Despite the ubiquitous nature of the discourse on human rights there is currently little research on the emergence of disclosure by multinational corporations on their human rights obligations or the regulatory dynamic that may lie behind this trend. In an attempt to begin to explore the extent to which, if any, the language of human rights has entered the discourse of corporate accountability, this paper investigates the adoption of the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) human rights standards by major multinational garment retail companies that source products from developing countries, as disclosed through their reporting media. The paper has three objectives. Firstly, to empirically explore the extent to which a group of multinational garment retailers invoke the language of human rights when disclosing their corporate responsibilities. The paper reviews corporate reporting media including social responsibility codes of conduct, annual reports and stand-alone social responsibility reports released by 18 major global clothing and retail companies during a period from 1990 to 2007. We find that the number of companies adopting and disclosing on the ILO's workplace human rights standards has significantly increased since 1998 - the year in which the ILO's standards were endorsed and accepted by the global community (ILO, 1998). Secondly, drawing on a combination of Responsive Regulation theory and neo-institutional theory, we tentatively seek to understand the regulatory space that may have influenced these large corporations to adopt the language of human rights obligations. In particular, we study the role that International Governmental Organisation's (IGO) such as ILO may have played in these disclosures. Finally, we provide some critical reflections on the power and potential within the corporate adoption of the language of human rights. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
- Human rights
- Institutional theory
- International Governmental Organisation
- International Labour Organisation
- Multinational companies
- Responsive regulation