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Human Rights in the Global Business Ethics Codes. In the 1990s, multinational enterprises began to write codes of conduct to govern their behavior in a variety of business settings. Business ethics codes guide behavior and compliance with human rights in multinational corporations, but can also apply to smaller businesses supplying products or services to such corporations. International organizations like the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations have also drafted guidelines that hold corporations responsible for respecting their employees’ human rights. Sources of Codes. International organizations, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization, have drafted principles and guidelines for corporate behavior, including respect for human rights; the guidelines of the ILO are applicable for all types of enterprises, including small businesses. However, the business codes of ethics were sometimes voluntarily created within a corporation itself.
Additionally, the United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights Ruggie Principles to encourage transnational corporations to place human rights considerations above their obligations under national law. Content of Rights Codes of conduct cover many areas of the human rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, including individual and collective rights as well as obligations arising from employer-employee relations in small businesses and larger corporations. Many codes contain general references to a corporate obligation to respect the human rights of employees and the residents in the communities where the corporation operates. Other codes cite ILO standards or the UDHR, and give more specific guidelines regarding the prohibition on the use of child labor, employee rights to collective bargaining and assembly, health and safety protections in the workplace and salaries and benefits rights. Beneficiaries of Codes The Codes of Conduct are designed to benefit many different stakeholders.
For example, Shell Corporation states that among its core values is respect for the human rights of its employees including good and safe working conditions and a competitive employment environment. Apple’s Code of Conduct for its smaller-sized suppliers targets the individuals that work for its suppliers and stipulates that workers may not be subjected to discrimination based on race, sexual orientation or religion, the workweek is limited to no more than 60 hours, employees must not be harassed and that child labor is strictly prohibited. Voluntary Nature The codes of conduct are not binding obligations; therefore, corporations cannot be punished or fined if they fail to respect the codes.
Nevertheless, a corporation’s reputation and image may falter in the face of publicity demonstrating a failure to respect the human rights of its employees or those of the residents in the communities where it is doing business. Codes of conduct may appeal to smaller business enterprises as a spontaneous demonstration of commitment to human rights in local communities.
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