A couple of months ago, John Sherman of Harvard’s Kennedy School stopped by. He talked about the OECD’s new guidelines — a non-binding code of conduct, he said, that “strengthens the link between compliance, ethics, and human rights.”
That link is real news. It means compliance isn’t just about staying on the right side of the law. Now it’s also about doing the right thing so people won’t be hurt.
We knew about John Sherman before his guest post here. He’d written a paper with Amy Lehr published by Harvard last year called ‘Human Rights Due Diligence: Is It Too Risky?’ It’s available here.
One paragraph stood out — as history and prophesy.
Although the responsibility to respect human rights is not hard law, its principles have significant potential legal impact. As the reflection of a global social consensus on how business should behave, it is part of a dynamic matrix of international soft and hard law, national law, and transnational custom and customary frameworks (institutionalized or not) that converge into an emerging “lex mercatoria” or law merchant of human rights. This hybrid legal and normative system guides and drives business behavior in the absence of a central global command and control governance structure.
Those words, we think, mark as well as any the start of a new and welcome era of corporate behavior. Where compliance, ethics, and human rights are all part of the same topic.