Ruggie: ‘build your own complaints mechanisms’April 2011
Companies and industry sectors should consider setting up their own grievance mechanisms to look into complaints that they are breaching human rights, according to the final report of John Ruggie, the United Nations special representative on business and human rights.
Ruggie’s long-awaited document, which has been six years in the making, says individual businesses could establish ‘operational-level grievance mechanisms’ that would be accessible ‘directly to individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted by a business enterprise’.
These could be administered by a company alone or in collaboration with others in their sector, perhaps through an industry association – or they could be run by an external expert or body chosen for the purpose. However, in all cases they would be best served by having ‘relevant stakeholders’ involved in the process.
The idea is contained in 27 pages of ‘guiding principles’ on business and human rights presented by Ruggie to the UN Human Rights Council for endorsement at its June 2011 session. If they are accepted, as expected, Ruggie hopes that companies, states and civil society will use the principles as ‘a common global platform for action, on which cumulative progress can be built’.
The guiding principles attempt to flesh out ways in which companies, states and civil society can work with Ruggie’s ‘protect, respect and remedy’ framework, published in 2008, which outlines the duties of both the state and business on human rights.
Ruggie’s final document says states should also look at providing non-judicial grievance mechanisms to help tackle business-related human rights abuse, suggesting that various government- and business-led systems could run side by side. The chief current grievance mechanism on business and human rights is the system that supports the OECD guidelines for multinationals, whereby government-appointed ‘national contact points’ in various countries investigate alleged breaches of the guidelines by companies. Ruggie’s final report makes no mention of the OECD principles or how they might be affected by the creation of other mechanisms.
The report also suggests that states look at how some of their agencies, such as export credit bodies, can reinforce the need for companies to act responsibly. It adds that they should consider ‘denying access to public support and services for a business enterprise that is involved with gross human rights abuses and refuses to cooperate in addressing the situation’.
Ruggie said he hoped the principles will ‘enable the global community to move beyond the confusion and polarization of the past by establishing an authoritative point of reference that... gives businesses predictability in what is expected of them’.
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