Business and human rights

The growing reach and impact of business enterprises have given rise to a debate about the roles and responsibilities of such actors with regard to human rights, and have led to the placement of business and human rights on the UN agenda.

 Industrial Park Factory Workers © UN Photo

In 2005, the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted resolution E/CN.4/RES/2005/69 requesting the appointment of a special representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) to identify and clarify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability for transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights.  The UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework was elaborated by the SRSG and presented to the Human Rights Council in 2008. On the basis of this framework the SRSG developed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which was unanimously endorsed by the Human Rights Council in June 2011. 

These Guiding Principles provided the first global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity, and they continue to provide the internationally-accepted framework for enhancing standards and practices with regard to business and human rights.

The OHCHR’s Work on Business and Human Rights

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has numerous roles with respect to business and human rights.

The OHCHR has a mandate to lead the business and human rights agenda within the United Nations system, and, in collaboration with the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, to develop guidance and training relating to the dissemination and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (A/HRC/RES/21/5). This means providing advice, tools and guidance, supporting capacity building on Business and Human Rights to all stakeholders at the national level, including through OHCHR’s field operations and across the UN system, and providing technical support to human rights mechanisms.  The OHCHR has recently launched a major project, entitled the Accountability and Remedy Project, aimed at enhancing accountability and access to remedy in cases of business involvement in serious human rights abuse.

The OHCHR also supports and advises the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, a special procedures mandate composed of five independent experts, of balanced geographical representation.  The Working Group guides the work of the annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, which is the world’s largest gathering on the topic of business and human rights.

Additionally, the OHCHR serves as the secretariat for the open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, which was established to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Furthermore, the OHCHR works continuously with partners such as the UN Global Compact Office (and serves as "guardian" of the Global Compact’s Human Rights Principles), the OECD (specifically with regards to the MNE Guidelines), the ILO (which has a Tripartite MNE Declaration), and others on developing tools and guidelines for companies and other relevant stakeholders to integrate human rights into the world of business.