Liability of corporations for their distant human rights impacts: a relational justice inquiry
The UN Human Rights Council, in 2011, unanimously adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”). The UNGPs document has since become the most prominent international instrument governing the (social) responsibility of corporations in situations where their operations involve adverse human rights impacts (an action that removes or reduces the ability of an individual to enjoy their human rights). The UNGPs were advanced as a soft instrument for social change to be adjudged in the ‘courts of public opinion.’
This thesis seeks to explore the possibilities of legal argumentation juxtaposing moral reasoning, contrary to the tendency of literature to be avoidant on invoking the normativity of law. The project asks the fundamental question of why and how corporations should be made subject to liability. Utilising Dagan and Dorfman’s theory of relational justice, this thesis enables further investigation into corporate human rights liability as rectification of unjust conditions than merely as a means of compensating harm.
Instead of ascertaining why imposing liability furthers the common good (like moral accounts), the approach to legal liability from the angle of what are the terms of a just interaction means a global floor reflects the minimum standard of conduct below which the relationship ceases to be just. The practical expression of this minimum standard is human rights due diligence which is foundational for responsibility and liability.
This doctoral project is interpretive normative, which uses standards inherent in law without criticising the standards themselves from an external perspective.