Global Production, CSR and Human Rights: The Courts of Public Opinion and the Social License to Operate

Prof. Sally Wheeler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
873 Downloads (Pure)


This paper takes at its starting point the responsibility placed upon corporations by the United Nations’ Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework as elaborated upon by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to respect human rights. The overt pragmatism and knowledge of the complex business relationships that are embedded in global production led John Ruggie, the author of the Framework, to adopt a structure for the relationship between human rights and business that built on the existing practices of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). His intention was that these practices should be developed to embrace respect for human rights by exhorting corporations to move from “the era of declaratory CSR” to showing a demonstrable policy commitment to respect for human rights. The prime motivation for corporations to do this was, according to Ruggie, because the responsibility to respect was one that would be guarded and judged by the “courts of public opinion” as part of the social expectations imposed upon corporations or to put it another way as a condition of a corporation’s social license to operate.
This article sets out the background context to the Framework and examines the structures that it puts forward. In its third and final section the article looks at how the Framework requires a corporation’s social license to be assembled and how and by whom that social license will be judged. The success or failure of the Framework in persuading corporations to respect human rights is tied to whether “the courts of public opinion” can use their “naming and shaming power” effectively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)757-778
Number of pages21
JournalThe International Journal of Human Rights
Early online date17 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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