Press Conference by Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations, Other Business Enterprises

22 October 2009

Press Conference by Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations, Other Business Enterprises

22 October 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human

Rights and Transnational Corporations, Other Business Enterprises

“There isn’t an internationally recognized right that some company somewhere hasn’t violated,” John Ruggie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, said today during a Headquarters press conference.

He was referring to the findings from a study of two-year’s worth of public allegations against companies, which had looked for patterns of human rights violations by them.  That study was one of many carried out under Mr. Ruggie’s mandate, which had originally been established by the Commission on Human Rights, in 2005, and was subsequently extended by the Human Rights Council. 

Mr. Ruggie was in New York presenting his latest report, which proposed a framework for business and human rights, to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (see Press Release GA/SHC/3957).  That framework had been unanimously welcomed by the Human Rights Council in June of 2008.  He summed up the basic points of that proposal in three words: “protect; respect; and remedy”. 

He explained that a State’s duty to protect meant that it must take steps to prevent, investigate, redress and punish abuse by third parties, including businesses.  Corporate responsibility to respect meant acting with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others.  And finally, remedy meant providing victims with access to both courts and non-judicial grievance mechanisms, such as mediation services or on site grievance procedures.

The kinds of problems the Special Representative looked at included:  sweat shop conditions in factories supplying global brands; the forcible displacement of communities for mining operations or oil facilities; 7-year olds working on sugar plantations for food and beverages firms; and the collaboration of companies with paramilitary forces that were guarding their assets and, in the process, killing labour organizers.

The “worst of the worst” abuses took place in conflict zones, where there was fighting over territory or over the Government itself, he continued.  Such situations attracted illicit enterprises but could even draw recognized corporations into serious human rights abuses, such as complicity in forced labour and genocide. 

He told correspondents that a small but representative group of countries would be joining the Special Representative, in early December, for an informal, off-the-record “brainstorming session”, to find, based on their experience, practical, administrative and legal measures that could be proposed to the Human Rights Council for such conflict zones.

Even before the framework had been made fully operational, a number of Governments and official entities had already applied it in a variety of ways, he said.  Norway and South Africa, for example, had used the framework to do their own human rights policy assessments.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was also looking at updating its own Guidelines for Multinational Corporations in line with the framework.  The OECD Guidelines already had a complaints mechanism attached to them, Mr. Ruggie noted.  Similar projects were under way with the European Union and a number of regional organizations in the developing world, he said.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.