The Politics of Corporate Social Responsibility: Reflections on the United Nations Human Rights Norms for Corporations

Company and Securities Law Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 30-42, 2007

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 07/10

14 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2007 Last revised: 6 Feb 2015

David Kinley

The University of Sydney Law School

Justine Nolan

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law

Natalie Zerial

The University of Sydney

Abstract

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a fixture on the agendas of corporate boards in much the same way as environmental issues did a decade or so ago. To what extent social responsibilities should be made legally enforceable remains a matter of some fierce debate. There are already many laws in Australia that bind corporations in respect of such social issues as occupational health and safety, labour standards, privacy, non-discrimination and environmental protection. But should there be more specific human rights coverage, especially in respect of off-shore corporate activities in developing countries where there are well-documented examples of corporate abuse - or corporate complicity in host-state abuses - of rights to life, protection from physical harm, trade union membership, labour standards and workplace conditions, and others? The United Nation's Draft Human Rights Norms for Corporations seeks to impose obligations on states to ensure that corporations within their jurisdiction (including extra-territorial) abide by certain minimum human rights standards. Many (but not all) corporations are opposed to the idea and modus operandi of the Norms, as are many (but not all) governments, including Australia's. In response to these concerns, the United Nations Secretary-General has appointed a Special Representative to review the Norms, which review is currently underway. This article analyses the debate over the Norms, focusing on the various reasons advanced by both sides, their legal implications, and the likely future of the Norms within the context of the developing notion of CSR, internationally and in Australia.

Keywords: Corporate social responsibility, human rights law, corporations law, international law

JEL Classification: K22, K33

Suggested Citation

Kinley, David and Nolan, Justine and Zerial, Natalie, The Politics of Corporate Social Responsibility: Reflections on the United Nations Human Rights Norms for Corporations. Company and Securities Law Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 30-42, 2007; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 07/10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=962981

David Kinley (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006
Australia

Justine Nolan

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law ( email )

Kensington, New South Wales 2052
Australia

Natalie Zerial

The University of Sydney ( email )

University of Sydney
Sydney, NC NSW 2006
Australia

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