Human rights due diligence and the risk of cosmetic compliance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The concept of human rights due diligence is now embedded in many transnational regulatory instruments and is finding its way into national regulatory frameworks. As a means of conceptualising and operationalising responsible business conduct in a global economy, human rights due diligence is new, shiny and compelling. This article argues, however, that institutionalisation, even legalisation, of the concept may not necessarily bring about widespread, significant improvements in corporate behaviour. This is because companies may adopt internal policies and compliance structures that have all the formal hallmarks of human rights due diligence, but that fail to lead to genuine and substantial improvements in practice.
This article argues that, in light of this susceptibility to cosmetic compliance, it is important for international and national lawmakers to engage not only with the question of how to encourage or mandate human rights due diligence, but also with the question of how regulatory initiatives should be designed to minimise the risk of companies performing human rights due diligence cosmetically. Drawing on the normative concept of ‘meta-regulation’, the article identifies a number of principles that may help ensure due diligence regulation is crafted to enable businesses to implement respect for human rights in a way that is adapted to their unique circumstances, while ensuring the steps they take are meaningful and that they are held accountable for their self-regulatory systems.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
JournalMelbourne Journal of International Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • Business and human rights
  • Regulation and compliance

Cite this