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The past, the present and the future of accounting for human rights

Ken McPhail (Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, Manchester UK and La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)
John Ferguson (School of Management, University of St Andrews, Fife, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 16 May 2016




The purpose of this paper is to discuss a number of important recent developments in the area of business and human rights and considers the impact of these developments for accounting, assurance and reporting. Following the UN endorsement of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the Guiding Principles) in June 2011, initiatives related to their implementation have advanced at a rapid pace. Despite the centrality of accounting, assurance and reporting to some of the key initiates – accounting research has, hitherto, lagged behind this growing momentum. In order to address this lacunae, this paper develops an agenda for future research in the area of accounting and human rights. In doing so, the paper provides an overview of the important contributions advanced by the other papers in this special issue of Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal (AAAJ).


This paper draws together and identifies key issues and themes related to the rapidly evolving research and policy domain of business and human rights and considers the relevance of these issues to accounting research.


The paper highlights the wide-ranging impact the Guiding Principles and other developments in business and human rights have for accounting practice and draws attention to potential areas of research for accounting scholars. In particular, the paper highlights the emergence of business and human rights due diligence requirements, including their management and reporting. Further, the paper draws attention to the development of business and human rights reporting and assurance practice – which, while still in its infancy, has gathered considerable momentum and support.

Research limitations/implications

The paper provides important insights into emerging issues and developments in business and human rights that have clear relevance to accounting research and practice.


This paper, and the other contributions to this special issue of AAAJ, provide a basis and a research agenda for accounting scholars seeking to undertake research in this significant and emerging field.



The authors would like to thank Gloria Parker and Rainbow Shum for their expert help with ScholarOne and Professor James Guthrie for his wise council in bringing this special issue to fruition.


McPhail, K. and Ferguson, J. (2016), "The past, the present and the future of accounting for human rights", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 526-541.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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