Following a long, and at times difficult, period of consultation and development, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Professor John Ruggie, has produced his final report on Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. This is a significant landmark and should cause all businesses whose activities have a real or potential impact on human rights to sit up and take notice.
Professor Ruggie started his work in 2005 and put forward his draft “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework in 2008; which was unanimously accepted by the UN Human Rights Council and has been adopted by a range of public and private actors since. Three main principles:
- Protect – the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication
- Respect – the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing the rights of others and to address adverse impacts that occur; and
- Remedy – both State and business responsibility to provide greater access by victims to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial.
An article published in the Guardian asks the question “Business and human rights: does reality match the rhetoric? Companies say they support human rights but a new sustainability report suggests that few have detailed policies”
While the relationship between business and human rights will always be a journey, not a destination, for many companies it seems that the hurdles are just getting higher.
Years of consultation with human rights experts, global corporations, local communities and government officials finally led to the development of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Thousands of stakeholders worldwide agree: human rights due diligence and providing access to remedies are core responsibilities of businesses. Great. Now what?
The Tomorrow’s Value Rating 2013 (TVR) an annual study conducted by DNV Two Tomorrows, underlines the difficulties of moving from agreement to execution. Over half of the assessed companies support the UNGPs, but they are unclear about how they actually implement them.
One difficulty in moving the agenda forward is the challenge of agreeing what constitutes good human rights performance, and how this is understood at a collective or industry level. This discussion is a crucial next step in understanding the practical applicability of the UNGPs. The TVR found that progress is slow, and we are still far from where we want to be.
For example, in the oil and gas sector only three of the 10 companies covered have a standalone human rights policy and management of human rights appears to be often reactive rather than proactive. Whereas the UN was a good facilitator for defining the interface between business and human rights, perhaps we should look at other structures to enable the execution of the next, practical steps? The TVR identified two challenges that companies struggle with: sector-specific implementation, and local specificities.
via Guardian Sustainable Business Blog
Some background to the UNGPs, developed by Harvard professor John Ruggie can be found below: