Business Ethics - Philosophy of Human Rights Essay

6494 Words Apr 15th, 2013 26 Pages
Philosophy of Human Rights

Reading 1. Denis Arnold, “The Human Rights Obligations of Multinational
Corporations”

I have had the opportunity to teach a number of courses on the philosophy of human rights. To supplement the Arnold reading, I thought that I would give you some basic background regarding the central philosophical and legal debates over the nature of human rights.

What are human rights?

Human rights are international norms that help to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to engage in political activity. These
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A human rights advocate might wish to see human rights exist in all four ways. (See Section 2. The Existence of Human Rights.)
Third, human rights are numerous (several dozen) rather than few. John Locke's rights to life, liberty, and property were few and abstract (Locke 1689), but human rights as we know them today address specific problems (e.g., guaranteeing fair trials, ending slavery, ensuring the availability of education, preventing genocide).
Fourth, human rights are minimal—or at least modest—standards. They are much more concerned with avoiding the terrible than with achieving the best. Their dominant focus is protecting minimally good lives for all people (Nickel 2006). Henry Shue suggests that human rights concern the “lower limits on tolerable human conduct” rather than “great aspirations and exalted ideals” (Shue 1996). As modest standards they leave most legal and policy matters open to democratic decision-making at the national and local levels. This allows them to have high priority, to accommodate a great deal of cultural and institutional variation, and to leave open a large space for democratic decision-making at the national level.
Fifth, human rights are international norms covering all countries and all people living today. International law plays a crucial role in giving human rights global

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