What is business and human rights?
Chapter 1 gives an overview of the international human rights law system, clarifying the meaning of human rights and its origins in the post-Second World War context. It discusses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the cornerstone of the international human rights system, and its codification into international law through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. States, rather than individuals or corporations, are the principal actors under international human rights law. States’ obligations to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil human rights give rise to their role regulating corporate actors’ behaviour within their territory or jurisdiction to the extent it impacts detrimentally on human rights. However, as corporations’ supply chains have expanded globally, governance gaps have arisen between national and international legal systems where corporate impacts on human rights are unregulated. Several explanations for this are outlined, including insufficient protections for human rights in the host country, the failure of law enforcement, corruption, and institutional weaknesses. In the home country, there is often an unwillingness to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction over its corporations’ international activities. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights respond to these governance gaps.