Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Key to getting the NGOs onside lies in producing concrete plans

February 2011

Aron Cramer is surely correct, on page two of this issue, to predict that the long-awaited final report of John Ruggie, due this summer, will be among the most important features of the CSR landscape this year.  

The United Nations special representative on business and human rights has spent a huge amount of time – much of it gathering evidence and listening to stakeholders – trying to come up with a framework for action that balances the duties of governments, companies and individuals in the field of human rights. He deserves a good hearing, and to an extent, that is what he has received over these past four years. Yet as the story next to this editorial makes clear, problems remain.

Chief of these is the attitude of a number of big-hitting NGOs – among them Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In truth, they have never fully signed up to Ruggie’s mission, and have looked upon it with a sceptical eye from the start.

Partly this stems from the UN’s rather clumsy initial moves on this front, when a sub-commission of its Commission on Human Rights unveiled, in 2003, a set of draft ‘norms’ for transnational corporations that it felt should be applied worldwide. Those norms, which suggested the UN, among other things, should appoint powerful country rapporteurs to monitor corporate behaviour, generally delighted the third sector but frightened the business world, compelling the UN to kick the proposals into the long grass by appointing Ruggie to come up with a new vision. From that point onwards, it was always going to be an uphill struggle to get the NGOs back onside. They felt they had something within their grasp that had been snatched away.

There is more to it than that, however.  The pragmatic approach of Ruggie’s emerging ‘Protect, Remedy and Respect’ framework has largely been in tune with the views of business, but has had little to offer civil society. While the NGOs are no longer expecting to go back to the tenets of the draft norms, they would at least like a clear proposed mechanism for how companies that are accused of human rights abuses can be brought to book on the international stage. Ruggie’s formula in final draft form does not appear to offer them that. This is the crux of the matter and the key to gaining some kind of meaningful NGO backing, even if only grudging.  If by the summer Ruggie can come up with a concrete, practical  idea for a global complaints mechanism – even if it is not perfect – then he may just gain the support of the NGO community. If not, then the scepticism from non-business quarters is likely to continue.

Peter Mason | Global | Human rights


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