Responsibility for human rights violations, acts or omissions, within the ‘sphere of inluence’ of companies

Urs Gasser, Silke Müller, James Thurman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction this chapter approaches the question of corporate social responsibility for acts and omissions of business entities outside the ownership sphere but possibly within the ‘sphere of influence’ from a law and regulation perspective. Here, the term ‘regulation’ is used in the broad sense of the New Chicago School and includes soft law-oriented forms of regulation such as internal corporate policies, best practice principles and purely aspirational guidelines. Within this thematic context, the chapter addresses four issues. The first section provides a sketch of the genesis of the ‘sphere of influence’ concept, provides in a nutshell a summary of the current state of the debate regarding its concretization and specification, and comments on its legal status and relevance under current law. The second section briefly identifies – against the backdrop of the current debate – some of the characteristics that make it particularly challenging to define the notion of ‘sphere of influence’. The third section of the paper then outlines two basic strategies to overcome the definitional problem: a ‘top-down’ approach where the criteria to decide whether or not an act or omission is within a company’s sphere of influence is decided authoritatively – focusing on third-party liability as the furthest reaches of indirect liability; and a ‘bottom-up’ approach that looks at companies’ human rights policies in order to explore their actual reach and potential for taking effective measures. The fourth and final section offers some reflections on the question of the virtue of the ‘sphere of influence’ concept – despite its relative vagueness. Genesis of the ‘sphere of influence’ concept The ‘sphere of influence’ concept evolved in the political environment. It was introduced into the corporate social responsibility discourse by the UN Global Compact Nine Principles in July 2000 and gained importance through the adoption of the ‘Norms on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights’ on 13 August 2003 by the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHuman Rights, Corporate Complicity and Disinvestment
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781139003292
ISBN (Print)9781107012851
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


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