In the global pursuit of lower cost do human rights matter? Argue against this statement.
In recent years, a number of businesses have been criticised over human rights abuses. Wal-Mart, US owners of Asda, have come under attack for using Chinese factories where child labour is rife for toy production . Human rights abuses exist in factories in the West too, as identified by Human Rights Watch’s report on low wages and poor working conditions of immigrant workers in US meat and poultry factories. In pursuit of lower operating costs in order to increase profits, these companies or their suppliers have compromised human rights in order to drive down costs. This essay explores the concept of human rights in a business context, looking at various examples, and argues that recognition of human rights is not merely a moral obligation but good business practice on economic grounds.
Human rights have been defined as
“those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity. To violate someone’s human rights is to treat that person as though she or he were not a human being. To advocate human rights is to demand that the human dignity of all people be respected” .
Extensive human rights principles are codified in UN documents. Pressure is put on countries not adhering to the principles, especially for practices perceived as particularly abhorrent (e.g. torture, murder, imprisonment without charge or trial), but they are not all enshrined in law . Following principles that are not legally binding but are seen as morally desirable is a matter of ethics, and this leads to business dilemmas: there is a perceived higher cost of ethical behaviour and hence reduced profits and potentially decreased competitiveness if rival organisations continue to drive costs down by unethical means.
The case for and against ethical business practices
Arguments exist both for and against ethical business practices. Child labour and human rights abuses...