In June 2011, in an unprecedented step, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed a set of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Guiding Principles establish an authoritative global standard on the respective roles of businesses and governments in helping ensure that companies respect human rights in their own operations and through their business relationships. They elaborate on the three pillars of the UN "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework that Prof. Ruggie proposed to the Human Rights Council in 2008.
The European Commission identified the development of guidance on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as one of its priority actions in its recent Communication on Corporate Social Responsibility. The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and Shift (the Project Team) were selected to carry out the project of developing the three guides for the Commission over the course of 2012.
In February 2012, the Commission announced that guidance would be developed for the employment and recruitment agencies, information and communication technology (ICT) and oil and gas sectors.
The selection of the three sectors was informed by analysis carried out by Shift and IHRB against a set of publicly available objective criteria, which included consideration of submissions from business, NGOs and other stakeholders.
Together, the sectors face a wide range of significant human rights challenges that could benefit from detailed guidance focused on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Guidance to be developed under the project will also have added value to businesses from other sectors facing similar human rights related issues. The guides should serve as a reference for businesses from the sector in question for the development of their own human rights policies and processes and should also serve as a basis for further constructive engagement with other stakeholders.
In many people’s eyes the UN may be an unusual organisation to produce such guidance, and coming from that organisation their potential for impact may be questioned. So why should businesses pay attention to these Guiding Principles in particular? And what do they mean for businesses? In this short briefing, consultancy firm Twenty Fifty give some quick answers to those questions.
Companies everywhere of all sizes are expected to take the necessary steps to realise the Guiding Principles throughout their business activities and relationships.
There is no one-size-fits-all response to using the Principles. Much will depend on the size of the company, and the sectors and locations in which it operates. That said, social expectations are that companies must act to "know and show" their respect for human rights.
This guide aims to help employers' organisations, and their member companies, understand the Guiding Principles and to start the process of implementation. Company experience and work by other groups andorganisations will continue to elaborate on the Principles.
From Principles to Practice: The European Union operationalising the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
In May 2012, the Danish EU Presidency of the Council of the European Union hosted an expert conference on the role of the state in protecting human rights in relation to the activities of business.The conference report provides an overview of the discussion that took place around the five main themes:
- The relevance of business and human rights at a time of financial crisis and other global challenges.
- The international policy context of business and human rights.
- The state duty to protect human rights and assisting partner states.
- Human rights due diligence and the role of the state in promoting or requiring this.
-Access to remedies and the role of the state in ensuring access to victims of human rights abuses.
The main issues raised by participants were:
- Policy and legislative coherence within the EU.
- Achieving a global level playing field.
- Capacity-building and development priorities.
- EU guidance to business.
- Accountability: access to justice and adequate remedies.
- Transparency: non-financial reporting and disclosure.
- Public prove partnerships and multistakeholder initiatives.
Stuart Bell, Director of Policy at Ergon Associates, looks at some of the shortcomings of conventional audits as a tool and how companies are increasingly taking a different tack. And how the Guiding Principles are set to become the main international reference point for how businesses should tackle human rights, including labour rights.
The framework developed by John Ruggie and his team and the adoption one year ago of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (GPs) was a turning point in the debate on the responsibilities of business to society.
Tesco was one of four companies - and the only retailer - that volunteered to pilot the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in its South African supplier farms.
Says Tania Moodley of Tesco South Africa: ‘We believe that Ruggie's principles formed a constructive and comprehensive set of guideposts for the development of an effective grievance mechanism that caters for the needs of farm workers in the South African fruit sector."
The framework and guiding principles are relevant for all companies, not just those facing obvious human rights issues, and not just large and visible multinationals. "Protect, respect and remedy" is a phrase that many more executives worldwide will hear and be asked to explain over the next 12 months. If you are, or if you advise, one of those executives, there are ten things you need to know (and do) about human rights...
A key question for the time ahead - are corporate leaders ready for the Guiding Principles? The short and perhaps unsurprising answer, say IHRB staff, is that most leading companies have a lot of work ahead of them.
This UN guide is designed to support the process of effective implementation of the Guiding Principles, focusing on the Principles that specifically address the corporate responsibility to respect human rights.