In the wake of the global financial crisis and, more recently, the UK’s EU referendum and the 2016 US presidential election, there seems to be a growing awareness and concern for the influence of corporations on our economic, political, and social lives. In our digital age, Facebook has been at the centre of debates around fake news and Google is at the heart of issues surrounding the right to be forgotten. But corporations have always wielded tremendous influence in society – the question in these recent cases (and throughout history) – has been whether the law is equipped to handle that influence. 

There are many ways in which private businesses hold financial and political power akin to states. They also commit violations and abuses of power akin to states. But are they held accountable in the same way that states are? This episode is all about whether corporations should have human rights obligations – should they be responsible for upholding and defending human rights the way that we expect governments to? Like all abuses of power, corporate abuses have disproportionate impacts – on the poor, the marginalized, the disadvantaged. Poorer countries bear the burden of weak corporate regulation, for instance. In addition, there are gendered impacts. Though it may not be immediately apparent, gender inequalities are created and exacerbated by corporate policies and violations. Human rights law specifically identifies and addresses discrimination against women and enshrines certain protections for workers, but should those protections apply to corporations directly? In this episode, OxHRH Communications Director Dr Kira Allmann interviews Boni Meyersfeld, Associate Professor of Law at Wits University, South Africa, about these questions.

This post was produced by Kira Allmann on behalf of the Oxford Human Rights Hub (OHRH).