The subject covered in this Compendium has developed very fast in the last 20 years. The idea that businesses have social responsibilities is not new; it has been discussed in universities since the 1960s under the name ‘business ethics’. The notion of corporate social responsibilities (CSR) however became prominent in the 1990s as a response to criticism that economic globalization is not fair in how it spreads benefits and risks. Therefore ideas of CSR, corporate accountability, corporate citizenship, responsible business conduct and corporate sustainability, have attracted wide support, initially from civil society groups and then from some leading businesses and industry associations as well as governments and international organizations.

‘Business and human rights’ (BHR) is a smaller, specialized part of the broader CSR idea: it is focused on negative impacts from business activities without denying positive impacts, it is based on the authoritative international standards developed by states in human rights treaties, and often emphasizes the importance of legal accountability of businesses and states. Since it emerged in the early 1990s, BHR has emphasized the core idea that human rights are minimum entitlements for individuals and communities grounded in human dignity as well as principles necessary to create societies that are more just. Thus human rights grounded in international law have produced the necessary and globally relevant discourse of ethics and justice to challenge and guide business conduct. As this compendium shows, human rights are relevant to all industries, in all countries. They apply to the workplace (e.g. working hours, health and safety) and surrounding communities (e.g. right to land, right to security), and are meant to protect men, women and all groups in society at higher risk of harm (e.g. children, people with disabilities).

Some protections against business abuses already exist in national laws. When these laws are effective, BHR merely reinforces the importance of compliance with local laws. However, legal systems are not perfect as the laws have gaps and more often are not adequately enforced for a multitude of reasons. What makes BHR important is to put the spotlight on how businesses take advantage of these gaps (resulting in business impunity) at both international law and domestic law levels. BHR then stresses that such regulatory and governance gaps should be closed to ensure access to justice for victims and corporate compliance with human rights norms. This Compendium points to recent policy developments in international organizations (e.g., in the UN), in regions (e.g. the EU), and in advanced economies which all point to the conclusion that governments are increasingly willing to play a stronger role in promoting CSR and regulating businesses.

This is a significant change in the last 10 years. At the international level, the UN SDGs (2015) emphasize the role of the private sector in achieving the development goals and the importance of human rights as both means and ends of development. The UN has adopted the UNGPs (2011), marking the first time the UN member states have agreed to a CSR instrument. In another notable change, international economic agreements – both investment and trade agreements – that have been crucial to the liberalization of the global economy are increasingly referring to labour and human rights, and responsible business conduct. Also in this last decade, the European Union – the largest trading block in the world – is emerging as the most active regulatory space with a direct impact on transnational corporations (TNCs) based there and their global value chains. Finally, industrialized states where TNCs are domiciled have for some time promoted and supported the voluntary uptake of CSR and some seem ready to regulate CSR through incentives and sanctions. In this shifting legal and policy landscape, the UN is currently negotiating a BHR treaty that can harmonize and further enhance regulations in BHR.

Remarkable as they are, the solution to corporate unaccountability is not only a legal one. Many agree that law is part of the solution but much more is needed to achieve in practice responsible business conduct and effective enjoyment of human rights. There are many reasons why the law is a limited tool in BHR; one of them is that TNCs or global supply chains are so complex, dynamic, and mobile that they make a very difficult regulatory target. That means that they can and sometimes do escape jurisdiction of their home and host states, can successfully exploit competition among states for trade and investment, and have the resources and power to defend their interest against lawmakers and civil society critics. Nevertheless, businesses make their own calculations and respond to legal, economic and social pressures. That means business compliance with human rights norms and applicable laws depends on how strong these three sources of influence are and whether they reinforce each other or not. This explains why for the last 30 years some TNCs adopted CSR voluntarily, engaged in self-regulation, entered into multistakeholder initiatives and partnerships for development, and sometime even supported new laws on BHR. So understanding and teaching BHR often requires not only attention to law and legal expertise, but insights from other disciplines to understand how regulations emerge (the process of law-making and norm-making) and whether and how businesses respond to these norms (compliance with law and observance of human rights in practice). It is essential to recall that the entire BHR movement happened because of pressure from civil society organizations; which documented abuses and increased the visibility of corporate and governmental wrongdoing among fellow citizens, consumers, investors, companies themselves and the media.

Therefore, understanding and teaching BHR is often about placing the law, and compliance with it, in its proper context. From declaring human rights at the UN or in a national constitution to people actually enjoying their human rights that are affected by businesses is a long way that lawyers, political scientists, management scholars, sociologists and media specialists might want to travel together. This is why the Compendium has in mind teachers from these five academic disciplines. We hope the selection of materials is accessible and understandable to all five of them and that BHR can be a theme that can stimulate cross-disciplinary teaching and collaborations.

Aim and audiences of the compendium

The compendium is meant to be an aid for lecturers to prepare classes and seminars on business and human rights in Cambodia. A secondary audience could be researchers that are new to the topics but look for authoritative reference points from which to start reading and researching human rights aspects. Expected users are teachers from five disciplines: lecturers not only from law faculties, but also from political science, business administration, sociology, and media & communications.

Size and structure of the compendium

The Compendium is a ‘cases and materials’ type of book, and not a textbook. Therefore it is a resource not meant for students who would benefit from a more explanatory, introductory type of book.

The compendium runs for around 800 pages. As may be clearer from the introduction above, BHR is a recent, extremely diverse and highly dynamic area. It’s an emerging scientific field in itself that combines many bodies of law (human rights law, constitutional law, labour law, civil law, criminal law, even environmental law and many others), covers all industries, all human rights, and all countries. The legal framework for BHR is only beginning to emerge now and it will take a long time to do so. Meanwhile one must account for business practice and civil society activism, which will allow one to understand what the specific responsibilities in BHR are, how they are implemented by businesses, and what monitoring mechanisms are being created. There is a lot of experimentation taking place, often by leading businesses, civil society and even governments working together. Academic works sometimes even struggle to keep pace with developments on the ground.

The compendium has 3 parts and 28 chapters. Part I covers the highly diversified legal framework in BHR, Part II is a deep dive into the systems companies set up to respect human rights, and Part III further contextualizes what corporate responsibility entails regarding specific human rights each of them with their own specificities. Each chapter is split into two sections – International materials and Cambodian sources – to ensure maximum relevance for teachers and students.

With so much material to cover and with due regard to the complexity of the issues, the authors of the compendium made some careful choices.

Compendium size: One choice was to allow the compendium to take its space and grow to 800 pages, but we advise the teachers to begin by reading only the chapters which are the most interesting for them. We could have produced a much smaller compendium instead of delivering 28 chapters out of which half are dedicated to specific human rights. For example, we could have eliminated some of those 14 chapters altogether, but that would also have reduced the choice for teachers with widely different backgrounds. Teachers should therefore use the compendium more as an encyclopedia and therefore ‘pick and choose’ materials as required by their teaching situation.

Chapter size: Another choice was to also let each chapter take its space and go to 20-30 pages if needed. We carefully selected materials for high quality: we aimed only for most recent materials from authoritative sources. But again, giving systematically a voice to 4 groups of sources – government, business, civil society, and academia – unavoidably took space. We worked systematically and included, for example, 1 – law and policy (international conventions, soft law instruments, reports from UN treaty body and special rapporteurs, national laws, judicial decisions); 2 – documents from businesses (e.g. corporate policies, examples of systems, CSR reports, industry guidance); 3 – materials from NGOs (e.g. case studies of corporate abuses, analysis, advocacy campaigns, collaborations with businesses); 4 – academic writings. These sources are referred to as ‘Instruments’ in the structure below

The stateThe companyThe civil societyThe academia

Selection of passages: Yet another choice was in how we selected the most relevant and important part from each material. Far from an arbitrary and rushed selection, we tried to identify important and original ideas/data; we would expect teachers to find these worth highlighting in presentations and class discussions. We encountered a trade-off when making the selections: if too short, they become incomprehensible (leading the teacher either to the original source or more likely to stop using the compendium) and if too long, the compendium would grow vastly beyond its current significant length.

Structure of chapters: we chose to standardize the format of each chapter to create familiarity for teachers. The same components as well as the same order are used consistently throughout the chapters.

(summary of chapter by the compendium authors)
Main aspects
(bullet points on key issues covered in the chapter)
(general and accessible information about the topic of the chapter)
(from 4 sources)
(for class discussions)
Further readings

Support for teachers

In sum, each instrument was carefully selected for relevance and quality, and passages were excerpted to give the reader key aspects that should not be missed from any lecture/seminar. These key aspects and sources are the ‘building blocks’ and interesting bits – it is up to the teacher to select, emphasize and combine building blocks in the best way for their audience and academic discipline.

Taking these choices together, the major priority for the authors was to enable the teachers’ choice of topics and angles, and to through careful selection highlight the most important aspects that would in our estimation save 50%-70% of preparation time for the teacher.

Further priorities have been about the searchability of the compendium. The compendium is long at around 800 pages. It will be uploaded on-line as an open access publication. The e-compendium will be available in PDF format enabling searches through keywords and possibly in Website format for easier and speedier navigation through chapters.

To increase usability and reader-friendliness we omitted references (footnotes and endnotes) in order to simplify and shorten the text. Readers are invited to consult the original materials to access all references.

Contributions and quality assurance

Radu Mares has drafted the sections containing international materials in all chapters. Cambodia-based authors, as identified in each chapter, have drafted the sections containing Cambodia-related materials. The sections containing Cambodia-related materials have benefited from internal peer review coordinated by Prof. Kenneth Paul Charman and Soy Kimsan, with contributions from Sao Socheata. An evaluation of the Compendium from a teacher perspective has also taken place during the 9th Annual Ten December Academy – Training School on Business and Human Rights organised by the RWI in December 2020. Sen Mostafa, programme officer at RWI, has organised and coordinated the entire process that lead to the development of Cambodia-related sections. Elina Hammarström, research assistant at RWI, has proofread and formatted the entire manuscript.


All rights reserved