Saturday, April 24, 2010

Judges and their role in human rights violations by global firms

Governments need to improve the access that the judiciary gives to victims of corporate-related human rights abuses in the global economy. That was a key message of a new report by John Ruggie, UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights.

Ruggie has a mandate to “operationalize” the human rights principles for business approved unanimously by the UN Human Rights Council two years ago. In the 126 paragraphs of his latest report, dated April 9, the 10 paragraphs devoted to “Judicial Mechanisms” for access to remedies are one of the two longest sections.

Essential to improving access to judicial remedy, Ruggie emphasizes, is that “both States and companies act in a manner supportive of the independence and integrity of judicial systems.

Three practical obstacles can “make it almost impossible for victims to access” even an effective judiciary:

-- Costs of legal advice and of the case itself should the claimant prove unsuccessful.
-- Limitations on “standing” (on who can bring a suit) and on the ability to bring group claims for compensation. Many instances of corporate-related harm involve a large number of indiidual claims that are grounded on the same underlying set of facts, each of which are too costly for a single claimant to pursue.
-- Disincentives – financial, social, and political – for lawyers to represent claimants in this area.
In the paragraph that concludes this section, Ruggie writes: “Governments often point to the mere existence of judicial systems as proof that they are fulfilling their duty to protect. But, as the above discussion demonstrates, much more is needed.”

Then, in summing up all the types of “mechanisms” – State-based, judicial and non-judicial, company-based, as well as collaborative and international -- for obtaining remedies, Ruggie points out:

“Reality falls far short of constituting a comprehensive and inclusive system of remedy for victims of corporate-related human rights abuse.”

Read the full report at

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