By Robert Grabosch, Attorney at law

The United Nations Human Rights Council has endorsed the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights as they were submitted in March 2011 by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative John Ruggie. Since the Guiding Principles claim to not create but restate international law and ask little of the states of the Global North, the endorsement by the Human Rights Council was foreseeable. It is exactly these low demands what has sparked stark criticism.[1] However, SRSG Ruggie resorted to pragmatism and vagueness rather than clarifying current international law.
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By Robert Grabosch, Attorney at law

A final proposal for Guiding Principles on business and human rights was recently submitted by SRSG John Ruggie to the Human Rights Council for endorsement in June 2011. Little has changed compared to the draft. Below, I am making some observations and predictions. Read the rest of this entry »

UN release

New York/Geneva (March 7)—Today, John Ruggie, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for business and human rights, submitted the final draft of the Guiding Principles on implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework for business and human rights.

The full release is available here.

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

Having considered the corporate liability and responsibility topics in various posts, it seems interesting to mention that a “Joint Civil Society Statement on the draft Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” was recently published (January 2011).

The document, overall, concludes that:

“The current draft of the Guiding Principles does not provide sufficient guidance to States and business to close the governance gaps identified by the SRSG as the root cause of the business and human rights predicament today. The draft Guiding Principles is not a statement of the law. In some areas the draft of the Guiding Principles takes a more regressive approach towards the human rights obligations of States and the responsibilities of non-state actors than authoritative interpretations of international human rights law and current practices. Some of the formulations in the current draft, as indicated below, also appear to be weaker than aspects of the Framework presented in the SRSG’s prior reports. In their current form, the draft Guiding Principles therefore risk undermining efforts to strengthen corporate responsibility and accountability for human rights”

The Joint Statement, in addition, suggests that to provide clear guidance to States and business and to become a useful tool to prevent and redress business-related abuses of human rights, the draft Guiding Principles should, at a minimum:

  1. Provide clear recommendations to States consistent with internationally recognized human rights standards.
  2. Specifically address the governance gaps created by globalization.
  3. Be clearer on the human rights responsibilities of business enterprises.
  4. Provide more robust guidance on protecting and respecting the rights of women, children, Indigenous peoples, and human rights defenders.
  5. Provide more explicit recognition and greater consideration of the human right to an effective remedy of individuals and communities who have suffered business related human rights abuses.
  6. Create Robust Follow-on Mechanisms at the UN

The Joint Civil Society Statement on the draft Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is available here.

By Robert Grabosch, Attorney at law

In November 2010, the UN Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations has published a draft of his Guiding Principles, which aim to implement the ‘protect, respect and remedy framework’ across all kinds of businesses. One of the biggest shortcomings of the DGPs seems to be the absence of external monitoring mechanisms. The implementation of the Guiding Principles is left essentially to the very actors that have so far notoriously failed. Read the rest of this entry »

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