Responsibility in World Business: Managing Harmful Side-Effects of Corporate Activity

By Lene Bomann-Larsen; Oddny Wiggen | Go to book overview

15
A commentary on the principle
of double effect

Chris Marsden

The principle of double effect (PDE) is a pragmatist's charter based on broadly utilitarian principles. From the perspective of a business and those trying to help it address the adverse impacts on society of its operations, it seems to offer a practical, if thought-provoking, decision-making tool. From a human rights perspective, however, it gets dangerously close to providing any individual or institution that violates human rights with a legitimate process for claiming that those violations were necessary to achieve a higher and legitimate goal, in other words, to serve the common good. Nevertheless, decisions in favour of the common good do have to be made and these will often be to the immediate disadvantage of individuals and minority groups. The legitimacy of such decisions depends on the transparency and inclusiveness of the decision-making process and an insistence on the fundamental rights of those affected (based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) being upheld and any negative consequences fully negotiated and compensated. This is particularly the case with the “negative side-effects can be justified as proportionate” clause. This could be seen as an invitation to any wouldbe human rights violators to justify their actions on the grounds that they were acting in their view of the common interest. It needs to be made very clear that, unless an individual or organization makes every effort to understand and mitigate the consequences of their actions in circumstances where those actions will in all likelihood lead to violations, then

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