The Future of Corporate Accountability for Violations of Human Rights

By Ruggie, John Gerard; McCorquodale, Robert et al. | Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

The Future of Corporate Accountability for Violations of Human Rights


Ruggie, John Gerard, McCorquodale, Robert, Ochoa, Christina, Greene, Adam B., Misol, Lisa, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law


This panel was convened at 10:45 a.m., Friday, March 27, by its moderator, Penelope Simons of the University of Ottawa, who introduced the panelists: John G. Ruggie of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Special Representative of the United Nations' Secretary-General for Business and Human Rights; Robert McCorquodale, Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law; Christiana Ochoa of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law; Adam Greene of the United States Council for International Business; and Lisa Misol of Human Rights Watch.

INTRODUCTION

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this panel on the Future of Corporate Accountability for Violations of Human Rights. The global concern for the human rights implications of corporate activity and corporate impunity for violations of human rights is not new. The issue was most recently propelled to the forefront of global debate in 2003. The catalyst was the drafting of the UN Norms on the Responsibility of Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights (1) (the UN Norms) by a UN working group of independent experts, their subsequent unanimous adoption by (what was then) the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and finally their submission to the Human Rights Commission (now the Human Rights Council). One of the results of the controversy provoked by the UN Norms was the creation of a new UN special procedure, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Entities, and the appointment to that position of Professor John Ruggie.

In April last year, Professor Ruggie submitted his much anticipated final report to the Human Rights Council. His Report sets out a comprehensive policy framework aimed at reducing the "governance gaps" in relation to the negative human rights impacts of corporate activity. (2) It is based on three principles: the further development of the state's international human rights law duty to protect individuals from violations of their human rights by corporate actors; the concept of the responsibility of business to respect human rights--"to do no harm"; and the development of remedies for victims of corporate human rights abuses.

Professor Ruggie's proposals are thoughtful, comprehensive, and strategic. The Report was well received by the Human Rights Council, business, (3) and a number of NGOs. It has also been criticized by others who would have liked to have seen his recommendations go further and include some reference to the role of binding legal human fights obligations for corporate actors. (4)

In June 2008, the Human Rights Council extended Professor Ruggie's mandate for another three years, requesting him to, among other things, develop the three principles of his policy framework; integrate a gender perspective throughout his work and give attention to those belonging to vulnerable groups, in particular children; identify, exchange, and promote best practices for business in this area; and advance the policy framework, continuing to consult with a wide variety of stakeholders. Professor Ruggie released his preliminary work plan for his new mandate in October 2008. (5)

In this panel we will be discussing the work of the Special Representative and the operationalization of his policy framework. In particular, panelists will consider where we should go from here in the effort to develop norms to regulate corporate activity effectively and address corporate impunity for human fights abuses.

(1) UNECOSOC, Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights, UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/2003/12/Rev.2 (2003) and Commentary on the Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights, UN Doc E/CN. …

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