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UN Guiding Principles

2004 session, the Norms were put on hold, and by 2006 they were abandoned entirely.

B. The Creation of the UN Framework and Guiding Principles

It was during the time that the Norms were be- ing sent to their grave that Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General, appointed John Ruggie - a re- spected member of the human rights community – as the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights to address the key issues in the business-human rights debate and to create a responsive UN mandate. In June 2008, after three years of consultations, research, and draft- ing, Ruggie presented his final product to the Hu- man Rights Council: The “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework (UN Framework).3

The UN

Framework established three separate pillars - protect, respect, remedy - under which business and human rights could be reconciled. The first pillar, the State’s duty to protect, addresses the “governance gap,” which the Framework de- scribes as the “root cause of the business and human rights predicament today.”4

The second

pillar describes the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. The third pillar speaks to the need for access to both state sponsored and non-state remedies to corporate human rights violations.

Initial response to the UN Framework by mem- bers of the business, human rights, and govern- ment communities was overwhelmingly positive. Some viewed the Framework as a “new consen- sus” between human rights activists and busi- ness leaders.5

Despite this positive reception,

human rights activists received the Framework with some caution, stressing that the Framework alone was not enough and that the UN should create a “follow-on mandate.”6

C. The Guiding Principles

Given the generally positive response to the UN Framework, the Human Rights Council unani- mously welcomed the Framework. But based

on the repeated recommendation to elaborate upon the Framework, the Human Rights Coun- cil “extended the Special Representative’s man- date until 2011 with the task of ‘operationalizing’ and ‘promoting’ the framework.”7

The result of

the three additional years of consultation was the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Pro- tect, Respect, and Remedy’ Framework (Guiding Principles).8

Divided between the three pillars of

the UN Framework, the Guiding Principles spell out 31 specific principles to assist governments and businesses in fulfilling their responsibilities under the UN Framework.

While the UN Framework received near univer- sal praise, human rights groups were more criti- cal of the Guiding Principles. Specifically, human rights advocates found the Guiding Principles to be a “weak mechanism that created no real ob- ligations for corporations.”9

Although the Guiding

Principles are indeed voluntary guidelines and are in no way enforceable, they did succeed, unlike the failed Norms, in gaining support from both member-states of the United Nations and mem- bers of the business community. Therefore, per- haps the Guiding Principles’ greatest weakness - their lack of enforceability - is also their greatest strength because had they been more demand- ing on business, they likely would have met the same fate as the Norms.


Before discussing how economically oriented intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) could im- prove the effectiveness of the Guiding Principles, it is important to briefly touch on the weaknesses of the United Nations as the leader of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The CSR movement that began in the late 1960s, describes a system of self-regulation through which businesses en- sure that their activities are ethical, lawful, and responsive to all stakeholders. Although the Unit-

ILSA Quarterly » volume 22 » issue 1 » October 2013 27

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