Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to map out the voluntary-regulatory dynamics of the discourse of human rights in a business context within the European Union (EU) regulatory environment.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper examines the human rights and corporate social responsibility (CSR) discourses at the EU institutional level, in order to identify the interplay between soft and hard regulatory instruments that may contribute to the “human rights for business” normative landscape.
Findings – A renewed focus at the international level on business and human rights has recently produced a United Nations (UN) framework document mapping corporate and state responsibilities in the area of human rights (the UN SRSG Ruggie Framework). Emphasising voluntariness as main tool, but also recognizing the importance of domestic uses of corporate law, of the investment and trade agreements, as well as of the international development cooperation tools, this framework report is in need of “operationalisation”. Starting from the interface between domestic and international developments in CSR and human rights for business, the paper explores the extent to which the European CSR context can offer tools and instruments towards such an operationalisation of the corporate responsibility for human rights and for social values generally. The article charts the dynamic relationship between EU soft regulatory attempts and the community mandatory legislation. Together, these define the EU's policy on CSR and human rights.
Originality/value – The paper reveals an innovative normative mosaic, made up of complex soft and hard regulatory instruments that should enable the EU to integrate economic, trade and human rights policies and, ultimately, to contribute to the new CSR framework proposed at the international level.