The corporate responsibility to respect human rights: a status review

Claire Methven O'Brien, Sumithra Dhanarajan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of this paper is to discuss a wide range of significant developments that have emerged in the wake of the UNs endorsement of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (GPs) in June 2011. In particular, the paper offers a preliminary assessment of how the GPs’ corporate responsibility to respect human rights has been interpreted and to what extent it has been operationalised through government action, business behaviour and the praxis of other social actors.

The paper provides a comprehensive assessment of a number of key developments related to Pillar 2 of the GPs – concerned with the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. More specifically, the paper considers a range of elements relating to corporate human rights due diligence, including: establishing a corporate human rights policy; the undertaking of human rights impact assessment; integrating findings of impact assessment, and; corporate human rights reporting.

Based on the assessment of recent developments and initiatives, the paper suggests that the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, as expressed in Pillar 2 of the GPs, embodies the culmination of significant progress in the sphere of corporate accountability. In doing so, the paper documents a plethora of innovations in regulation and praxis, led by actors in government and the corporate sector, civil society organisations, labour unions and others, in the areas of human rights due diligence, impact assessment and reporting. Yet overall, change is slow and partial and the results achieved are still unsatisfactory. Severe business-related human rights abuses remain endemic in many industry sectors and in many countries.

Research limitations/implications
The implementation of the GPs is at a key stage of development, with a multitude of initiatives and actors attempting to develop and influence new forms of corporate governance. This paper provides an overview and assessment of these key developments.

This paper provides an important assessment and synthesis of key developments related to corporate responsibility for human rights.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-567
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2016


  • business and human rights
  • human rights
  • Corporate accountability
  • corporate social responsibility


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