Human Rights, the Political View, and TNCs: An Exploration

In Tom Campbell & Kylie Bourne (eds.), Political and Legal Approaches to Human Rights. London, UK: pp. 168-86 (2018)
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A recently developed view in political theory holds that only political agents, particularly states, can be primary bearers of human-rights duties. Problematically, this so-called ‘political view’ appears unable to account for the human-rights responsibilities of powerful non-state actors, such as transnational corporations (TNCs). Can a recognizably political view respond to this concern? I show that, once the moral underpinnings of the political view are made explicit, it can. I suggest that, on the political view, what makes states primary bearers of human-rights duties is their possession of both (i) the capacity to fulfill human right and (ii) what I call the ‘authority-plus-sovereignty package’. Building on the existing literature on the moral responsibilities of TNCs, I argue that some TNCs—especially in areas of weak governance—meet these two conditions. I thus conclude that they count as bearers of primary human-rights responsibilities even from within a political perspective on human rights.
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