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Monday, September 26, 2011

Strategic CSR - Human Rights

In case you missed it over the summer, in June, the United Nations announced a set of guiding principles designed to avoid human rights abuses involving businesses.

And, the report itself can be found here:

In particular, the guiding principles are designed to:

“…  provide--for the first time--a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity.

The principles are designed around three pillars that are intended to act in concert in order to protect basic human rights:

The first is the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business enterprises, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication. The second is the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means that business enterprises should act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts with which they are involved. The third is the need for greater access by victims to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial. Each pillar is an essential component in an inter-related and dynamic system of preventative and remedial measures: the State duty to protect because it lies at the very core of the international human rights regime; the corporate responsibility to respect because it is the basic expectation society has of business in relation to human rights; and access to remedy because even the most concerted efforts cannot prevent all abuse.

Immediate criticism of the principles, however, centered around the lack of accountability for states and firms that sign up to the framework (for similar criticisms of the UN Global Compact, see: Without a supranational entity with powers to enforce the principles and inspect signatories to ensure compliance, the potential for greenwash is great. In spite of these concerns, Tony Webb from Ethical Corporation Magazine is more optimistic, claiming the presence of a framework provides the groundwork for a standardized approach to this issue across firms and national boundaries:

Despite the shortcomings of the UN Human Rights Council's proposed actions, the completion of John Ruggie's work is surely one of the most important milestones in the history of the field of corporate responsibility.

Take care

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