Social responsibility and human rights

Authored by: Morton Winston

Handbook of Human Rights

Print publication date:  September  2011
Online publication date:  February  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415480239
eBook ISBN: 9780203887035
Adobe ISBN: 9781134019083


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During the latter half of the twentieth century, international human rights became the dominant form of moral and legal discourse. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is increasing emphasis on the notion that individuals and organizations also have certain social responsibilities with respect to human rights for which they may be held accountable. Governments have traditionally been viewed as the primary bearers of the moral and legal responsibilities entailed by human rights, and continue to be so regarded. However, the new discourse of social responsibility for human rights modifies the state-centric approach by proposing that many kinds of private non-state actors, such as multinational corporations, inter-governmental institutions, and even individuals and civil society organizations, also have responsibilities for observing, promoting, and fulfilling human rights. The concept of social responsibility should be understood as encompassing more than just duties related to human rights, and is often invoked as a way of describing duties to protect environment quality, prevent unnecessary harm to animals, and promote other important social goods. However, the present discussion will be restricted to those kinds of social responsibilities that are derived from or are related to human rights, an important subclass of the wider concept.

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