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Council discusses report of SRSG on business and human rights
Monday, 07 June 2010 14:32

 

The Special Rapporteur of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Mr John Ruggie, presented his annual report to the 14th session of the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 1 and 2 June 2010. The Council held an interactive dialogue with the Special Representative, the Special Rapporteur on the right to education and the Special Rapporteur on the effect of foreign debt on human rights. The large majority of States taking the floor during the interactive dialogue with the three mandate holders mainly commented on Mr Ruggie’s report.

 

Mr Ruggie briefly presented his three-pronged framework originally explored in his report, ‘Business and Human Rights: Further steps toward the operationalization of the ‘protect, respect and remedy’ framework’ (A/HRC/14/27). The framework includes the duty of States to protect their citizens against human rights abuses committed by businesses, the corporate responsibility to self-regulate to avoid violations and infringements of human rights, and the increased access for victims to effective judicial and non-judicial remedies. Mr Ruggie also noted that many States have adopted measures relevant to businesses and human rights, such as health and safety regulations and workplace non-discrimination policies. He mentioned, however, that there remained a lack of comprehensive measures for victims to get remedies. He stated that extraterritorial jurisdiction although a sensitive issue must be addressed. Mr Ruggie will present his final report and a set of guiding principles on business and human rights at the June 2011 session of the Council, when the mandate of the Special Representative will also expire. He plans to also present the pros and cons of possible follow up the Council may give to his mandate.

 

 

The overall tone of the interactive dialogue was quite positive with many States offering supportive statements on the work of the Special Representative. Several States stressed the need to hold businesses to account for the human rights impacts of their operations. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was mentioned by Indonesia who suggested that States should establish legislative safeguards to ensure that corporations take greater care of the environment and communities in which they operate. States welcomed the brainstorming seminars organised by the Special Representative with States on transnational corporations and human rights.

 

The European Union highlighted ‘significant work’ underway in Europe to join economic aspirations with a commitment to human rights. China reiterated the necessity of protecting workers and resolved to continue addressing workers’ concerns. While the United States offered support for the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, the delegation notably did not make mention of the ongoing oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico or of any intention of tightening regulations on multinational corporations. It noted that it was still studying the ‘protect, respect, and remedy’ framework.

 

A number of States commented on the Special Representative’s focus on businesses operating on conflict-affected areas , with Canada asking the Special Representative to elaborate on how companies should adapt to particular characteristics of conflict affected areas.

 

While most States were supportive of the framework proposed by the Special Representative, some highlighted aspects of particular interest to them. Both Bangladesh and Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) focused on the ‘respect’ aspect of the framework, saying that outlining how businesses have to respect human rights is most important. In this context, Bangladesh pointed out how difficult it is for developing countries to hold large trans-national corporations to account. It also suggested that the guidelines to be drafted by Mr Ruggie include elements of responsibility of the home States in holding businesses to account.

 

The mandate of the Special Representative and how the Council could continue work on the issue of business an human rights after its expiry gave rise to several concrete suggestions by States and NGOs. Canada enquired how the Special Representative sees the role of OHCHR in further developing work on the issue. Mr Ruggie replied that OHCHR’s capacity to support the mandate should be increased.

 

South Africa suggested that the Special Representative outline in a roadmap the steps envisaged towards the creation of a legally binding instrument on business and human rights, while NGOs proposed the establishment of a high level commission with the mandate of drafting a code of conduct for companies and setting up a universal body to receive complaints from victims of human rights abuses by companies.

 

In his concluding remarks, Mr Ruggie noted that while great progress has been made so far on this issue, States individually and the Council must continue his work after his mandate expires next year. States should develop non-conventional methods in order to address both ongoing and historical problems, such as the illegal trading of natural resources.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 August 2010 07:42
 
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