U.N. Human Rights Council Endorses Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

On June 16, the U.N. Human Rights Council formally endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights prepared by the U.N. Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie. The Human Rights Council’s endorsement represents the conclusion of the Special Representative’s mandate, which began in 2005. 

The Principles are intended to provide guidance on the implementation of the "Protect, Respect, and Remedy" Framework first introduced by the Special Representative in 2008. As observed in our earlier commentary, while the Principles are not law, they are likely to influence national law and policy in jurisdictions around the world. At the time of the endorsement, Professor Ruggie himself observed

The Council’s endorsement establishes the Guiding Principles as the authoritative global reference point for business and human rights.

In his final presentation to the Human Rights Council (.pdf), delivered on May 30, Professor Ruggie noted that

For business enterprises, the Guiding Principles outline a human rights due diligence process. This entails assessing actual and potential human rights impacts; integrating and acting upon the findings; tracking the effectiveness of responses; and communicating how impacts are addressed. Human rights due diligence is meant to include dealings with third parties linked to the business enterprise.

In our experience advising companies on how to identify, prevent, and mitigate the adverse human rights impacts of their operations, Professor Ruggie’s work has been a key reference point since the outset of his mandate.

The Principles provide high-level guidance applicable to all business enterprises, and many companies have already begun the hard work of interpreting how best to apply this guidance to their specific activities. In a manner appropriate to their industry and the scope of their operations, companies face the challenge of developing adequate mechanisms to assess the actual and potential human rights impacts associated with their activities. Companies must then determine how best to integrate the findings from these assessments into their management plans and into their dialogues and contracts, as appropriate, with business partners. While this work is challenging, ultimately it can play a key role in managing a company’s legal, reputational, and operational risks.

In the resolution endorsing the Guiding Principles, the Human Rights Council also announced the formation of a new working group, consisting of five independent experts, to promote the effective dissemination and implementation of the Principles. The five experts will be appointed at the Council’s eighteenth session in September 2011. As part of its work, the working group will host an annual Forum on Business and Human Rights.

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