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Business & human rights: a commentary from the inside

Michael Posner (Center for Business and Human Rights, NYU Stern School of Business, New York, New York, USA)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 16 May 2016




The purpose of this paper is to first, provide an overview of the genesis of the business and human rights agenda; second, to identify key areas of focus in the emerging business and human rights agenda; and, finally, to argue for an approach to engaging business in the human rights agenda that is both challenging and practically orientated.


The paper draws on the author’s ethnographic experiences both as a human rights advocate with Human Rights First (1978-2009) and as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the US State Department (2009-2013).


The paper links the business and human rights agenda to the growth in size and power of corporations. It identifies six key areas of focus in this emerging agenda, specifically, supply chains and labor rights, the extractive industries especially relating to security, information technology and issues of freedom of expression, agriculture and issues of child and forced labor, and investment and socially responsible investors. The paper contends that business schools have a crucial role to play in engaging businesses in a challenging and practical way to provide them with workable solutions to these challenges.

Research limitations/implications

The paper contends that we have come to the end of the beginning of the discussion of business and human rights and are now in the phase of defining what the rules are in this twenty-first century global economy. The paper provides important considerations for taking this phase forward.


This paper provides original insights into the emergence of the business and human rights agenda. It identifies key areas of focus along with a valuable approach to making progress in these areas.



This paper is based on a plenary address to the Columbia University Law School Human Rights Institute 3rd Teaching Business and Human Rights Workshop in New York in 2013.


Posner, M. (2016), "Business & human rights: a commentary from the inside", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 705-711.



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