Managing Human Rights and Human Resources: The Dual Responsibility of Global Corporations

By Palthe, Jennifer | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview
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Managing Human Rights and Human Resources: The Dual Responsibility of Global Corporations


Palthe, Jennifer, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


At the nexus of global expansion and trade liberalization are humans; their needs, development, and aspirations. Whether local inhabitants of developing nations impacted by global trade, or human resources employed by global corporations to conduct business abroad, the central element remains people. In an age of unprecedented change, the development, deployment, and enhancement of this vital resource cannot be underestimated. It is well recognized that global business success is dependent on the ability of organizations to acquire and develop the best employees from around the world.

People are pivotal to both global corporations' survival and the wealth of nations. Nothing can be mobilized and no progress can be achieved in the absence of this essential resource. The purpose of this paper will be to review current worldwide trends and practices of leading corporations (profit and non-profit) in their management of human resources and social responsibility. An examination of the responsibilities of these global corporations will be made, and recommendations for reconciling these dual responsibilities and reshaping global HR practices will be presented.

Introduction

We are living in a vastly altered world where societal expectations of businesses have changed dramatically. At the cornerstone of the discourses dealing with human resources (HR), corporate social responsibility, corporate governance, and sustainability, are humans--their rights, their aspirations, and advancement. Humans are pivotal to both global corporations' survival and the wealth of nations. Nothing can be mobilized and no progress can be achieved in the absence of this essential resource. Never before has the pressure on organizations, to ensure that the basic rights of humans are protected and respected both within them and the communities they operate in, been greater. The purpose of this paper will be to review current worldwide trends and practices of leading corporations (profit and non-profit) in their management of human resources and social responsibility. An examination of the responsibilities of these global corporations will be made, and recommendations for reconciling these dual responsibilities and reshaping global HR practices will be presented.

Review of Current Global Trends

This year also marks the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)--a reminder that protecting human rights is a shared responsibility for governments and their citizens, and corporations and their employees. It is also interestingly the 20th Anniversary of the Oxford Round Table that is coincidently exploring the consequences of trade liberalization for, none other than, human rights.

The early 1990s saw the injection of the issue of human rights and business into the global public consciousness. While the notion of corporate social responsibility has been around since the 1970s, never before have we witnessed such as focus on the integration of these two constructs by multiple stakeholders, scholars, and practitioners alike. Recent human resource (HR) scholarship has called for greater focus on social responsibility (Fenwick and Bierema 2008). Similarly, business scholarship has acknowledged that the topic of human rights in management knowledge and practice is limited. At a recent UN Global Compact US network meeting in April 2008, Mike Toffel, Harvard Business School Professor argued: "The topic of human rights is new to business scholarship. Although there are peripheral mentions of human rights, there is still plenty of room for management knowledge and practice to work on the implementation of human rights" (see UNGC meeting from April, 2008).

Globalization has afforded multinational and global corporations the opportunity to expand into operations that possess financial power beyond nations. Of the worlds 100 largest economies, 51 are corporations and 49 are nations.

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