This week, Prof. John Ruggie, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, released the final version of his Guiding Principles – the culmination of six years of work on the question of what and how human rights obligations apply to businesses.  I will review the final GPs in this post and two that will follow next week.

ERI commented extensively on the discussion draft of the GPs, which was circulated back in December.  In particular, we were pleased to see that Prof. Ruggie had taken a holistic approach to the issue of business and human rights, recognizing that both states and enterprises have the ability to infringe on the full range of internationally recognized human rights and, therefore, have parallel responsibilities to prevent human rights impacts and remediate them when they occur.  We voiced concern, however, on a number of points.

In the final version of the GPs, Prof. Ruggie addresses some of ERI’s recommendations.  Notably, the final version clarifies that enterprises should avoid involvement in all gross human rights abuses, rather than limiting its scope to the somewhat debatable category of international crimes; that states may incur international liability when businesses they own or control commit abuses; and that states may have an affirmative obligation to enact laws to protect human rights.

On the other hand, Prof. Ruggie declined to take up ERI’s invitation to make clear the fact that international law does, in some cases, extend direct obligations to corporations. (Specifically, that international law imposes on legal persons the same obligations that apply to natural persons.)  Instead, Prof. Ruggie chose to focus on a non-legal corporate “responsibility to respect” and did not address enterprises’ legal obligations at all.  (More on this in a future post.)