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.”