Robert and I had a chance to discuss some parts of the Draft Principles on Corporate Responsibilty recently submitted by John Ruggie (see here and here), but I keep seeing very critical comments somehow undermining the potential of Ruggie’s draft.

Chris Jochnick (Oxfam) however just published avery interesting comment (Making headway on business and human rights, February 11th, 2011) suggesting that although the Draft is not strong enough, it nevertheless represents a major step towards human rights protection.

Jochnick’s major arguments reads as follows (the link to the full article is at this end of this post)

[…] With the Draft Principles in hand, the human rights community, including Oxfam, continues to push for stronger more obligatory language. The Principles allow for too much wiggle room – too many “shoulds” in place of “shalls” – and too little support for the actual rights of individuals and communities. But that shouldn’t take away from what’s on offer.

If approved by the UN council – and approval seems likely – the Principles will provide a first authoritative elaboration of corporate human rights standards. That is a major step and will bring much needed coherence and heft to the dizzying array of corporate codes and voluntary industry standards.

The Framework and Principles aren’t the final word – they are a platform. The critical thing is that they are broad enough to get to all of the key issues, as they do, in particular by ensuring that:

(a) the government “duty to protect” human rights (meaning regulating corporate actors) reaches corporations domestically and abroad, and extends across government policies, trade agreements, multilateral organizations etc., and
(b) the corporate “responsibility to respect” human rights includes a company’s own operations, as well as all significant “relationships and activities” (suppliers, government partners, industry groups etc).

At the end of the day, the Framework and Principles have to be judged on the basis of whether they succeed in driving more energy and more effective attention to real accountability for companies. They will take on more “obligatory” force as they are incorporated into other existing standards, processes, laws and contracts. They’ll become meaningful when companies like Wal-mart insist on human rights “due diligence” in their supplier contracts, when the EU ensures that its trade policies are consistent with the “duty to protect”, when communities use the Principles to demand more substantive remedies from corporate predators.

Full article: Chris Jochnick (Oxfam), Making headway on business and human rights, February 11th, 2011

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