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 raised in 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.
Part VII: Human Rights Due Diligence--Elements of Human Rights Due Diligence; Assessing Impact.
The SRSG has identified four core elements of human rights due diligence:
Data is inert until used. Though the identification and harvesting of knowledge implicates judgment (and use), that use remains contingent until the active element is introduced. That active element blends time and agency. Data can sit for long or short periods of time—subject to the technologies of preservation and retrieval. Information use is contextual—who uses it in what cultural context colors the importance and character of the information at the moment of its deployment. That use is not merely consequential—it serves as the essence of the governance element of surveillance. This characteristic of making judgments and deploying those judgments within the community under observation can be understood as governance.
Often problems arise because companies fail to consider the potential implications of activities and relationships before they begin -- or because complacency sets in once they're established. Companies cannot know whether they are meeting their responsibility to respect human rights if they don't take proactive steps to understand how existing and proposed activities may affect human rights.
Moreover, human rights situations are dynamic and pre-existing conditions will change with the entry of a high impact business operation. Therefore, the assessment of impacts should take place regularly throughout the life of a project or activity, whether triggered by project milestones, regular cycles (e.g. periodic performance reviews), or changes in any of the issues related to the scope of a company's responsibility to respect human rights: context, activities, and relationships.
The upstream vector encompasses elements of internal institutional control—that is, of self-control. The object is internal discipline. The beneficiaries of this form of surveillance are the internal stakeholders of the organization—employees and officers or organizations—or political subdivision—the bureaucrats and other staff that work for the apparatus of state.
The downstream element encompasses elements of external control by/through others. The object is external discipline. The beneficiaries of surveillance in this form include a number of actors. One class of beneficiaries are political communities—home state, host state, local communities, and supranational communities. Control systems originate in statute. Another group of beneficiaries includes outside stakeholders, including labor, lenders, and trade creditors. Downstream control systems originate in contract. The contract basis of observation permits the participation of a host of private actors.Id.The disclosure element is strongest here. But disclosure does determine what information ought to be disclosed. Perhaps the contextual principle of the Second Pillar responsibility ot respect might help in that regard. But application of that principle might suggest that all information harvested and used internally might not necessarily be available for downstream diligence. Outside stakeholders, of course, would disagree. And resolution might require agreement by the corporation and outside stakeholders. The differences might be explained by the notion that insiders seeking information for the attainment of management goals will understand data in a way different from insiders seeking information for the attainment of production goals.