Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ruggie presentation to UK human rights committee

Here is a presentation by UN Special Representative on Human Rights John Ruggie to the UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights. They have the same debate there as we do here on voluntary vs. mandatory standards.  I disagree with Ruggie on international standards, but he does criticize a country's reliance on voluntary guidelines.   Here's an excerpt: 
On the other side, companies advocating pure voluntarism have not explained how to reach sufficient scale to make a difference, or how to pull laggards along.

Governments advocating voluntarism often fail to provide even non-legal guidance or incentives for companies to respect human rights, thereby implying that voluntary standards have little if any practical consequence. Furthermore, they do business no great favor by failing to provide adequate assistance to companies, especially when they operate in tough environments, such as areas in conflict or otherwise weak governance zones—which is where companies have done the greatest human rights harm and run into the most trouble. In the end, policies of voluntarism are often indistinguishable from laissez-faire—that is to say, they are not policies at all.

Quite apart from legal requirements, companies have a social responsibility to respect human rights. However, relatively few companies have systems in place that enable them to demonstrate their respect for rights. What is required, therefore, is an ongoing process of human rights due diligence whereby companies become aware of, prevent, and mitigate adverse human rights impacts.

This is yet another example of why the distinction between voluntary and mandatory can be misleading: there is nothing “voluntary” about conducting due diligence for companies claiming 2
to respect rights, because there simply isn’t any other way to demonstrate it. This is not a matter of law but of logic.

We need to agree that a smart mix of measures—national and international, mandatory and voluntary—is required and get on with practical problem solving.

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