Role of Multinational Companies in Human Rights

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The relationship between multinational companies and human rights is a murky one.
The relationship between multinational companies and human rights is a murky one. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The world is getting smaller. New communications technologies and transport links have turned us all into global citizens who can easily traverse the world's borders along with the goods we buy and sell. While the world shrinks, some companies are getting larger. Multinational companies are a serious force in today's world, and some worry that their influence on basic human rights and values is ultimately negative. The relationship between multinationals and basic human rights has always been a contentious one. Opinion on the issue is sharply divided. But as more companies expand their operations to more countries, few issues are more important in defining the quality of every day life for people around the world.

Identification

A multinational company is one that does business, whether producing goods or providing services, in multiple countries. More and more companies fit this definition, as outsourcing and globalization become increasingly prevalent. Human rights are a set of freedoms and entitlements believed to be common to all people, regardless of nationality, creed or status. Though there are a variety of definitions of what human rights are, freedom and equality are widely accepted human rights values. In the course of multinational business, companies can further enhance human rights for others or impinge upon them.

Positive Human Rights Developments by Multinationals

While the debate rages about the human rights impact of multinational companies, some argue that multinational business practices further the cause of human rights. By these companies' efforts, countries with a checkered human rights record are brought into the fold of international trade. By being forced to play by the rules of democratic free trade, the argument goes that these countries become more democratic themselves. The technologies and jobs that multinationals provide are also thought in some circles to make people freer and better able to live with dignity.

Negative Human Rights Developments by Multinationals

Many critics argue that multinationals degrade human rights in the countries they do business in. Many multinationals have grown incredibly powerful, outstripping the income of entire countries. This has given them immense power when dealing with poorer countries. With some countries lacking proper legal frameworks, there have been numerous documented violations of human rights by multinationals, including unsafe work practices, supporting corrupt political regimes and suppressing local dissatisfaction with company policies.

Improvements

With so many diverging viewpoints on the effect of multinationals, it can be difficult to objectively measure whether or not human rights improve when these companies come to a country. However, there have been improvements in the global climate that make human rights abuses less likely in the future. Transparency is the primary improvement. The Internet and globalization have made it far easier to publicize bad practices and human rights abuses. In the past, companies might try to influence regime change in a country to secure advantages for their business. Those sorts of practices are becoming increasingly difficult to hide in today's world.

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