Business Ethics magazine recently published an interview with John Ruggie, the former U.N. Special Representative on Business and Human Rights who recently joined Foley Hoag’s CSR practice as a senior advisor. Michael Connor, Editor and Publisher of Business Ethics, conducted the interview. The conversation focused on the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the business drivers for respecting human rights, and the ways in which the Principles have been adopted by both public and private stakeholders.
Speaking about the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, Professor Ruggie observed that,
The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is a social responsibility over and above compliance with applicable laws. It is the minimum expectation society has of business conduct in relation to human rights. It means that as business goes about its business, it should not infringe on the rights of others. So manufacture your mouse traps, deliver whatever services you provide, but don’t infringe on others’ human rights in the process.
He also discussed the "business case" for respecting human rights, in particular noting some of the costs that may be associated with lawsuits and community opposition when companies fail to address human rights concerns. In this context, he referenced recent research on the costs of conflict that was initiated under his former mandate. Specifically with regard to mining companies, he noted that,
For a world-class mining operation, which requires about $3-5 billion capital cost to get started, there’s a cost somewhere between $20 million and $30 million a week for operational disruptions by communities. Another estimate used by the mining industry is that an asset manager is supposed to spend between 5% and 10% of his or her time on community engagement issues. We found that it can be anywhere from a one-third to 50%, and in some cases 80% of their time. So there are opportunity costs, financial costs, legal costs and reputational costs.
Finally, speaking about the fundamental concept of human rights due diligence, which is a core element of the Guiding Principles, Professor Ruggie observed the extent to which this normative obligation has been adopted in both voluntary and legislative standards:
Human rights due diligence is now…in the requirements of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation) guidelines on multinational enterprises. ..The principle has been incorporated into a new ISO (International Standards Organisation) standard, ISO 26000. The International Finance Corporation has updated the performance standards it requires of clients, which now reference the business responsibility to respect human rights. The European Commission has incorporated the same principles, including human due diligence, into a new EU strategy on corporate social responsibility. In the U.S., the Dodd-Frank Act includes a due diligence element for companies sourcing certain minerals closely tied to conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The full text of the interview is available here.