15 May 2023

Multinational Companies' Responsibility in Human Rights

Since the Industrial Revolution, companies have been playing an increasingly relevant role in the global economy and, with globalization, multinational corporations have become more powerful, operating in multiple countries and having a direct impact on local communities.

However, with economic power comes social responsibility, and nowadays, human rights are becoming a bigger subject in the business world.

According to John Ruggie, a Human Rights and Business Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, "Companies are an integral part of society and must respect human rights in all their activities." However, not all companies follow these guidelines, often operating in countries where human rights are violated. Even today, there are multinational companies that are frequently accused of benefiting from authoritarian regimes, exploiting workers, and contributing to environmental degradation.

To address these issues, various legal and regulatory instruments have been developed. For example, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has developed a series of international labor conventions to protect workers' rights. Additionally, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which establishes the fundamental rights that must be protected worldwide.

However, the implementation of these instruments is still a challenge. As Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlights, "It is important to remember that governments have the primary responsibility to protect human rights, but companies have the responsibility to respect them." Many resist the implementation of human rights standards, arguing that the protection of human rights is a governmental, not corporate, responsibility.

Despite these challenges, there are signs that things are changing. In 2011, the UN adopted the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which establishes companies' responsibilities regarding human rights. Additionally, companies are realizing that, as Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, states, "Companies that operate with integrity and respect human rights are more likely to thrive in the long run."

However, there is still much to be done to ensure that multinational corporations respect human rights worldwide. As Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the UN, highlights, "Companies have a vital role to play in promoting human rights and building a more just and sustainable global economy." It is the responsibility of all stakeholders, including governments, civil society organizations, and companies, to work together to ensure that multinational companies are responsible and respect human rights in all their activities. This includes the adoption of international standards, the conducting of independent audits, and the creation of reporting channels for workers and affected communities.

In summary, it is essential to protect human rights in all aspects of life, including in the business world. Multinational companies have an important responsibility in this process, ensuring that they respect human rights in all their activities and contribute to a more just and sustainable global economy. As governments, civil society organizations, and companies work together to achieve this goal, we can progress towards a more just and equitable world for all.

As a company committed to social responsibility, Castilho International Legal Corporation has already subscribed to the UN Global Compact, a pact that establishes universal principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption and seeks to promote a more just and sustainable global economy. Learn more about the UN Global Compact and join us at