Fixing Globalization-Fueled Human Rights Violations

Last Updated Apr 22, 2008 12:07 PM EDT

A new United Nations report written by Harvard Kennedy School's John Ruggie signals a growing incidence of business-related human rights violations fueled by globalization.

The changes wrought by a globalized economy, he writes, are creating "governance gaps" -- areas of business, government, and society where established human rights protections don't penetrate.


These governance gaps provide the permissive environment for wrongful acts by companies of all kinds without adequate sanctioning or reparation. How to narrow and ultimately bridge the gaps in relation to human rights is our fundamental challenge.

Violations most occur where governance structures are weakest: in low-income countries; in countries that often had just emerged from or still were in conflict; and in countries where the rule of law was weak and levels of corruption high.

The solution, the report concludes, is a three-prong approach involving actions by governments, business, and society at large. It calls on companies to conduct due dilligence of their actions to "become aware of, prevent and address adverse human rights impacts," and to create effective grievance procedures.
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.