In September 2013, a number of countries issued a joint statement in favour of an international treaty on business and human rights. The statement was drafted by Ecuador and signed also by the African Group, the Arab Group, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru. These countries believe that a legally binding treaty “would clarify the obligations of transnational corporations in the field of human rights” and “provide for the establishment of effective remedies for victims in cases where domestic jurisdiction is clearly unable to prosecute effectively those companies”. More than 90 national groups, international NGOs and trade unions have expressed their support for this initiative.
On 28 January, John Ruggie, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University and UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights between 2005 and 2011, released a response to the mentioned statement. Thereby he defends the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework developed during his mandate as Special Representative and praises the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that he himself drafted and were endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. The Guiding Principles were severely criticised by several civil society organisations that deemed them overtly ineffective to regulate the human rights responsibilities of transnational companies. However, Professor Ruggie is pleased with his own framework and expresses in this way why he believes Ecuador and the NGOs are mistaken: Continue reading “Ruggie versus Ecuador: Will a human rights norm ever emerge regardless of Western support?”
A formal statement, endorsed by Rights in Context and nearly 30 more organisations and movements from all over the world, distributed to all country embassies and missions in Geneva, and delivered in an oral address before the Human Rights Council, calls on members of the Council not to accept the Guiding Principles on the grounds that they are inadequate for defending human rights against corporate abuses. See, previously, here and here. Continue reading “Ruggie’s Guiding Principles unsuitable for addressing corporate human rights abuses”
Business enterprises carry a legal respect-obligation under international human rights law.
Comment on John Ruggie’s “Draft Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN protect, respect and remedy framework”
The draft fails to mention that business enterprises carry a legal respect-obligation under international human rights law. The legal quality of this respect-obligation is an immediate consequence of the states’ duties to protect which is a legal duty under international human rights law. This duty requires states to protect persons against measures of business enterprises which fail to respect the persons’ enjoyment of human rights. If the respect obligation under international human rights law was not legal, but only moral, the legal duty to protect could not be implemented. Insisting on such legal duties of businesses in international human rights law does not elevate businesses to become subjects of international law, of course. The language for such breaches should therefore be “abuse” rather than violation (as in the case of states breaching their obligations). Ignoring the legal quality of the respect-obligation of business in international human rights law and making it a responsibility in the sense of a mere “expectation of society” (as in para.11) tends to undermine the states obligation to protect. Continue reading “Companies’ obligations to respect human rights abroad – Joint Statement”
The “Draft Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN `protect, respect and remedy framework`” developed by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on business and human rights (henceforth: the draft) in their introductory part emphasise:
“Nothing in these Guiding Principles limits or undermines any legal obligations a State may have undertaken or be subject to under international law with regard to human rights.”
The following observations show, on the contrary, that the draft understates the obligations of states under international human rights law. The observations refer to two Principles of human rights law which are affected by the deliberations of the draft:
1. States carry a legal duty under international human rights law to respect human rights abroad.
The draft is silent on existing legal obligations to human rights when a state is operating outside its borders. With regard to state-owned companies, all that is mentioned is that there are “sound policy rationales” for the state to ensure that this company respects the enjoyment of human rights abroad. A legal duty is not mentioned. Acts of such a company, however, are attributable to the state, which in turn is under a legal obligation to respect human rights abroad.
The position taken in the draft also contradicts the clear and consistent view of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) that states must respect human rights abroad. Continue reading “States’ obligations to respect and protect human rights abroad – Joint Statement on John Ruggie’s Draft Guiding Principles”