Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Considering Approaches to Institutionalizing Civil Society's Role in the Business of Human Rights-- A Dialogue on "Implementing the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: A South-Initiated North-South Dialogue."

The Watson Institute for International Studies and DeJusticia (Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad) organized a wonderful dialogue 20-22 February at Brown University.  Entitled "Implementing the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: A South-Initiated North-South Dialogue."

The dialogue was kicked off with a great public lecture delivered by John Ruggie about his work in developing the U.N. Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights as discussed in his recent book, Just Business: Multinational Corporations and Human Rights.

The remainder of the dialogue centered around discussion of a paper prepared by DeJusticia's César Rodríguez-Garavito and Tatiana Andia of Brown University, “Business and Human Rights: Beyond the End of the Beginning”. Many of the participants (listed below) presented excellent responses and considerations of the themes raised in the Rodríguez-Garavito/Andia paper. The paper analyzed the Guiding Principles within the global experimentalist governance framework, highlighting their promises, problems, and the conditions under which those problems might be solved as it has come to be developed under the leadership of UN Working Groupon the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. The paper included an excellent exposition of the need to institutionalize the role of civil society within the framework of the U.N. Guiding Principles. The issue occupies an important part of the conversation initiated by the U.N. Working Group as it seeks to develop and implement the Guiding Principles in fidelity to its three pillars--the state duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and the obligation to afford remedies to those adversely affected by rights detrimental activities of business and states. The key appears to be to try to find a way of articulating a role for civil society (and the individuals they represent) within this framework.

This post includes the organizers' excellent explanation of the dialogue theme and my contribution to that discussion, "An Institutional Role for Civil Society Within the U.N. Guiding Principles?: Comments on César Rodríguez-Garavito and Tatiana Andia “Business and Human Rights: Beyond the End of the Beginning,” the abstract of which follows. The full response paper may be accessed here.

Dialogue Theme:
This event initiates a broad program titled “Re-Examining Global Policy Agendas via Interactive, South-Initiated North-South Dialogues,” which is being developed jointly by the Watson Institute and the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia). The overall program reflects our conviction that the emergence of effective global policy depends on developing new ways to take full advantage of insights and innovations emerging in the South. South-based NGOs have become central participants in defining a broad range of policy agendas from gender, ethnic and minority rights, to environmental justice strategies, to rights to land and natural resources, as well as policies for dealing with illicit drug traffic. Policy makers in the South play a role in constructing global strategies for poverty reduction and social safety nets. Yet, despite new patterns of global flows, social innovators in the South still face a global system of communication biased toward the North. Developing new ways to take full advantage of insights and innovations emerging in the South would be a boon to both North and South.


Tatiana Andia is a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University’s Sociology Department and an affiliated research of the Center for Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia, Colombia).

Larry Catá Backer is W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar Professor of Law and International Affairs at Penn State

Louis Bickford is the International Human Rights Program Officer at the Ford Foundation

Surya Deva is Professor of Law at the City University of Hong Kong.

Peter Evans is Senior Fellow in International Studies at the Watson Institute at Brown University.

Patrick Heller is is professor of sociology and international studies at Brown and the director of the Graduate Program in Development at the Watson Institute.

Chris Jochnick is Director of Private Sector Department, Oxfam America

Juana Kweitel is Program Director of Conectas Human Rights (Brazil) and editor of Sur: International Journal on Human Rights

Richard Locke is the Howard R. Swearer Director of the Watson Institute for International Studies and a professor of political science at Brown University.

Harsh Mander is Director, Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi, and a founding member of the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information

Amol Mehra is Director, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable

Tara Melish is Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Human Rights Center at SUNY-Buffalo

Bonita Meyersfeld is Director, Centre for Applied Legal Studies,The Dickinson School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

César Rodríguez-Garavito is Associate Professor and Director, Program on Global Justice, University of los Andes, and a founding member of Dejusticia.

John Ruggie is Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School

"An Institutional Role for Civil Society Within the U.N. Guiding Principles?: Comments on César Rodríguez-Garavito and Tatiana Andia “Business and Human Rights: Beyond the End of the Beginning,”
Larry Catá Backer

Abstract:   Global human rights NGOs evidence the power and temptations of the great normative institutional forces that affect the governance projects of transnational society in the early 21st century. These forces—(1) the drive for order and rationality even within emerging polycentric orders beyond the state, and (2) the transformation of the individual within this polycentric universe from singular being to disembodied abstraction made flesh in the body of civil society—are irresistible. The first would transform global NGOs into the incarnation of individuals whose human rights are adversely affected by state and multi-national enterprises. The second would suggest the necessity of a unifying order to harmonize the state duty to protect and the corporate responsibility to respect human rights under the framework of the U.N. Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights. Both are problematic. But the NGOs critique of the current movement toward development of the GPs through the UN Working Group is well grounded. This paper considers both the challenges of the arguments for the institutionalization of NGOs within the normative framework of the UNGP and the strengths of their critique of the WG for missed opportunities. Two of these opportunities, to date ignored, are worthy of serious development. The first is a facility for delivering interpretations of the GPs whether or not deemed binding by state or enterprise instrumentalities. The second draws from the first. That application-interpretation facility might also include the creation of an institutional framework for providing a means of hearing specific complaints brought from individuals through representative civil society for determination of the application of the GPs in context. Another is worth considering for its dynamic effect on GP development—the strengthening of the remedial pillar to deepen it’s interpretation as an autonomous source of process and governance inclusion power of individuals, now represented by a civil society sector that is neither dependent on state and enterprises, as a subject rather than as an object of GP governance. The way to that goal requires substantial development, but its value appears clear. 

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