Humanizing Corporate Responsibility

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Alongside tables charting revenue growth and asset management, glossy corporate reports now tally their ecofriendly, community-minded ventures, known collectively as corporate social responsibility (CSR). There’s a dark side to all this warm and fuzzy commerce, however: It is giving conscientious investors license to relax just as multinationals are becoming more powerful players on the global stage, which has increased their capacity to violate human rights. 

Consider a few of the recent abuses outlined in Multinational Monitor’s “The 10 Worst Corporations of 2007” (Nov.-Dec. 2007): Abbott Laboratories has withheld much-needed pharmaceuticals from Thailand to punish the government for approving generic AIDS drugs; Blackwater Worldwide’s soldiers-for-hire wreak havoc on innocent Iraqis with impunity; and in Colombia, Chiquita hired a right-wing paramilitary group to protect its banana plantations. 

What is needed is not more CSR initiatives, argues China Rights Forum (No. 1, 2008), but grounded action within the long-standing framework of international human rights. A recent effort by the U.N. special representative of the secretary-general for business and human rights is calling on countries to protect citizens from corporate abuses and create remedies for violations. China Rights Forum also encourages companies to recognize the International Bill of Rights, consider human rights in their risk and impact assessments, and tap “third-party experts to assess their policies and practices.” To track companies’ exploits on your own, visit the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (www.business-humanrights.org), where you can see which businesses have signed human rights statements and sign up for free weekly updates.