Rights Theory

Chapter Summary

This chapter considers how consideration of rights might inform our understanding of business ethics. It explores some features of the way that we often think about rights, as well as some challenges to the primacy that is accorded to certain rights in business contexts. The idea of stakeholding is offered as a basis for considering business-related rights, and some implications of different types of stakeholder relationship are explored

Self-test Questions

About Rights Theory

1.      How does the meaning of the word ‘right’ when used as a noun (as in ‘a right’) differ from its meaning when used as an adjective (as in ‘the right thing to do’)?

2.      Give two reasons why political rights are important to business ethics.

3.      Social rights are widely recognized in developed nations nowadays. Nevertheless, social rights continue to be a contentious topic in relation to many companies that are based in developed nations. Why should this be?

4.      How might belonging to a trade union help people to express important political rights and protect important social rights?

5.      List two ways in which business activity might be accused of hindering people’s ability to express their cultural rights.

6.      Give an example of a negative responsibility and a positive responsibility entailed by peoples’ right to be considered for a job purely on job-related criteria.

Rights and Stakeholders

7.      What is the difference between an influential stakeholder and an affected stakeholder?  

8.      What is the difference between an instrumental relationship between a company and its stakeholders and a normative relationship?

9.      Why do influential stakeholders have a right to be taken into account by companies?

10.  Why do affected stakeholders have a right to be taken into account by companies?

11.  Name at least three groups of people who fall into the category of both influential stakeholder and affected stakeholder.

12.  Give an example of a group of affected stakeholders who do not also fall into the category of influential stakeholder.

Property Rights

13.  Why, according to John Locke, do we have a right to keep hold of our property and use it as we choose?

14.  How, according to Karl Marx, do workers tend to get exploited by capitalist business arrangements as a result of the prioritization of property rights?

Web Links


The United Nations site provides details and information concerning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Global Exchange provides a lot of information about alleged abuses of human rights by corporations.


The Human Rights Watch website has a section on business, which includes some articles about the impact of the activities of extractive corporations and global financial bodies on human rights, particularly in the developing world.