The "business of human rights"? Exploring the social practice of corporate accountability under the UN guiding principles on business and human rights

  • Marisa Cait McVey

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


    Attempts to ensure corporate accountability for human rights are numerous and diverse. The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) have become the reference point for businesses to demonstrate their understanding of human rights responsibilities and enhance corporate accountability through human rights due diligence (HRDD). The UNGPs, which are ostensibly a soft law initiative, have inspired numerous global and national policies, and are being increasingly ‘hardened’ through national and supranational legislation. Precisely because of their popularity and endorsement, it is imperative that a critical analysis of their application is undertaken. However, at present there is a lack of empirical research that draws attention to how the UNGPs are implemented within the corporate context, or on the role of external human rights experts in this process. In order to provide insights into this aspect of their implementation, this exploratory study draws on two multinational case studies – an oil and gas company and a bank. The research utilises a conceptual framework informed by the social practice of accountability, and is underpinned by a social constructionist qualitative methodological research design. Findings suggest that translating human rights through the UNGPs into the corporate space is both a challenging and iterative exercise, which can lead to instances were human rights are regarded as manageable objects rather than realised. External experts must respond to a range of legitimacy claims to become experts in the business and human rights ecosystem, and while doing so may confer legitimacy onto MNCs’ human rights practices. Their roles are diverse and impactful and the expert industry itself appears to be increasingly competitive, as new actors enter this space. As such, this research provides a much-needed contribution to the expansion of interdisciplinary inquiry into business and human rights issues, evaluating the use of the UNGPs as an accountability mechanism and on the realities and nuances of ‘doing’ corporate accountability for human rights.
    Date of Award2 Jul 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of St Andrews
    SupervisorFrancois-Regis Puyou (Supervisor) & John Ferguson (Supervisor)

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