United Nations Releases Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights
[Rachel Davis is Legal Advisor to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Business and Human Rights]
On March 24, the UN released a much-anticipated set of Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. The Guiding Principles seek to provide for the first time an authoritative global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse human rights impacts linked to business activity. The UN Human Rights Council will consider formal endorsement of the text at its June 2011 session.
The Guiding Principles are the product of six years of research and consultations, led by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, Harvard Professor John Ruggie, involving governments, companies, business associations, civil society, affected individuals and groups, investors and others around the world. The Guiding Principles outline how States and businesses should implement the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework in order to better manage business and human rights challenges. That Framework, which Professor Ruggie proposed in 2008, was unanimously welcomed by the Human Rights Council at the time, and has since enjoyed extensive uptake.
The Guiding Principles highlight what steps States should take to foster business respect for human rights; provide a blueprint for companies to know and show that they respect human rights, and reduce the risk of causing or contributing to human rights harm; and constitute a set of benchmarks for stakeholders to assess business respect for human rights. The principles are organized under the UN Framework’s three pillars: the State Duty to Protect Human Rights; the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights; and the need for greater Access to Remedy for victims of business-related abuse.
The Special Representative’s mandate was created in 2005 by what was then the UN Commission on Human Rights (now Human Rights Council) in order to move beyond what had become a stale-mate in the debate over the human rights responsibilities of companies. Professor Ruggie’s aim was to build meaningful consensus among all stakeholders about the roles and responsibilities of both States and companies with regard to business’s impacts on human rights. To achieve that, he conducted extensive research, convened consultations around the world, made site visits, and conducted pilot projects. This inclusive process was made possible by voluntary financial contributions from numerous governments. In addition, more than 20 corporate law firms from around the world with expertise in over 40 jurisdictions conducted pro bono research for the mandate.
For more information, please visit the Special Representative’s web portal.