With globalisation, large multinational companies have faced
charges that they are violating human rights, especially in developing
countries: child labour in the textile industry, environmental disasters
caused by the oil industry, or breaches of the right to privacy
by telecommunication companies are all recent examples. Yet such alleged
abuses often take place outside Europe, and bringing them before
European courts is usually difficult.
Council of Europe member states should start by investing
ethically, refusing to work with corporations associated with abuses,
and insist that firms fully respect human rights standards when
they carry out government contracts – especially if the work involves
classic state functions which have been “privatised”, such as law
enforcement or military activities. More generally, they should
introduce laws to protect individuals from corporate abuses of human
rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Committee of Ministers, for its part, could prepare studies
– and eventually a recommendation to Europe’s governments – on corporate
responsibility in the area of human rights. It could even set up
a system for assessing the social responsibility of businesses,
leading to a Council of Europe “label” for the best. In the meantime,
the Council of Europe should co-operate with other international
organisations already working in this field, and develop partnerships
with the business community to promote its standards.