Human rights obligations of business: appraising the potency of john ruggie’s un framework of “protect, respect and remedy” by states and corporations
Businesses are increasingly focused on the impact they have on individuals, communities and the environment. It is clear that one of the central measures of a company’s social responsibility is its respect for human rights while most companies recognize the moral imperative to operate consistent with human rights principles, recognition is growing that respect for human rights also can be a tool for improving business performance. Many organizations have realised the importance of valuebased business and promote value-based principles in business believing that building a respectful, diverse, and ethical culture is a business necessity. The framework for determining what human rights issues are linked to business was addressed through the UN Global Compact, which calls upon business to “support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights within their sphere of influence and make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses. But the debate concerning the responsibilities of business in relation to human rights became more prominent in the 1990s, as oil, gas, and mining companies expanded into increasingly difficult areas, and as the practice of offshore production in clothing and footwear drew attention to poor working conditions in global supply chains. In 2004, the Sub-commission of the then UN Commission on Human Rights produced a set of “Draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights” The Norms essentially sought to impose as binding obligations on companies directly under international human rights law the same range of duties that states have accepted for themselves: namely, “to promote, secure the fulfilment of, respect, ensure respect of, and protect human rights,” with the only distinction being that states would have “primary” duties and companies would have “secondary” duties, and that the duties of companies would take effect within their (undefined) “spheres of influence”. Business was vehemently opposed to the Draft Norms. In 2005, then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan appointed a UN Special Rapporteur, John Ruggie to take steps in resolving the argument over the draft norms. In a report released in 2008, he outlined his well known “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework. Based on three years of extensive consultations, the framework clarified the responsibilities that states and businesses have with regard to human and labour rights and argued for the need for access to remedy. Ruggie later produced the Guiding Principles, which specify what the implementation of the framework means in practice. In June 2011 the UN Human Rights Council, in an unprecedented move, unanimously adopted the Guiding Principles. It was decided that these principles should serve as the framework for further policy development and standard-setting on businesses and human rights. Hence this paper will appraise the potency of this UN framework responsibility in addressing human rights obligations associated with businesses globally.
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