Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


New mandate for Ruggie?

June 2008

A new mandate is expected to be handed to John Ruggie, the United Nations special representative on business and human rights, allowing him to explore further how the UN can encourage companies to deal with human rights concerns.

Ruggie’s three-year mandate expired earlier this year when he officially submitted his final report to the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). However, he is understood to be keen to continue for at least two more years. Negotiations are taking place behind the scenes to draft terms of reference acceptable to the UNCHR.

This month UN officials will formally consider Ruggie’s report, which ruled out any possibility of binding ‘Norms’ governing the human rights responsibilities of multinationals (EP10, issue 1, p1). He outlined a three-pronged strategy of ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’, recommending that governments do more to keep companies in line, that businesses look to their human rights impacts, and that better grievance procedures are needed for civil society.

Reaction to the report, which was published last month, has been generally favourable, but some critics say he has still not laid out a clear ‘route map’. An NGO source told EP: ‘There’s nothing much you can’t agree with in the report, but he’s tried so desperately to keep everybody on board that you can interpret what he says more or less any way you want.’

Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s economic relations programme director, said: ‘We welcome the attention drawn to gaps in the governance of corporate impacts on human rights. But we would like to see a clearer pathway for addressing these, particularly with regard to the issue of sanctions against offending companies and reparations for victims.’

Business appears the most satisfied with Ruggie’s conclusions. The Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights, a coalition that explores ways for companies to apply the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said the report ‘moves the business and human rights debate forward significantly’. In a joint statement, the International Organization of Employers, the International Chamber of Commerce, and the business and industry advisory committee to the OECD said the report would ‘provide an effective way to further the debate’.

However, they warned against the possibility that Ruggie might recommend a global ombudsman to consider grievances. Nine NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, recently called on the UNCHR to broaden Ruggie’s mandate ‘to include the capacity to reflect more fully on instances of business abuse’. Sir Geoffrey Chandler, founder-chair of the Amnesty International Business Group, told EP this would ‘divert the mandate from the prevention of future abuse to the study of past abuse’. He added that the NGOs, by insisting on such a move, ‘have become part of the problem rather than the solution’.

The Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, which has representatives of the Church of England among its members, told EP: ‘Companies and investors need to move from declarations that they are not complicit in violations to becoming a force for good in host countries. While recognizing that legal enforcement is inadequate in isolation, states should impose reporting obligations on companies’ international operations and provide access to judicial remedy for abuses.’

John Ruggie | Global | Human rights

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