Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Business and Human Rights Part XV--Implementation: Transparency

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 forum 
The 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 XV: Human Rights Due Diligence--Implementation: Transparency. IN PROGRESS

The issue of transparency, like that of stake holding, is central to a consideration of business and human rights.  The SRSG has explained: 
Transparency of information is essential to meaningful dialogue about potential human rights impacts, as well as to preventing human rights abuses and addressing problems at their inception.  Moreover, in some instances companies may face liability for failing to disclose information relevant to human rights, for example where human rights impacts may expose the company to operational, reputational, or legal risk .
United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Business & Human Rights, Implementation: Transparency.  But transparency might as easily violate human rights obligations as it serves to foster them.  "At the same time, there are also real and perceived risks associated with disclosure of some information related to human rights — for example, risks to revealing the identity of complainants, risks to staff and assets, or of potential increased legal liability. " Id.  For hat reason, transparency presents both an opportunity and a danger for companies under the Second Pillar.  "Thus, while the principle of transparency is an essential feature of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, there may be situations where companies must limit what they disclose and to whom. " Id.

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