of social justice

By: Ana Zbona & Sanyu Awori
Español | Français

When space closes for labour rights defenders, the situation is far worse for those at the margins. Labour rights are human rights and must be protected.

Hybrid entities can bring for-profit strategies to NGO funding

By: Louis Bickford
Español

Hybrid entities that mix for-profit and not-for-profit strategies have the potential to free NGOs from constantly seeking foundation funding.

Blockchain technologies offer transparency that could improve human rights practices

By: Dean Pinkert & James Ton-that & Ravi Soopramanien
Español | Français

Blockchain solutions could help companies comply with human rights due diligence in more effective and efficient ways.

The right to design babies? Human rights and bioethics

By: Roberto Andorno & Alicia Ely Yamin
Español

New developments in gene modifications make it more urgent than ever to raise societal awareness, and adopt appropriate measures to enforce existing international ...

New business and human rights treaty takes shape

By: Maysa Zorob
Español

The draft of a new business and human rights treaty is a good start, but needs to be strengthened to better protect victims and ensure their access to effective ...

Tech companies’ inability to control fake news exacerbates violent acts

By: Jennifer Easterday & Hana Ivanhoe

In the absence of sufficient monitoring and ameliorative action on the part of the tech companies, fake news in Sri Lanka is provoking non-violent, law-abiding ...

Communications infrastructure in Palestine has become a tool of repression

By: Who Profits Research Center
العربية | Français

Restrictions on Palestinian mobile companies mean that Israeli companies reap profits from Palestinian customers, while Israel benefits from the resulting surveillance ...

Public consultations push back against multinationals in Colombia

By: Antonio Sanchez Gomez
Español

In Colombia, public consultations have successfully halted exploitative mining projects. But can these consultations help to fight back against corruption?

The corporations’ dilemma: navigating government access to information

By: Isabel Laura Ebert
Français | Deutsch

Technology can help to prevent conflict, but it can also facilitate human rights abuses, and companies that collect user data are in the middle of the debate.

New human rights principles on artificial intelligence

By: Sherif Elsayed-Ali
Español | Français

A new set of principles—the Toronto Declaration—aims to put human rights front and centre in the development and application of machine learning technologies.

Artificial Intelligence can be a boon for businesses, but can it protect workers?

By: Emre Eren Korkmaz
Türkçe | Español | Français

Artificial intelligence is rapidly transforming business models, but labor rights and other human rights issues are often lost amidst these quick changes. Can we ...

As artificial intelligence progresses, what does real responsibility look like?

By: Dunstan Allison-Hope & Mark Hodge
Español | Français | 日本語

Artificial intelligence is disrupting how we live, work, do business, and govern—but what mechanisms can guide responsible behavior without stifling innovation?

Being flexible while staying true: the balance of engaging corporations in human rights

By: Rajshri Sen
Español

Getting traction and funding for women’s rights in India can be difficult, but partnering with innovative corporations is one way to push the boundaries of change.

Making progress in human rights requires big risks and new allies

By: Maria Bobenrieth
Français | Español

In these turbulent times, business as usual is no longer an option for women’s rights organizations, and we must branch into new methods of operating.

How not to produce energy: lessons from Brazil’s Belo Monte dam

By: Astrid Puentes Riaño
Español | Português

Due to lack of community consultation and negative socio-environmental impacts, the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon has become a prime example of how not ...

Putting human rights at the centre of the renewable energy sector

By: Eniko Horvath & Christen Dobson
Español | 简体中文

In our efforts to quickly mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, advocates have a critical opportunity and responsibility to put human rights at the centre ...

The world is watching—corporate action on Trump travel ban

By: Salil Tripathi

Many corporations have already taken a stand against Trump’s travel ban, and corporate leaders advising Trump must defend human rights.

State-owned enterprises in China could be an entry point for human rights

By: Qian Cheng
简体中文

To make headway on human rights in China, advocates need to get creative by partnering with state-owned enterprises.

Inequality, business and human rights: the new frontier?

By: Uwe Gneiting 

Despite the growing urgency to address inequality, the business and human rights field has remained rather silent on the issue. Why?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: a missed opportunity for civil society?

By: Mark Aspinwall
Español

Civil society could have played a key role in the Trans-Pacific Partnership—why were they left out?

Business lessons for human rights: borrowing evidence-based practices

By: Bill Mawby & Theresa Harris

The human rights field could learn a lot from evidence-based practices developed in business and medicine.

Digging deeper: the impact of coal on human rights

By: Krizna Gomez & Gregory Tzeutschler Regaignon

With governments making commitments at the Paris Conference of Parties (COP21), global leaders must understand the impact and future of coal as a matter of human ...

Corporate concern for human rights essential to tackle climate change

By: Asuncion Lera St. Clair

We have the means to create a green and equitable economy, but first corporations must embrace sustainable growth strategies that include a concern for human rights.