BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

With Resolution 2005/69, the UN Commission on Human Rights requested “Secretary-General to appoint a special representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises”.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises form part of the 1976 OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises, a policy commitment by adhering governments to provide an ‘open and transparent environment’ for international investment, encouraging the positive contribution of MNEs to economic and social progress. Nowadays, the Guidelines are a leading international instrument for the promotion of responsible business conduct. Observance of the Guidelines is voluntary, yet adhering governments should establish National Contact Points with the task to promote the Guidelines, to act as a forum for discussion and to remediate in case of conflict.

The Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises – Prof. Ruggie – proposed a policy framework comprising three core principles: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others; and the need for greater access by victims to effective remedies, judicial and non-judicial.

With Resolution 8/7, the Human Rights Council renewed the Special Representative’s mandate for a period of three years until June 2011 for the purpose of operationalizing the 2008 Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework.

The report builds further on the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework, summarizing the current knowledge on the three pillars and providing for synergies among them, pointing towards the guiding principles that will constitute the mandate’s final product.

The final report of the Special Representative presents the “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework” for consideration by the Human Rights Council.

  • United Nations – Human Rights Council, Resolution 17/4, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/17/4, 6 July 2011

With Resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011, the Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles and established a Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

The publication contains the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights providing for extensive commentary under each principle.

It is the main EU policy addressing the implementation of the Guiding Principles. Particularly, improving the coherence of EU policies with the UN Guiding Principles through National Action Plans is seen as a critical challenge.

The Interpretive Guide provides further explanation of the Guiding Principles that relate to the corporate responsibility to respect human rights.

With its Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, the Council of EU pledged its full support to the Guiding Principles.

During the 2013 Forum on Business and Human Rights, the EU reiterated its commitment to the implementation of the Guiding Principles.

With Resolution 26/22, the Human Rights Council mandated further work on exploring “the full range of legal options and practical measures to improve access to remedy for victims of business-related human right abuses”.

The publication with frequently asked questions (FAQs) is not intended as operational guidance, rather it aims to explain the background and the contents of the Guiding Principles and how they relate to the broader human rights system and other frameworks.

The Document reinforces the EU’s committment to the UNGPs by presenting the EU’s activities in implementing the UNGPs and promoting progress in the area of business and human rights.

The report sets out guidance to improve accountability and access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses, following the Accountability and Remedy Project of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and in response to the request by the Human Rights Council in its Resolution 26/22.

The Council reaffirmed the EU strong and active engagement to prevent abuses and ensure remedy, through the UNGP’s implementation. In particular, the Council requested the EU Fundamental Rights Agency to “issue an expert opinion on possible avenues to lower barriers for access to remedy at the EU level, taking into account existing EU legal instruments and competences at EU and Member States’ levels”.

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) was explicitly requested by the Council of the EU to draft an Opinion on “possible avenues to lower barriers for access to remedy [in the context of business-related human rights abuse] at the EU level, taking into account existing EU legal instruments and competences at EU and Member States’ levels”. Identifying and lowering barriers to access to remedy (Article 47, EU Charter) is understood as a pre-condition for victims of business-related human rights abuse to see their rights realised. The Opinion covers the area of judicial and non-judicial remedies and their effective implementation. With regards to judicial remedies, interestingly both civil justice and criminal law cases are reviewed, addressing adverse human rights impacts both within and outside the EU. The rationale is that the EU internal market would be strengthened by establishing a more accessible and uniform system of remedies, providing a level-playing field for businesses and more accessible avenues for victims to access justice.

The General Comment seeks to clarify the duties of States parties to the Covenant with a view to preventing and addressing the adverse impacts of business activities on human rights. For the purposes of this project see in particular: section IV) ‘Remedies’ and section V) ‘Implementation’.