The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights

Late last month, the latest report under my mandate as Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General on business and human rights was released in advance of the June session of the U.N. Human Rights Council (Council). This is my last interim report before I submit my final recommendations next year. In this posting I share the report’s discussion on the corporate responsibility to respect, the second pillar in a policy framework I proposed, and which the Council unanimously welcomed, for better managing business and human rights challenges. In particular, I focus on the links between human rights due diligence – a key process for companies to know and show that they respect human rights – and legal compliance, including with corporate governance and securities laws.

Background on the UN Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework

In 2008, the Council extended my mandate until 2011, tasking me: to “operationalize” the U.N. “Protect, Respect, Remedy” framework (U.N. Framework) for business and human rights through concrete guidance and recommendations to states, businesses and other actors; and to “promote” the U.N. Framework, coordinating with relevant international organizations and other stakeholders.

The U.N. Framework rests on three distinct yet complementary pillars: 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 greater access by victims to effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial.

My new report describes how the U.N. Framework has already enjoyed considerable uptake, interacting with a range of processes well beyond the United Nations itself. These include the ISO26000 standard on social responsibility, the updating of the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises, the International Finance Corporation revision of their Performance Standards, work with 19 leading law firms from around the world on how human rights considerations are addressed in corporate law across 40 jurisdictions, as well as road-testing of company-based grievance mechanisms by leading companies in China, Colombia, Russia, South Africa and Vietnam….(continue reading)

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