Private companies, especially companies engaging in international trade and multinational companies, have duties in the field of human rights. They can violate human rights or they can act positively to protect them.
- They are obliged to respect human rights, just as individuals or states. They can create labor conditions that respect human rights (fair wages, no child labor etc.).
- Multinational companies should not use the competition between workers (for example workers from different countries with different levels of wages or different labor conditions) to force down wages or loosen labor regulations.
- Multinational companies can be an example to local companies in the way they treat workers, and they can require that local companies that co-operate with them respect certain rules, such as the rules regarding labor conditions.
- Also non-multi-national companies that engage in international trade can require that their suppliers respect human rights. They can always threaten to go to another supplier.
- Companies have the technology, the know-how and the money that some governments need; hence they have the means to convince these governments to respect human rights.
- It is in the interest of companies that countries respect human rights and the principles of democracy. They need the rule of law (which is a human right), predictability, law enforcement, stability, an effective judiciary etc. It is also in their interest that the local population can afford to buy their products or services. So they may even be able to promote economic rights.
Companies that violate rights, that trade with dictatorships or with other companies that do not respect human rights, become more and more sensitive to the negative consequences of their choices. Their image and profits can suffer. Their good name is economically more interesting than rights violations, certainly in the long term. Public opinion can turn against them and consumers can stop buying their products or services.
Banks and arms producing companies have a particular responsibility. Banks could monitor and possibly even freeze the assets of dictators. Arms companies should avoid delivering arms to dictators.