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Working Paper

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business and human rights, corporate responsibility, John Ruggie, leverage, sphere of influence


Should companies’ human rights responsibilities arise, in part, from their “leverage” – their ability to influence others’ actions through their relationships? Special Representative John Ruggie rejected this proposition in the United Nations Framework for business and human rights. I argue that leverage is a source of responsibility where there is a morally significant connection between the company and a rights-holder or rights-violator, the company is able to make a contribution to ameliorating the situation, it can do so at modest cost, and the threat to human rights is substantial. In such circumstances companies have a responsibility to exercise leverage even though they did nothing to contribute to the situation. Such responsibility is qualified, not categorical, graduated, not binary, context-specific, practicable, consistent with the social role of business, and not merely a negative responsibility to avoid harm but a positive responsibility to do good.