Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law, Annual 2014 | Go to article overview

Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights


This panel was convened at 1:45 pm, Wednesday, April 9, by its moderator, James Anaya of the University of Arizona College of Law, who introduced the panelists: Jeffrey S. Collins of Chevron Corporation; Ben Juratowitch of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, LLP; Sara Seek of the Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario; and John F. Sherman III of the Shift Project.

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS BY JAMES ANAYA *

It's my pleasure to welcome all of you to this roundtable discussion on corporate responsibility and human rights. My name is Jim Anaya, and I am on the faculty of the University of Arizona College of Law in Tucson. Also, I'm just now wrapping up my second consecutive three-year term as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As many of you know, the focus of that work is to bring attention to the human rights concerns of indigenous peoples across the globe and to promote the implementation of the international standards that have been developed to protect their rights. In that capacity I've regularly come upon situations in which indigenous people's lives and well-being are being affected by the activities of transnational corporations, especially in the context of the development or extraction of natural resources within their traditional territories.

Internationally, it has become a matter of some concern that over the years indigenous peoples in many parts of the world have suffered the devastating effects of corporate activity that has encroached upon their lands, taken valuable resources, caused upheaval in the social and natural environment, and inflicted harm on those who have tried to stand up against the devastation. Indigenous peoples, of course, are not alone in suffering at the hands of profit-motivated corporate interests. Other communities that are at the margins of power have experienced environmental harms; women have faced discriminatory treatment and gender-based violence; and children have been exploited, as has the common worker.

On the other hand, corporations are central components of the social, political, and economic infrastructures of the countries in which we live and of the broader global community. They create wealth and opportunities for economic advancement, at least for some, and potentially for many more. In this context, in the minds of many they are drivers for development and for the improvement of quality of life.

No doubt what we see is that, one way or another, corporations can have deep impacts on the enjoyment of human rights. Over the last several years a number of developments have pressed corporations to move beyond minimalist notions of corporate social responsibility to embrace a commitment to act in conformity with international standards of human rights. The main development of this type in recent years is the endorsement by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which were developed by Professor John Ruggie through a multifaceted process of information-gathering, consultation, and analysis. The Guiding Principles can be seen as tracking, and inspiring, ever greater awareness and acceptance of responsibility by corporations of their potential human rights impacts. In my own work as Special Rapporteur, I have seen a marked shift in attitudes among major corporations engaged in extractive industries about their human rights obligations toward indigenous peoples, along with ever more expressions of commitment by states to respect and protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

But how far do these shifts in attitudes and express commitments go in bringing about practical results that are genuinely conducive to the enjoyment of human rights? And is the existing international legal and policy framework sufficient to the task of ensuring corporate compliance with human rights? What more is needed?

To address these and related questions we have a distinguished panel of experts, each drawing from unique experiences and backgrounds. …

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