Thursday, August 07, 2008

Business and Human Rights To the Fore

An International Seminar on Business and Human Rights will be held in Paris December 4 and 5 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and chair of the Ethical Globalization Initiative, will chair the two-day seminar. Speakers will include Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, and John Ruggie, the UN General Secretary’s Special Representative on Human Rights and Business.

The purpose of the seminar, according to its announcement, is to review progress made on business and human rights and to “chart developments ahead.” Participants are expected to include “business, political, civil society, and trade union leaders as well as diverse learning from around the world.”

The December seminar is different from a “multi-stakeholder” consultation to be sponsored by the Human Rights Council at a date not yet determined. Its purpose, under the mandate for Ruggie that the Council adopted in June, is “to discuss ways and means to operationalize” the conceptual and action plan that the Council also adopted in June.

In the words of that mandate, the consultation will bring together Ruggie, “States, and business representatives and all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations and representatives of victims of corporate abuse.”

The agendas of the two meetings overlap, without duplicating each other. Many leaders will participate in both events.

As described in its newly released paper, Amnesty International, whose French branch belongs to the steering committee organizing the December seminar, endorses the work of Special Representative Ruggie and also offers him a full agenda of work that still needs to be done.

One important area is that of “extraterritorial dimensions of the state duty to protect,” which Ruggie has already studied at length. Amnesty urges him to plunge in further, and explains why:

“The protection of human rights is undermined, because both company structure and globalized company operations facilitate corporate evasion of state jurisdiction…The legal framework regulating TNCs has not kept pace with the realities of globalization. This is in contrast to economic law, which is increasingly protecting economic interests beyond individual states’ jurisdictions.”

“Amnesty International,” it says in its paper, “is skeptical of the arguments of group that oppose extra-territorial regulation on the one hand, while fully supporting the development of international law and enforcement mechanisms in the areas of trade and investment on the other.”

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