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Initiative on enhancing accountability and access to remedy in cases of business involvement in human rights abuses


The question of how to secure accountability and access to effective remedy for victims of gross human rights abuses involving business enterprises has long been an issue in discussions about business and human rights. Gross human rights abuses include the worst forms of human rights harm, such as slavery, torture, extra-judicial killings, forced and child labour, and other offenses of particular severity and scale. While such offenses are most often perpetrated by states, companies can be involved either as offenders or by being complicit in such abuses. Research in this area has found that judicial systems often fail to hold companies to account and to ensure effective remedy for victims in such cases.

As part of its mandate to advance protection of and respect for human rights, in February 2014, OHCHR launched a process of conceptual, normative and practical clarification of key issues aimed at creating a fairer and more effective system of domestic law remedies to address corporate liability for gross human rights abuses. This process is designed to contribute to more effective implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights through enhanced preventive and remedial measures.

 As the first step in this process, in February 2014 OHCHR published an independent expert by legal expert Dr. Jennifer Zerk on the effectiveness of domestic judicial mechanisms in relation to business involvement in gross human rights abuses. The study identifies barriers to accessing justice at domestic level, and the effects of differences in domestic approaches on the way that domestic remedial systems are used in practice. OHCHR invited all interested stakeholders to submit feedback on the issues identified and recommendations made in the study.

Human Rights Council Mandate

In June 2014, the Human Rights Council, adopted resolution 26/22 which requests the High Commissioner to “continue the work to facilitate the sharing and exploration of the full range of legal options and practical measures to improve access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses, in collaboration with the Working Group, and to organize consultations with experts, States and other relevant stakeholders to facilitate mutual understanding and greater consensus among different views.” OHCHR will submit a progress report to the Council in June 2015 and a final report for the consideration of the Council at its 32nd session in June 2016.

Planned work streams

OHCHR’s present programme of work is designed to result in credible, workable guidance for States to enable strengthened and more consistent implementation of the Guiding Principles in the area of access to remedy. The guidance will be developed through inclusive multi-stakeholder processes, and will be designed to take into account different legal systems, cultures, traditions and levels of economic development. OHCHR has developed a programme of work comprising six distinct, but interrelated projects. These projects have been selected because of their strategic value and potential to improve accountability from a practical, victim-centred perspective. The outcomes of these six programmes will feed into OHCHR’s report to the 32nd Human Rights Council in June 2016.

Key resources

For more information, contact: business-access2remedy@ohchr.org.