“Human rights are unconditional - we are entitled to them solely on the basis of being human. The question is therefore not whether companies have human rights obligations, but how extensive they are, and how they should be demanded and enforced.”
Until recently, discussions on business ethics and corporate responsibility rarely included explicit references to human rights. However, since the mid-1990s, the debate on 'business and human rights' has been gaining in importance in academia, practice and politics. It has turned into an inter-disciplinary discussion that spans various fields, such as law, political science, and business ethics, among others.
The research team around Florian Wettstein explores and engages with the business and human rights discussion in its various dimensions and from diverse perspectives. Thereby, the research can be divided into two overarching streams: first, developing the conceptual and normative foundations for extending human rights obligations to business, and second, engaging with the concrete design of corresponding institutional structures and the implementation of these obligations in corporate practice.
The discourse on business and human rights is typically structured along three areas of concern: the state obligation to protect human rights from corporate abuse, the corporate responsibility to prevent and mitigate negative impacts on human rights that emanate from their activities and business relationships, and the provision of remedy and reparation for potential victims of human rights violations. This tripartite approach is mirrored also in and through the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which are currently the most influential global policy framework in business and human rights domain.
Although business ethics is primarily situated within the second of those three pillars, our team conducts research, develops projects, and undertakes various initiatives in all three focus areas. These endeavors encompass both basic research and applied work in collaboration with partners from the private sector, politics, and civil society. One of the our longstanding research interests has been the Swiss commodity sector, which has been the subject of ongoing investigations from both theoretical and practical perspectives.
Human rights violations involving corporations often occur in areas where regulatory and institutional capacities to hold companies to account are weak. Specifying the thematic interest in business and human rights, we have had a strong geographical focus on Africa. For this purpose, we established the IWE-HSG Competence Center for African Research (CCAR) in 2020. While business and human rights is one focus area of CCAR, the center is engaged in the exploration of a much broader set of issues and concerns and offers a platform for research collaboration among university members from various fields and disciplines.
Florian Wettstein is Professor of Business Ethics and Director of the Institute for Business Ethics. His research focuses primarily on the interface between business ethics and human rights. Florian Wettstein is the president of the International Society of Business, Economics, and Ethics (ISBEE) and Editor-in-Chief of the Business and Human Rights Journal (BHRJ), published by Cambridge University Press.