Promoting business and human rights in China

15 years after graduating from the NCHR’s master programme in human rights, Liang Xiaohui is one of the leading experts on corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues in China.

The 3rd Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights was held in Geneva in December 2014. Dr. Liang Xiaohui attended the forum. Photo: United States Mission Geneva/Flickr Commons.

After returning to Beijing, Liang became the first Chinese scholar to teach a business and human rights course in China. Since 2006, he has lectured at Peking University Law School where he previously acted as a Programme Coordinator for the Human Rights Master Programme.

According to Liang, business and human rights is one of the topics that best connects human rights law and theory to the Chinese context.

- By focusing on topics that are close to the students’ lives, such as environmental pollution, labour rights, and consumerism, the course attract students not only from the human rights master programme, but also from economics, business, and even physics.

Increased general awareness of CSR

Dr. Liang Xiaohui. Photo: Solveig M. Igesund/NCHR.

In addition to his academic career, Liang has worked as a lead researcher at the China National Textile and Apparel Council since 2005. He is tasked with the development and implementation of China’s first industrial codes of conduct and sustainability standards.

In the past several years, he has led or been involved in the making of CSR codes or sustainability guidances of many other Chinese sectors, including electronics, international contracting, communication, automobile, and mining. He has also been invited back to Norway several times to provide expert advice for Norwegian enterprises.

- After a decade of promoting business and human rights in China, the concept of CSR and sustainability is now commonly braced by the Chinese government and businesses. It is hard to believe that ten years ago the concept of CSR was still quite controversial in China, says Liang.

Collaborative governance sometimes more effective than regulation

In 2011, the Chinese government endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, establishing that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights. However, many stakeholders argue that the private sector should have a legal obligation to respect human rights.

Thus, in 2014, a proposal to establish an intergovernmental working group to regulate transnational corporation through an international treaty was endorsed at the UN. China voted in favour of the proposal. Dr. Liang Xiaohui, however, does not support the call for an international binding treaty.

– If we are to succeed in this field, companies need to be part of the agenda. We must motivate them, not always portray them as the bad guys, explains Liang. Drafting and implementing a treaty also takes a long time. This may draw the attention away from the already existing principles and good practices. A treaty is perhaps necessary, but in this regard, its primary focus should be the states’ duty to protect, says Liang.

By Solveig Marie Igesund
Published May 13, 2015 10:32 AM - Last modified May 13, 2015 12:13 PM