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On October 27th, John Ruggie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly. As Ruggie explained, his mandate over the last few years has been to figure out how to “close the gaps between the scope and impact of economic forces and actors, and the capacity of societies to manage their adverse consequences.”

Ruggie calls these gaps governance gaps.

Ruggie has been working on these gaps since 2005; in June of 2008, the U.N. Human Rights Council asked Ruggie to “operationalize” the human rights policy strategy by providing concrete guidance to countries and companies. Ruggie has been building consensus on this vision for closing governance gaps to ensure that rogue companies are held accountable, globally, for human rights violations.

Research to date is documented by Ruggie on his website: http://www.business-humanrights.org/Gettingstarted/UNSpecialRepresentative

The go-forward policy for human rights and international business includes three core principles:

PROTECT: The State has a duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication (currently, many governments take a narrow approach to managing business and human rights);

RESPECT: The corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which in essence means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others (a “do no harm” commitment by companies); and

REMEDY: Greater access by victims to effective remedies (including an expansion of non-judicial remedies).

Ruggie’s approach goes beyond legalities and “compliance” thinking. Certainly, he has his critics who demand more laws and regulation of corporate behaviours: Recently, Alvaro de Regil, Executive Director of Jus Semper Global Alliance criticized this vision as being over-reliant on the marketplace (Read here).  Ruggie’s response? There is no magic in the marketplace.

This isn’t easy – how to encourage all the players responsible to protect human rights to cooperate and be responsible. Ruggie isn’t naïve: “There is no single silver bullet solution to closing the global governance gaps in the business and human rights domain. But for the sake of the victims of corporate-related human rights abuse, and to sustain globalization itself as a positive force, they must be closed. To achieve that end, all social actors-States, businesses, and civil society-must learn to do many things differently. My new mandate is intended to help provide direction and operational guidance.”

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  1. Anbazhagan Sam Venkatesan
    Dear Donna,

    Corporations are more close to society; physically and hence closer in time to respond.
    They are more connected – for securing services of people, for supplies and for other services.

    Government has long hand indeed, but what has been achieved by corporation in short period of time due to liberalization,privatization and globalization is phenomenal compared to what has been achieved only by government for a long long time.

    Each corporation has a history. They intend to maintain their tradition as well as become modern and global to grow and glow too.

    Globally good corporations have a history of behaving responsibly. They respond positively to any current issue affecting humanity. They serve as model to others world over.

    Corporations are more agile. They are innovative and resourceful. They are result oriented in a time bound fashion. They are now becoming sensitive too to social issues.

    No corporation would be abusing human rights purposely or for a benefit. It may be happening because it has not been presented to them in this perspective.

    This is responsibility of government – to educate corporations strongly on the developments in society and the need for non-violation of human rights.
    Government can also reward good corporations, differentiate the indifferent ones and punish the violators.

    Government institutions themselves must set example and then educate others.

    Together they can make a great difference to the way human rights issues are managed.

    And corporations certainly can play a role. Because it is time for action.

    Unfortunately for Alvaro de Regil, with his kind of argument it appears neither enlightenment nor progress would come forth; only arguments may remain.

    Sam Anbazhagan

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    1. Donna Kennedy-Glans Post author
      Sam, your belief in the potential of corporations is inspiring. And, you don’t take the burden from the shoulders of government either(they must set the example and educate others).

      Alvaro de Regil’s suggestions are very polarizing. I prefer, like you, to constructively engage in the spaces between polarities. There may be a lot of tension in that space, but it can be creative tension.
      Thanks for your views and perspectives, from India.

      Cheers, Donna

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