Business and Human rights – an NGO perspective

A visit from Danièle Gosteli Hauser, head of the Business and Human Rights group Amnesty International, Switzerland, gave an opportunity to Professor Marina Curran’s Masters class (and a few interested alumni and MBA students) to hear about the latest news in the field of corporate accountability.

A presentation of the debate taking place at UN and national level allowed our students to understand more clearly the importance of the discussion underway globally right now.  Amnesty International has led the way in the discussion on Business and Human Rights from the end of the 90s, the students discovered.

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

The work of John Ruggie, Special Rapporteur on Business and Human Rights, appointed by former UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, and the unanimous agreement of the UN Human Rights Council on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011 was very central to the presentation.  Students were given a narrative of the discussion on these issues from someone who participated in this step by step.

Who is responsible for Human Rights violations?

A short trailer of the movie “Blood in the Mobile” helped us understand the complexity of business for companies, the responsibility of everyone was highlighted.  Students in small groups gave their feedback following this horrifying film.  The importance of awareness building, the complexity of supply chain management and the difficulty of fighting against the status quo (people want to have the latest in technology) were all discussed. Gosteli Hauser pointed out that that all resources are being fought over today- a sad truth.  She further explained that Amnesty international, for this reason, concentrates a lot of time and research on the extractive industry.

In response to the question of who has responsibility for human rights violations, our students and participants clearly saw that everyone is responsible for what is happening in the world today- consumers, governments, companies and their suppliers, as well as investors, shareholders, intergovernmental organizations, international finance and academic institutions.  Gosteli Hauser gave an example of how companies could take responsibility with regards to their supply chains; they could begin by putting human rights clauses into their contracts with their suppliers – what better way to control your supply chain?

Voluntary Initiatives v Binding Legislation

A discussion on the many voluntary initiatives in place and their limited efficiency was followed by an explanation of the move toward more binding regulation by governments with regards to their corporations, wherever they might operate.

Here in Switzerland the Responsible Business Initiative,  and its intention of making Swiss and Swiss based companies legally obliged to incorporate the protection of human rights and the environment in all their business activities globally, was explained.  The aim of this initiative is to reinforce preventative measures to avoid abuses, through a mandatory due diligence.

The fact that Swiss companies are also liable for damage caused abroad by companies under their control (unless they can demonstrate that they carried out appropriate due diligence) is a new discussion.

New approaches in terms of international law, national law and the regulation of business have become a hot topic in corporate circles and also for governments and NGOs.

For more information on this topic please read more on the BSL blog on Business and Human Rights.

Author: Mary Mayenfisch-Tobin, BCL, LL.M, Solicitor
marymayenfish

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