Business and Human Rights: An oxymoron?

Can businesses be truly responsible? Large multinational businesses can easily fall foul of internationally recognised environmental and human right standards. Take criticism of Google for providing Dragonfly, a censored version of its search engine in China. Or how about Netflix pulling some of its shows from Saudi Arabia after legal challenges from the Saudi authorities.

This begs the question what multinationals can do to balance the need for profit, as well as respecting human rights in the territories in which they operate. The solution appears to be, work with the authorities to change the status quo. The problem comes where the authorities aren’t willing to change.

What then? Businesses have to decide whether the pressure for profit trumps the need for respect for the local population. But does it need to be that way?

I’ve been a member of Amnesty International for over 25 years, and active in the UK section for most of that time. Back in the 1990s, a business group was created here to lobby companies to consider human rights. It worked to ensure companies considered accountability with all there business dealings, including contracts with suppliers.

An ideal maybe, but an achievable one if there’s leadership from the top. The status quo proves that it is unworkable if change is to be effective. It will only come if someone is brave enough to say they won’t operate in a particular territory.

Who’ll blink first?

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