Climate change as a business and human rights issue?

Kristian Høyer Toft

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    This paper questions whether human rights are relevant to framing corporate responsibility in regard to climate change. Expanding the holders of human rights duties to also include private actors such as business corporations is becoming widely accepted due to the success of John Ruggie’s UN Guiding Principles (2008, 2011). However, the scope of corporate responsibilities is constrained to merely ‘respecting’ human rights. Moreover, it is unclear how, if at all, climate change can be considered part of the concern of the Guiding Principles.
    The fact that the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights includes business corporations on a par with states as duty-carriers in regard to the issue of climate change (OHCHR 2015), expands business responsibilities beyond the Guiding Principles restriction to ‘respect’.
    Also, considering recent research revealing that the carbon majors (e.g. Shell, BP, Exxon Mobile) of the fossil fuel industries are responsible for two-thirds of all GHG emissions since 1870 (Heede 2014). Subsequently, in 2015 this research animated a human rights litigation filed by civil society groups in the Philippines against 50 carbon majors for violation of their human rights due to harms caused by climate change.
    Examples such as these suggest that corporations are increasingly assigned human rights duties related to climate change. Even though the issue of business and human rights is much researched (Buhmann and Wettstein 2017; Wettstein 2009, 2012, 2015; Santoro 2015; Hsieh 2015; Kobrin 2009;), much less research can be found on how business and human rights (BHR) relate to the issue of climate change, except within legal scholarship (Posner 2007; Seck 2017; Bach 2016), and Shue’s (2017) comment on the carbon major case.
    This contribution, thus, seeks to remedy for this void in the research literature by questioning backward- looking and forward-looking responsibilities of the issue BHR and climate change (cf. Shue 2017):
    1) That certain corporations (the carbon majors) do have a human right based responsibility, being liable, to remedy victims of climate change because they, by emitting the majority of greenhouse gases through history, caused a significant part of the harm done by current climate changes. This argument is supported by the backward-looking polluters’ pay principle (cf. Caney 2005; Shue 2017).
    2) By questioning whether corporations also have a forward-looking and positive human rights duty exemplified by good corporate ecological citizenship (Crane, Matten and Moon 2008) carrying the following duties:
    a) to mitigate climate change by cutting GHG emissions in the future, b) to promote institutions that prevent climate change to further exacerbate (Hsieh 2009; Scherer and Palazzo 2011). Such institutions should also have capacity for remedy of violations of human rights and provide protection of human rights against harmful climate change (Wettstein 2012; Ruggie 2011)
    It is concluded, less controversially and in tune with recent UN statements, that business corporations should be held accountable to a human rights-based duty for effects related to climate change. The conclusion, however and more controversially, also shows how such responsibilities include duties to also protect and remedy.

    Keywords: business and human rights, climate change, duties, corporate citizenship
    Antal sider28
    StatusUdgivet - 2017
    Begivenhed4th Workshop on Business Ethics, Brussels, Belgium - The European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management, Brussels, Belgien
    Varighed: 9 nov. 201710 nov. 2017
    Konferencens nummer: 2406-4130


    Workshop4th Workshop on Business Ethics, Brussels, Belgium
    LokationThe European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management


    • Climate change
    • Guiding principles
    • political CSR


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