A Sensible Argument Against a Corporate Human Rights Treaty

by Julian Ku

As Roger noted recently, John Ruggie, the United Nations secretary-general’s special representative for business and human rights, has released his third report on human rights and business. In this article, Ruggie offers a sensible and persuasive argument against codifying his principles of business conduct into a human rights treaty.

I have three main reservations about recommending to states that they launch a treaty process at this time. First, treaty-making can be painfully slow, while the challenges of business and human rights are immediate and urgent. Second, and worse, a treaty-making process now risks undermining effective shorter-term measures to raise business standards on human rights. And third, even if treaty obligations were imposed on companies, serious questions remain about how they would be enforced.

Interestingly, many of his arguments here can be made against all types of human rights treaties. In any event, his clear-eyed practical view of human rights realities is to be applauded.


One Response

  1. Ruggie sets forth pragmatic and credible arguments against extending the HR treaty project to the business world and its billions of “subjects.”

    The reader might be left with a nagging feeling of “there’s something missing here”.

    Ruggie’s concerns can be addressed, the math is not incapacitating, and businesses can be brought to compliance with international standards if we but try. But we have to try.

    A steady hydraulic pressure over decades will do the job, while short-term remedies are aggressively pursued in the meantime.

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