Human rights, accounting, and the dialectic of equality and inequality

Li, Y. and McKernan, J. (2016) Human rights, accounting, and the dialectic of equality and inequality. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 29(4), pp. 568-593. (doi: 10.1108/AAAJ-07-2015-2142)

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Purpose - The UN Guiding Principles locate human rights at the centre of the corporate social responsibility agenda and provide a substantial platform for the development of business and human rights policy and practice. The initiative gives opportunity and focus for the rethinking and reconfiguration of corporate accountability for human rights. It also presents a threat: The danger, as we see it, is that the Guiding Principles are interpreted and implemented in an uncritical way, on a “humanitarian” model of imposed expertise. The critical and radical democratic communities have tended to be, perhaps rightly, suspicious of rights talk and sceptical of any suggestion that rights and the discourse of human rights can play a progressive role. The aim of this paper is to explore these issues from a radical perspective. Design/methodology/approach - This paper uses insights taken from Jacques Rancière’s work to argue that there is vital critical potential in human rights. There is an obvious negativity to Rancière’s thought insofar as it conceives of the political as a challenge to the existing social order. The positive dimension to his work, which has its origins in his commitment to and tireless affirmation of the fact of equality, is equally important, if perhaps less obvious. Together the negative and positive moments provide a dynamic conception of human rights and a dialectical view of the relation between human rights and the social order, which enables us to overcome much of the criticism levelled at human rights by certain theorists. Findings - Rancière’s conception of the political puts human rights inscriptions, and the traces of equality they carry, at the heart of progressive politics. We close the paper with a discussion of the role that accounting for human rights can play in such a democratic politics, and by urging, on that basis, the critical accounting community to cautiously embrace the opportunity presented by the Guiding Principles. Originality/value – This paper has some novelty in its application of Rancière’s thinking on political theory to the problems of critical accounting and in particular the critical potential of accounting and human rights. The paper makes a theoretical contribution to a critical understanding of the relationship between accounting, human rights, and democracy.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Li, Dr Yingru and McKernan, Professor John
Authors: Li, Y., and McKernan, J.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Accounting and Finance
Journal Name:Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Published Online:01 January 2016
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2016 Emerald Group Publishing Limited
First Published:First published in Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal 29(4):568-593
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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