Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights from the United Nations
The intensity of the debate about business and human rights has increased in recent years. At the same time, advances at the United Nations in building consensus around the obligations that businesses owe to society are reaching a critical point. These advances should be followed carefully by practicing corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) professionals seeking to build coherent, human rights-based CSR policy.
Professor John Ruggie, the United Nations Special Representative on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises, recently released the draft “Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework.” The Guiding Principles evolved from Ruggie’s work on the connections between business and human rights. He argues that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, and in discharging this responsibility, corporations need to engage in due diligence:
In order to identify, prevent and mitigate adverse human rights impacts, and to account for their performance, business enterprises should carry out human rights due diligence. The process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts, integrating and acting upon the findings, and tracking as well as communicating their performance. Human rights due diligence:
a. Will vary in scope and complexity with the size of the business enterprise, the severity of its human rights risks, and the context of its operations;
b. Must be on-going, recognizing that the human rights risks may change over time as the business enterprise’s operations and operating context evolve;
c. Should extend beyond a business enterprise’s own activities to include relationships with business partners, suppliers, and other non-State and State entities that are associated with the
The Guiding Principles further say that:
In order to account for their human rights performance, business enterprises should be prepared to communicate publicly on their response to actual and potential human rights impacts when faced with concerns of relevant stakeholders. Those business enterprises with significant human rights risks should report regularly on their performance. The frequency and form of any communications on performance should:
a. Reflect and respond with adequate information to an enterprise’s evolving human rights risks profile;
b. Be subject to any risks such communications pose to stakeholders themselves, to personnel or to the legitimate requirements of commercial confidentiality.
As a model for such communication, corporations should look to the expert work of organizations like the Global Reporting Initiative (“GRI”). The GRI provides tools to assist companies in their human rights reporting, including in helping companies begin the process of identifying human rights-relevant issues in their operations and to assist in translating these into meaningful and effective reporting. Consensus around a common framework like the GRI is imperative as consistency in standards of disclosure is necessary for such disclosure to have any value.
As the Special Representative finalizes his Guiding Principles, CSR professionals must pay close attention. This process will likely set the tone for CSR policy development for years to come.
To learn more about the work of the Special Representative, click here.
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