March 30, 2011
Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are Published
by Robert Kropp
Professor John Ruggie, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Business and Human
Rights, provides a common platform for adoption of the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework by
states, business, and victims of human rights violations.
Following a consultation process that dates back to 2005 at least, Professor John Ruggie, the UN
Secretary-General's Special Representative for Business and Human Rights (UNSRSG), has published Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The document, which
seeks to provide guidance for implementation of the Protect,
Respect and Remedy Framework of 2008, will be presented by Ruggie to the UN Human Rights
Council for formal endorsement in June.
The Framework "rests on three pillars: the state
duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through
appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication; the corporate responsibility to respect human
rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to
address adverse impacts that occur; and greater access by victims to effective remedy, both
judicial and non-judicial."
The Guiding Principles, published on March 24th, "Will not
bring business and human rights challenges to an end," Ruggie wrote. "But it will mark the end of
the beginning: by establishing a common global platform for action, on which cumulative progress
can be built, step-by-step, without foreclosing any other promising longer-term developments."
In a press release, Rev. David
Schilling, the director of human rights for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), stated, "This
global framework is a significant breakthrough and an indispensible resource for investors in
assessing the human rights performance of companies and supporting greater accountability and
transparency, not only in their own operations but in their supply chains." According to the press
release, ICCR members have participated with Ruggie in consultations since 2005.
spoke with SociaFunds.com about the implications of the Guiding Principles.
"In the first
few months of Professor Ruggie's tenure, a small group of ICCR members met with him and laid out
some of the work we've been doing with companies on human rights, getting them to adopt policies,"
Schilling said. "There have been 47 consultations that have taken place in the last six years."
Some of the issues addressed by ICCR members in those consultations include the importance of human
rights impact assessments, as well as transparency and disclosure.
"One of the challenges
for companies is to take leadership in a particular area when they look at their competitors and
what they are doing," Schilling said. "Businesses can move farther and faster on these issues if
there are clear guidelines and tools which can be applied to systems they have in place,
stakeholder engagements, and community initiatives."
The successful involvement of
sustainable investors in the consultations can be found in the report's emphasis on the importance
of human rights policies and practices in the supply chains of multinational corporations. While
conducting due diligence for human rights impacts across all suppliers in a corporation's supply
chain may be "unreasonably difficult," it states, "Business enterprises should identify general
areas where the risk of adverse human rights impacts is most significant, whether due to certain
suppliers' or clients' operating context, the particular operations, products or services involved,
or other relevant considerations, and prioritize these for human rights due diligence."
"It's important that the report addresses the issue of supply chains," Schilling said.
"Although it doesn't prescribe, its primary focus on the human rights due diligence process—adopt a
policy, assess impacts in great depth, and communicate responses—is a template that can be
utilized, and has been utilized, by companies for their supply chains."
"The further you
get from primary business relationships, the more often you find serious abuses," Schilling added.
As an example of such abuses, Schilling described slave labor conditions in Brazil's pig iron
industry, which provides materials to auto makers and other manufacturers of steel products.
"It's not a direct relationship with an automotive company or a steel company," he observed.
"It may be six or seven steps away. But the product makes its way into the supply chains of all the
users of steel. The Principles expect that companies will do more to address these issues, by
knowing what the human rights risks are in their supply chains and by showing in their reporting
what they're doing."
Another important indicator of the involvement of sustainable
investors is the reference in the report to the inclusion of human rights issues in financial
reporting. The report states, "Financial reporting requirements should clarify that human rights
impacts in some instances may be material or significant to the economic performance of the
Schilling said, "This is a point that is absolutely critical to the
investment community. The framework will help investors look at what material risks are in the
human rights space. It provides the beginning of a global framework for investors to measure how a
company is doing in relation to its peers on establishing human rights due diligence processes, and
how they are implementing and communicating those processes."
"ICCR members see this as
risk mitigation," he continued, "But we also want to know as a result of this how conditions are
improving in factories, in farms, on the ground, and in communities; and if violations do occur,
that remediation happens swiftly, and they are prevented from happening again."
the investor community really has to get on this," Schilling said. "We're catalysts for embedding
the Guiding Principles into business practice. There are disagreements as to whether this report is
sufficiently mandating, and this debate is going to continue. For us, the benchmark is whether this
documents leads to the development by the business community of the tools that improve human rights
and the respect for human rights."