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Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

Overview

2005-2008

In 2005 the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted resolution E/CN.4/RES/2005/69 requesting “Secretary-General to appoint a special representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises”. The resolution mandated the Special Representative:

  1. To identify and clarify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability for transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights;
  2. To elaborate on the role of States in effectively regulating and adjudicating the role of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights, including through international cooperation;
  3. To research and clarify the implications for transnational corporations and other business enterprises of concepts such as “complicity” and “sphere of influence”;
  4. To develop materials and methodologies for undertaking human rights impact assessments of the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises;
  5. To compile a compendium of best practices of States and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

2008-2011

On 18 June 2008 the Human Rights Council unanimously “welcomed” the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework proposed by the Special Representative in his final report under the 2005 mandate. This policy framework comprises three core principles: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others; and the need for greater access by victims to effective remedies, judicial and non-judicial.

The Human Rights Council renewed the Special Representative’s mandate for a period of 3 years until June 2011 with the new resolution A/HRC/RES/8/7. The resolution requested the Special Representative to operationalize the framework elaborated and specifically:

  • To provide views and recommendations on ways to strengthen the fulfillment of the duty of the State to protect all human rights from abuses by transnational corporations and other business enterprises, including through international cooperation;
  • To elaborate further on the scope and content of the corporate responsibility to respect all human rights and to provide concrete guidance to business and other stakeholders;
  • To explore options and make recommendations, at the national, regional and international levels, for enhancing access to effective remedies available to those whose human rights are impacted by corporate activities;
  • To integrate a gender perspective throughout his work and to give special attention to persons belonging to vulnerable groups, in particular children;
  • To liaise closely with the efforts of the human rights working group of the Global Compact in order to identify, exchange and promote best practices and lessons learned on the issue of transnational corporations and other business enterprises;
  • To work in close coordination with United Nations and other relevant international bodies, offices, departments and specialized agencies, and in particular with other special procedures of the Council;
  • To continue to consult on the issues covered by the mandate on an ongoing basis with all stakeholders, including States, national human rights institutions, international and regional organizations, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and civil society, including academics, employers’ organizations, workers’ organizations, indigenous and other affected communities and non-governmental organizations, including through joint meetings;
  • To report annually to the Council and the General Assembly.

On 16 June 2011 the Human Rights Council in resolution A/HRC/RES/17/4 unanimously endorsed Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for implementing the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, providing – for the first time – a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity.

The Guiding Principles are the product of six years of research and extensive consultations led by the Special Representative, involving governments, companies, business associations, civil society, affected individuals and groups, investors and others around the world.

The new set of recommendations outline how States and businesses should implement the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework in order to better manage business and human rights challenges. Since the unanimous welcome of the Framework by the Human Rights Council in 2008 it has enjoyed extensive uptake by international and national governmental organizations, businesses, NGOs and other stakeholders.

The Guiding Principles highlight what steps States should take to foster business respect for human rights; provide a blueprint for companies to know and show that they respect human rights, and reduce the risk of causing or contributing to human rights harm; and constitute a set of benchmarks for stakeholders to assess business respect for human rights. They are organized under the UN Framework’s three pillars:

  • The State Duty to Protect Human Rights
  • The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights
  • The need for greater Access to Remedy for victims of business-related abuse.

2011

The Special Representative’s mandate concluded in June 2011.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General:

Mr. John Ruggie (United States of America), 2005-2011