Virtue Ethics and Natural Law Responses to Human Rights Quandaries in Business
This article is motivated by certain issues for which, in current Business and Human Rights (BHR) discourse, largely framed in terms of the Ruggie reports, no satisfactory solutions have been found to date. These quandaries refer to (a) foundational matters: the link between human rights law and ethics; (b) normative force: the obligatoriness of human rights claims on corporations; and (c) scope and content of human rights claims on corporations. Turning to the virtue ethics and natural law (VENL) tradition, we encounter the following possible responses: (a) positive laws, such as those concerning human rights, ultimately require a basis in natural law; (b) although the public use of the coercive force of law belongs to the state alone, its private use by non-state actors such as individuals and corporations may be legitimate in some cases; and (c) practical wisdom is necessary in the proper interpretation and implementation of human rights claims on corporations, taking into account relevant contingencies. The blending of BHR discourse with the VENL tradition is best captured in modern Catholic Social Teaching (CST). Although historically CST has adopted the VENL language, engagement with social issues in the modern world has enabled it to reach an understanding with rights theory as well, particularly in connection with business and the economy.