Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Business and Human Rights through the perspective of the Ruggie framework

The 'Protect, Respect and Remedy' report prepared by Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Prof. John Ruggie, aims to lay the foundations of a system for better managing business and human rights challenges. What are the opportunities and limitation that this document provides to companies, governments, civil society organisations and communities?

On 16 February 2011 ICCO hosted a one day work session to discuss the main elements of the framework and their practical implications on business and human rights. The session saw the attendance of some 40 participants from in and outside ICCO. After a presentation of the Ruggie framework and a critical look to its guiding principles, participants split in groups to discuss examples of Human Rights abuses and protection related business practices, debating the case of Brazil national agreement to eradicate modern-day slavery and the state obligations under land and water rights in the context of land grabbing. Further food for thought was provided by a presentation on the concept of Human Rights due diligence in supply chains and complaints mechanisms in the global garment industry. The closing plenary discussion aimed at defining actors and roles in the context of the Ruggie framework and the core elements of an agenda on Business and Human Rights for ICCO.

David Vermijs has been part of Prof. John Ruggie team in the development of the 'Protect, Respect and Remedy' framework. David underlined the importance of the framework in clarifying the roles of States, Governments and other parties in the business and human rights debate. In this sense, it is now clear that governments have the duty to protect human rights and business has to respect human rights, while victims of alleged corporate human rights abuses have an avenue to seek remedies for these abuses. The Ruggie framework has also managed to bring the parties to a common platform in a multi-stakeholder way based on evidence and research and therefore follow an inclusive process on how to move forward to reduce corporate related human rights abuses.

From his side, Rolf Künnemann, Human Rights Director at FIAN International stated that the work behind Business and Human Rights aims primarily at creating a culture of human rights in business. Civil Society has a big role in this as it also emerges clearly from the Ruggie framework. However, according to Mr. Künnemann, states and companies have obligations that CSOs cannot take on: it's the role of states to protect citizens and make sure that companies respect human rights, also outside the territories where they are located and registered.

Finally, according to John Morrison, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, the discussions in the seminar covered a lot of ground, focusing in particular on how the Ruggie framework on Human Rights and Business can be applied in concrete terms. There is now a big challenge and opportunity for the development community to re-apply the right-based approach to development in a business context. He concluded encouraging ICCO to take the lead and develop a position paper on this specific issue, also to create a bridge between the human rights and development communities.

Pier Andrea Pirani

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