CIVICUS Submission on the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights being considered by the UN Human Rights Council

30 May 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over 100 countries. CIVICUS works to strengthen civil society and citizen action throughout the world.

CIVICUS welcomes the opportunity to comment on the final report of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on The Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises, Professor John Ruggie. We believe that the report is timely and provides a key occasion to the international community to devise ways in which business practices can be compatible with the International Bill of Rights.

We remain deeply anxious about the activities of trans-national corporations and other business enterprises resulting in human rights abuses, including the right to a clean and healthy environment; access to land and natural resources; and adequate and decent standards of work. We are also concerned about the role played by certain corporations in propping up or supporting undemocratic governments as well as non-state actors who fail to respect the international human rights framework.

At the same time, we appreciate the value of commerce in providing meaningful employment, a decent standard of living and in facilitating poverty alleviation. We are also aware that the corporate sector is engaged in commendable acts of altruism and many business leaders have channelled resources both material and otherwise to human rights organisations and causes.

Professor Ruggie’s report straddles these two realities and is the culmination of years of debate and deliberation. The issues highlighted distil many of the current debates regarding the responsibility of states and businesses to protect human rights. We support the three pillars outlined by Professor Ruggie in his report: (i) the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, (ii) the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and (iii) greater access by victims to effective remedy both judicial and non-judicial. We believe that they lay the groundwork for a relevant and potentially effective framework to ensure business practices are compatible with human rights standards.

Nevertheless, we are concerned that (a) the responsibility of state owned businesses to uphold human rights standards when operating outside the state’s jurisdiction, and (b) the state’s duty to regulate the overseas activities of businesses domiciled within its own jurisdiction, have not been articulated in accordance with the position taken by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESR).

Additionally, we are deeply disappointed that there is an almost deafening silence concerning the role of civil society in driving human rights accountability by businesses.  Civil society has always been and will continue to serve as the principal social force advocating for global justice and accountability for trans-national corporations. It is us – the trade unionists, non-governmental organisations, charities, community foundations, think tanks, research institutes, religious bodies, independent activists and social movements that are on the vanguard of challenging the established impunity of rogue corporations and the passivity of states and the international community to hold them to account.

CIVICUS urges that the above-mentioned omissions are duly recognised by the UN Human Rights Council and efforts are made to ensure inclusion of the issues highlighted.

In sum, we consider Professor Ruggie’s report to be a first step towards strengthening the relationship between business practices and universal human rights. At present, the report is a basis for dialogue and source of information regarding best practices for states to aspire to in the drafting of domestic laws and policies, with no real guarantee of their operation in practice. But it can be much more and needs to be much more than a compilation of ideals for selective incorporation and application by states.

In an increasingly globalised and interlinked world, we believe that there is a real necessity for UN member states to standardise practices in relation to business’ compliance with human rights through the adoption of a universally binding framework. The issues outlined in Professor Ruggie’s report, in addition to work done by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, can be a starting point for devising a comprehensive international treaty on business and human rights.

CIVICUS calls upon UN member states to consider this issue in right earnest.  It is vital that the international community is able to capitalise on this opportunity to make the realisation of human rights a reality for all.  We urge that the mandate of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on The Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises is extended to spur the drafting of an international convention on the topic at the earliest.  

  • For more information, please contact:
    Mandeep Tiwana, Policy Manager, CIVICUS () or
    Ciana-Marie Pegus, Organisational Coordination Office, CIVICUS ( )

 

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