Published In

Business Ethics Quarterly

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2012

Subjects

corporate responsibility; business and human rights; leverage; sphere of influence; John Ruggie

Abstract

Should companies’ human rights responsibilities arise, in part, from their “leverage” – their ability to influence others’ actions through their relationships? Special Representative John Ruggie rejected this proposition in the United Nations Framework for business and human rights. I argue that leverage is a source of responsibility where there is a morally significant connection between the company and a rights-holder or rights-violator, the company is able to make a contribution to ameliorating the situation, it can do so at modest cost, and the threat to human rights is substantial. In such circumstances companies have a responsibility to exercise leverage even though they did nothing to contribute to the situation. Such responsibility is qualified, not categorical; graduated, not binary; context-specific; practicable; consistent with the social role of business; and not merely a negative responsibility to avoid harm but a positive responsibility to do good.

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