Bringing human rights and business closer together

Alliance Manchester Business School Director of Research Professor Ken McPhail talks about the role of business in determining our human rights.

Businesses are both saints and sinners. The way we experience our rights is enriched by the products and services they offer. Give me an issue of current political, social and environmental significance and I’ll show you how the private sector is implicated, both in the problem and in the solution to it.

Social responsibility 

Today, a burning issue remains the responsibility of high street names and big brands to honour their social responsibility commitments.

Often it is not intentional, but they can get caught up in unethical behaviour because supply chains are so complex and extensive and have become very difficult things to manage.

Business plays a big role, not only in influencing government behaviour, but also in determining an individual’s lived experience of human rights – whether or not they are going to be held in slavery, whether or not they are going to be allowed to freely associate in unions, whether they will have health care, whether they will have access to education.

Developing future leaders 

Many of our graduates will be leaders, many of them will be CEOs, and many of them will start their own businesses as entrepreneurs. They will not only want to do well, but also to do good. Business schools have a fundamental role to play in developing the next generation of leaders who have the capacity to understand the new challenges that are being levelled at corporations, big and small.  We live in a completely different world now with different kinds of expectations from workers, consumers, the international environment and, importantly, investors.

Ken McPhail

Ken McPhail

Ken McPhail

Professor of Accounting and Director of Research

Alliance Manchester Business School

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Social enterprises

What we need to do is enable them to see how they can do that, to empower them, to go and develop the next generation of social enterprises that have major social impacts but which are also financially sustainable. It is about having an impact way beyond the bottom line – having an impact on people’s lives.

There is an increasing recognition that some kind of new deal needs to be reached for the ongoing sustainability of the global financial system.

Manchester spirit

You can see the Manchester spirit in its history in relation to the women’s rights movement, the suffragettes, the labour movement, and to the cooperative movement. That spirit also seeps into the institution of The University of Manchester and gets to the heart of the core purpose of universities as society’s critical conscience, where ideas can be converted into action.





Backed by the Lord Alliance Foundation, Alliance MBS has established one of the world’s first business and human rights networks at a business school. The network defines the challenges of business to respect human rights; engages key actors in informed and action-oriented discussion; informs the academic, social and political debate; and helps shape future policy and corporate practice. Key themes being explored by the network include: modern-day slavery; the refugee crisis; gender equality in global value chains; ICT-related rights; and investment.

Find out more