This Blog Essay site devotes every February to a series of integrated but short essays on a single theme. The Ruminations Series in 2009 produced a month long series of aphoristic (ἀφορισμός) essays, meant to provoke thought rather than explain it. The hope was that, built up on each other, the series would provide a matrix of thoughts that together might lead the reader in new directions.
For 2010, this site introduces a new series--Business and Human Rights. The series takes as its starting point the issues and questions raised by John Ruggie, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on business and human rights, in a global online forumThe U.N. "Protect, Respect, Remedy" framework is made up of three pillars: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to avoid infringing on the rights of others; and greater access by victims to effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial. The forum is currently focused on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, the second pillar of the framework. The forum is divided into sections, each of which contains multiple topics with space for discussion and comment.New Online Forum for U.N. Business and Human Rights Mandate, United Nations Press Release, New York and Geneva, Dec. 1, 2009. Each of the Essays will consider one of the topics raisedin the online consultation. My hope is to help generate discussion and to encourage further discussion of the issues within the framework fo the consultation framework.
In June 2008, the Human Rights Council welcomed the "Protect, Respect, Remedy" framework that the SRSG proposed, affirming that there is a corporate responsibility to respect all internationally recognised human rights -- in other words, not to infringe on the rights of others.
Most companies are focused on the requirements of their legal license to operate, but are slowly discovering that in many situations those requirements alone fall short of the universal expectation that they respect human rights—especially, but not only, where laws are inadequate or not enforced. The corporate responsibility to respect applies to all companies in all situations; in some countries it is reflected in domestic legislation, but it exists independently of state duties and variations in national law.
While many companies state that they respect human rights, the SRSG has found that few companies have systems in place to support such statements. What is required, therefore, is an ongoing process of human rights due diligence for companies to become aware of, prevent, and mitigate adverse human rights impacts arising from their activities and relationships -- and demonstrate that they are meeting their responsibility to respect human rights. This is by definition a positive responsibility, not a mere analogue to a “negative duty”.
Companies may undertake additional human rights commitments voluntarily or as a matter of philanthropy. However, while such undertakings may be desirable for companies in particular circumstances, they cannot offset a company’s failure to respect human rights anywhere in its operations.