The Dichotomy of Human Rights and Private Commercial Business

by Lottie Davies

Business-Employee Interaction

As our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) module embraces the flipped learning approach, we use the lectures to understand ethical issues. In doing so, we are joined by a host of guest speakers from commercial businesses, government organisations, pressure groups, not-for-profit organisations and charities. Prior to lectures, guest speakers provide an in-class question for individual reflection. Following the presentation delivered by the guest speaker, we share individual reflections with our peers, hence moving to the group level. Finally, we have a class discussion, whilst learning from the responses of the guest speaker.

In today’s lecture, we were joined by Professor Sheldon Leader, Director of the Essex Business and Human Rights Project. With research interests into the links between human rights and international trade and investment, Professor Leader offered an insight into the relationship between business ethics and the law. Business ethics is said to ‘begin where the law ends’ (Crane & Matten, 2010). Unlike the law, business ethics is equivocal, meaning that it is open to more than one interpretation (Crane & Matten, 2010). This time Professor Leader developed an ethical dilemma for us, titled ‘Sunny Summer Camp and Mr. Jones’:

‘Mr Jones works in the Sunny Summer Camp for children. He is a mechanic, in charge of keeping the camp’s vehicles in running order. His garage is several miles away from the camp, and he goes there normally twice a week to collect and return the vehicles. During weekends, when he is not required to be at work, Mr. Jones frequents a gay bar in the nearest town. A parent of one of the children learns of this and immediately contacts other parents, who go as a group to the camp Director to say that unless he dismisses Mr. Jones immediately they will withdraw their children. The children of the group of objecting parents amount to 25% of the total attending the camp. Mr. Jones has no criminal record, including no record of even suspected interference with children.

Imagine you are the Director of Sunny Summer Camp. You hold a meeting with Mr. Jones, informing him of the parents’ objections. He responds by pointing to his unblemished record. He adds that to pressure him to leave would be a gross violation of his right to respect for his private life. What are the relevant considerations for dismissing and retaining Mr. Jones?’

My personal response originally was to focus on minimising the revenue loss of 25%. I later read about corporate social responsiveness; the ability for an organisation to respond to social pressure (Frederick, 1994). There are four generic strategies that organisations can adopt – reaction, defence, accommodation or pro-action (Carroll, 1979). By focusing on the revenue loss, this is merely adopting a ‘defence’ strategy. During the lecture, Professor Sheldon’s response emphasised that collaborative approach can be taken to address the parents’ concerns, whilst also protecting the employee’s human right of ‘privacy’. That pushed further my thinking, whilst also suggesting a ‘pro-action’ strategy to the social pressure of the parents.

The use of Carrols Pyramid of CSR framework allows consideration of the type of responsibility that Sunny Summer Camp has. There are four consecutive but interrelated tiers in the pyrmid, each attributing a different level of responsibility (Crane & Matten, 2010). The pyramid starts with economic performance, ‘the basic building block that it undergirds all else’ (Carrol, 1991). The focus here is preventing the 25% revenue loss. Organisations are also expected to obey the law as this codifies what is acceptable and unacceptable (Carrol, 1991). According to the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of a protected characteristic. Ethical responsibilities refer to the obligation to do ‘what is right, just and fair to minimise stakeholder harm’ (Carrol, 1991). Finally, philanthropic responsibility is the expectation for organisations to be a corporate citizen through contributing human and financial resources to wider community (Carrol, 1991). In Greek, the word philanthropy translates to ‘love of fellow human’ (Crane & Matten, 2010). The summer camp could use conflict to educate the community about homosexuality, reinforcing it as a ‘norm’ within society.

The use of Carroll’s Pyramid adopts an Equivalent View of Corporate Citizenship (Crane and Matten, 2010). Moving beyond this is the Extended View, which places emphasis on the organisation as a political actor (Crane and Matten, 2010). Sunny Summer Camp could move towards the Extended View of Corporate Citizenship by provide social rights, civil rights and political rights. In relation to the concept of citizenship, Crane and Matten (2010) refer to companies as ‘artificial persons’, suggesting that they have rights and responsibilities alike that of an individual citizen. Finally, if we consider that companies also have human rights, this may remove an additional element of the dichotomy between the individual’s human rights and private commercial business, thus aligning interests.


Carroll, A. B. (1979). A three-dimensional conceptual model of corporate performance. Academy of management review, 4(4), 497-505.

Carroll, A. B. (1991). The pyramid of corporate social responsibility: Toward the moral management of organizational stakeholders. Business horizons, 34(4), 39-48.

Crane, A., & Matten, D. (2010). Business ethics: Managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization. Oxford University Press, USA.

Frederick, W. C. (1994). From CSR1 to CSR2 the maturing of business-and-society thought. Business & Society, 33(2), 150-164.

The Equality Act 2010


Lottie Davies, Co-Editor of ‘CSR & Student Reflections Blog’, KBS Final Year Student 2015-16

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