Norms of the kind reflected in the guiding principles

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norms of the kind reflected in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights—are critical; but they will not suffice. We need to move towards a binding international agreement enshrining these norms. Before concluding, I want to make one more observation. Some advocates of corporate responsibility argue that it is in businesses’ self-interest to be responsible. They note that companies with better records of corporate responsibility have, on average performed better. The evidence supports that conclusion. Perhaps it’s because businesses that are more attentive to their broader societal obligations are, in many other ways, better businesses as well. They may be more attentive to what is going on in the market place as well. But corporate responsibility, and especially so when it touches on human rights, should not just be a matter of self-interest. Perceptions of self-interest can change. In that sense, self-interest, in the narrowly defined sense, is a weak reed on which to rely. (There is, of course, a broader sense of self-interest—sometimes referred to as self-interest rightly understood, which goes beyond narrowly defined “selfish” self-interest to a concern for society more generally. It is this broader sense which Smith himself meant, though this broader conception has sadly been ignored by his latter day followers.) The reason that businesses should embrace corporate responsibility is not selfish self-interest, but because it is the right thing to do.
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Let me congratulate the UN for the important work that it has been doing in advancing corporate responsibility, and the Human Rights Council for convening this meeting, focusing on the responsibility of businesses for advancing human rights. Economic theory has explained why we cannot rely on the pursuit of self-interest; and the experiences of recent years have reinforced that conclusion. What is needed is stronger norms, clearer understandings of what is acceptable—and what is not—and stronger laws and regulations to ensure that those that do not behave in ways that are consistent with these norms are held accountable.
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