Business and Human Rights

Business and human rights is a legal issue gaining international momentum. While governments have the primary duty to protect and promote human rights, businesses have a distinct responsibility to respect human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the Guiding Principles) to provide a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse human impacts linked to business activity. Much of this work has been led by Mr John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on business and human rights who developed the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework for Business and Human Rights (the Framework).

The Guiding Principles implements the Framework. It provides an authoritative statement on the relationship between business and human rights. It recognises the importance of access to effective judicial and non-judicial remedies. The Guiding Principles comprise three pillars:

  • Pillar 1 - the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication;
  • Pillar 2 - the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to avoid infringing on the human rights of others and addressing adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved; and
  • Pillar 3 - the need for greater access by victims to effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial.

The Guiding Principles make it clear that they should not be read as creating new international law obligations, or as limiting or undermining any legal obligations a State may have undertaken or be subject to under international law with regard to human rights.

The United Nations Global Compact was established to support companies do business responsibly by aligning their strategies and operations with Ten Principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption; and take strategic actions to advance broader societal goals, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Ten Principles are derived from: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

The Guiding Principles are an important component of the International Bar Association’s (IBA) policy engagement. In March 2014, the IBA United Nations Business and Human Rights Guiding Principles Working Group was established under the auspices of the IBA Corporate Social Responsibility Committee with a special input from the IBA Bar Issues Commission. Through this group the IBA has developed draft ‘Business and Human Rights Guidance for Bar Associations’ and the ‘UN Guiding Principles: A Practical Guide for Business Lawyers’ documents.

Law Council's Business and Human Rights Committee.

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