“Human rights” means the rights relating to life, liberty, equality, and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India.[1] States have a responsibility to protect human rights as prescribed by them in the Indian Constitution. There are different types of Human Rights namely Social or Civil Human Rights, Political Human Rights, Economic Human Rights, Cultural Human Rights and Human Rights in International Purpose.[2] Human rights violations occur when actions by state (or non-state) actors abuse, ignore or deny basic human rights. Furthermore, violations of human rights can occur when any state or non-state actor breaches any part of the UDHR treaty or other international human rights or humanitarian law.[3] The violation of human rights is intensifying day by day. Of all human rights failures today, those in economic and social areas affect by far the larger number and are the most widespread across the world’s nations and large numbers of people.[4] “It is the obligation of the State to ensure everyone the right to adequate food, education, and enjoyment of highest attainable standards of physical and mental health. These rights have to be respected and made available to the citizens by the State” said Justice Anand, Former Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission.

Human rights abuses are monitored by United Nations committees, national institutions, and governments and by many independent non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International, International Federation of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, World Organisation Against Torture, Freedom House, International Freedom of Expression Exchange and Anti-Slavery International. These organizations collect evidence and documentation of alleged human rights abuses and apply pressure to enforce human rights laws.[5] The most recent effort taken on an international level to address the issue was the adoption of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework” by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011.[6] In brief, the Guiding Principles observe that the state must protect human rights, that businesses must respect human rights, and that there should be effective remedies for human rights violations.[7]

Although the legal and moral environment surrounding the actions of governments is reasonably well developed, that surrounding multinational companies is both controversial and ill-defined.[8]


A Multinational Corporation is a company, or more correctly an enterprise, operating in a number of countries and having production or service facilities outside the country of its origin. The multinational corporation takes its principle decisions in a global context and thus often outside the countries in which it has particular operations.[9] Multinational corporations (MNCs) are regulated by domestic and international law.[10] Corporations and human rights are normally seen as existing in two distinct spheres. Many corporations do not invest their time or resources to consider the impact of their core business operations on the human rights of the individuals.

The stark truth is that you cannot run a business of any scale without having some impact upon or intersection with human rights.[11] However, the impact of the policies of these multinational corporations is seen globally in the form of violation of human rights and the potential impact of MNCs on human rights in developing countries like India is often overlooked. Most of the MNCs have become as powerful as some of the states in which they function and are therefore in the same position as states to violate human rights in a full fledge. The human harms resulting from the activities of MNCs, ranging from human casualties to environmental pollution, violate the existing human rights genesis. The abusive behaviors of the criminal corporations are undermining the rights of the indigenous people all over the world.[12]

Addressing the 31st Bhimsen Sachar Memorial lecture on 1st December 2010, National Human Rights Commission Chairman KG Balakrishnan said "Multinational and Transnational companies* easily violate human rights and never realise their social responsibility. Bhopal gas tragedy and illegal mining by Vedanta in Orissa are glaring examples of Multinational companies tearing apart human rights in India ".[13]

According to the India Responsible Business Index, 2015, developed by Oxfam India, Corporate Responsibility Watch, Praxis and Partners in Change and based on self-reported information of the top 100 BSE companies by market capitalization, it was found that companies rarely recognize or have mechanisms in place to act on human rights violations extending beyond their own employees. For instance, the index found that of the companies surveyed, 57 do not recognize human rights violations in the supply chain, 42 recognize it as an issue but none of the 100 companies has a mechanism to both recognize and address violations. [14]

Multinational Corporations are all about profit-making, which is the reason why they are called corporations and not charities. However, even they hold a commitment towards their employees, shareholders and the community at large.

In 2016, Multinational Companies were held responsible by the environmentalists and activists for the “present agrarian crisis” back then which had forced over three lakh farmers to commit suicide in the past two decades to seek a NHRC probe into the epidemic. [15]


  1. The Infamous Tragedy of Bhopal Gas Leak:

    The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is not only an environmental tragedy but also a human rights disaster in a wider perception. The right to life is outlined in a wide variety of international law documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[16] In the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India acceded in 1979, it is stated that "Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." [17] However, the aftermath of the leak showed how "an industrial disaster can involve a complexity of violations of civil, political, economic and social rights for generation after generation", said Amnesty International in a major report. [18] Another international human right that was clearly violated in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy was the right to attain a standard of health. In 1979 the government of India acceded to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Article 12 of the ICESCR states: "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health." Article 48A of the Indian Constitution states "Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life—The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country." However, the Bhopal Gas Leak lead to the destruction of the environment on a large scale which eventually directly and indirectly infringed the basic human right of living in a safe environment.

  2. The Coco-Cola Scandal:

    The Coco-Cola Company which is headquartered in Georgia, Atlanta is one of the most popular American Multinational Companies with its franchise in India as well. The company also leads in the abuse of workers' rights, assassinations, water privatization, and worker discrimination. [19] In 2003, in India, Coca-Cola destroyed the local agriculture by privatizing the country's water resources. In a village in Kerala named Plachimada, Coca-Cola extracted 1.5 million litres of deep well water, which they eventually bottled and sold under the names of Dasani and BonAqua. The groundwater they extracted was severely depleted. It affected thousands of communities living in the areas nearby the village with water shortages. It also destroyed the farmer’s agricultural activity. Different environmental issues also arose along with drinking water scarcity. Also, the remaining water became contaminated with high chloride and bacteria levels, leading to scabs, eye problems, and stomach aches in the local population.[20]

  3. The Siltation of Agricultural Land in Goa:

    Mining industry is considered as the backbone of Goa’s economy. The Mining industry in Goa has immensely contributed to the growth and development by getting money in the economy from foreign markets and then circulating that money into the local economy by way of payment of wages to the workers, and by levying various taxes related to mining, production and export by the state government. The various steps involved in the process of mining are the centre-points of many environmental hazards. Creation of silt is another by-product of the process of mining. Silt is a fine dust that causes problems by settling in lakes and rivers and in the fields of local farmers. Many farmers in Goa have therefore been affected by siltation of their agricultural land. They have suffered a downfall in agricultural yields and at times the land was not of any use due to excessive siltation. Parched agricultural fields leads to the loss of crops affecting the livelihood of local farmers who then become dependent on water tankers provided by mining companies for the household needs. An example of such a situation is one in the village Pissurlem in Sattari. [21] It is completely deprived of its natural resource of water. There is no aid provided to them once the mining companies have finished their operations. They are thus grossly affected by these mining companies, which leads to the deprivation of their basic human right to live a dignified life independently. These transnational companies also pose a threat to the health of the people living in the nearby areas, thus depriving them their right to live in a safe environment.


Violation of the Human Rights is becoming a major concern in the 21st century. The challenge is to hold companies responsible for respecting human rights throughout their operations. There have been various attempts by the state to regulate the sphere of Corporations and Human Rights; however, they were in the form of non-binding laws which weren’t strict enough for the corporations to stop human rights abuse.
In order to prevent human rights violation by Multinational Companies and Transnational Companies, it is important to outline the framework of the existing laws including both domestic and international laws. There is also a need to keep a track on the activities of the corporations. There is a need for the above mentioned two measures to be implemented in order to have a system which will prevent further violations by Multinational Companies. It is necessary to look at the violations of human rights from a broader perspective of the ‘planned misery’ theory, as this seems the only way to come up with holistic and effective solutions that would result in the strengthening of human rights for the affected individuals and communities.[22]
The responsibility of the state alone, whether territorial or extraterritorial, is not sufficient. International law must contemplate the possibility of obligations falling on the multinational corporations. Even if national or international laws recognise the human rights responsibilities and duties of MNCs, not all countries have domestic laws which allow the binding nature for human rights claims. Therefore, if MNCs have the ability and freedom to guide and modify the course of the global economy and the lives of many people around the globe such as States do, they should also be accountable for and obliged by the same human rights laws imposed on States.[23]

International laws must include both civil and criminal accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses. In the present scenario, there are no established international criminal consequences to address corporate human rights violations. “While the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) allows for persons to be prosecuted for crimes such as enslavement, forced disappearance, and unlawful deportation, there is no specific mention of corporations or their personnel. Without mandatory or legal mechanisms in place, a culture of impunity may prevail among corporations and their approach to human rights violations.” [24]

“It cannot be the duty of single national jurisdictions to solve the whole world community’s problem regarding human rights and globalization […] the final aim must be a universal human rights treaty that holds MNEs* directly responsible for human rights violations […] also from an economical perspective, because if all companies are bound to abide by human rights law, the problem of competitive disadvantage no longer exists”. [25]


According to John Ruggie, “The root cause of the business and human rights predicament today lies in the governance gaps created by globalization-between the scope and impact of economic forces and actors, and the capacity of societies to manage their adverse consequences. These governance gaps provide the permissive environment for wrongful acts by companies of all kinds without adequate sanctioning or reparation. How to narrow and ultimately bridge the gaps in relation to human rights is our fundamental challenge.” [26]

To prevent the corporations from further violating human rights, it is essential to lay down the legal framework, without which the potential for harm and threats to human rights only increases.

The issue as to whether the efforts and measures taken place by the state in fulfilment of its duty to protect and to provide for a sufficient remedy, are effective, is a secondary matter. The credit is duly given to the state for its effort, but the duty to protect is not a once-off duty. It is a continuous process which has to be vigorously kept in check and updated as and when necessary.[27]
The protection of Human Rights is a Global concern. The Human Rights enforcement machinery under International law and in Indian Law has by and large played its role quite effectively. The strengthening of Human Rights enforcement machinery at International Level and in India is essential so as to prevent the abuse and violation of human rights by Multinational Companies. It would go a long way in realising the cherished goal of proving the basic Human Rights to all.

[1] The Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 (Act 43 of 2006) New Delhi: National Human Rights Commission.

[2] Sandeep (2017) List of Human Rights Violation in India | Essay | PDF Education. IAS Paper [online]. Available from: [Accessed 5th September 2017].

[3] Your Human Rights – Human Rights Violations, All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties & Social Justice [online]. Available from: [Accessed 11th September 2017].

[4] Human Development Report, 2000, United Nations Development Programme, p.73

[5] Your Human Rights – Human Rights Violations, All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties & Social Justice [online]. Available from: [Accessed 11th September 2017].

[6] Soyapi, CB. (2014) Remedies for human right abuses by multinational corporations [online]. p.iii. Available from:;sequ [Accessed 12th September 2017].

[7] Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights, United Nations Human Rights, New York and Geneva, (2011) OHCHR [online.] Available from: [Accessed 5th September 2017].

[8] Pettersson, T. (2011) Quotes about Human Rights – Corporations and Human Rights, Fair Trade Community [online] Available from: [Accessed 29th September 2017].

[9] Dr. A R Biswas Encyclopaedic Law Dictionary (Legal & Commercial) Available on LexisNexis [Accessed 28th September 2017].

[10] Trimble, P. (2000), Multinational Corporations, GlobalMarkets, and the Constitution, Encyclopedia of the American Constitution [online], Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2017].

* Transnational corporations are a type of multinational corporations.

[11]Aslam, F. (2017) Available from:  [Accessed 28th September 2017].

[12] Nair, P. (2011) Human Rights in a Changing World, page 258, para 2. Kalpaz Publication.

[13] Saxena, S (2010) MNCs violating human rights. Hindustan Times, 01, December.

[14] Manku, M (2016) Can India benefit from a human rights framework for business? Livemint [online] Available from:  [Accessed 12th September 2017].

[15] IANS, (2016) Activists seek NHRC probe into ‘farmer suicide epidemics’. Financial Express 10, October, New Delhi.

[16] Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

[17] Part III, Article 6, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976).

[18] Agence France Presse, (2004). INDIA: Bhopal Disaster and Aftermath Violation of Human Rights. Corpwatch [online]. Available from: [Accessed 11th September 2017].

[19] Global Exhange, (2005) The 14 Worst Corporate Evildoers. Laborrights [online]. Available from:  [Accessed 29th September 2017].

[20] Nair, P. (2011) Human Rights in a Changing World, page 247, para 2. Kalpaz Publication.

[21] Pallavi Chhibber, Rosannagh Rogers, Nicole Milkereit (2011) Human Rights Violations by Transnational Corporations, Human Rights Law Network [online]. Available from: [Accessed 30th September 2017].

[22] Cevc,A. (2014) Human Rights Violations by Multinationals: How Can Abuses Be Prevented? UIA [online]. Available from: [Accessed 30th September 2017].

[23] Student No. 1040731, Multinational Corporations: Human Rights beyond States’ Responsibility (2011) Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2017].

* MNEs – Multinational Entreprises

[24] Connie De La Vega, Amol Mehra, Alexandra Wong, Holding Businesses Accountable for Human Rights Violations - Recent Developments and Next Steps (2011), Available from: [Accessed 30th September 2017.]

[25] Weschka, M (2006) Human Rights and Multinational Enterprises: How Can Multinational Enterprises Be Held Responsible for Human Rights Violations Committed Abroad? p.660 Available from:  [Accessed 28th September 2017].

[26] John Ruggie, Protect, Respect and Remedy, 2008, p.189.

[27] Soyapi, CB. (2014) Remedies for human right abuses by multinational corporations [online]. p.iii. Available from:;sequ [Accessed 28th September 2017].

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article or any other publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Sadvidya or its members.

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