UN Guiding Principles – White Paper


In November 2010 UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Business published a draft of Guidance Principles for business and human rights. The draft is detailed, comprehensive and a valuable resource. It is most lacking on the subject of transparency. Nomogaia’s comments to this effect are below.


Between 2005 and 2011, the United Nations (UN), through the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for business and human rights, John Ruggie, developed a framework to incorporate multinational corporations into the human rights regime. The comprehensive and universally embraced 2008 Framework for Human Rights and Business, and the 2011 Guiding Principles that followed, reaffirm the state’s continued duty to protect and promote human rights and define the duty of business enterprises to respect human rights.

To demonstrate that they respect human rights, companies are to conduct “human rights due diligence.” In tandem, governments are urged to develop mechanisms to ensure that corporate actors do not violate human rights and to provide remedies if or when they do.2 This multifaceted duty to protect is challenging and complex for states, particularly those new to the concept of corporate human rights responsibilities. Guidance from a well-respected international body, such as the UN, is necessary to ensure implementation of comprehensive and universal human rights due diligence standards in domestic legislation.

The following paper reviews the legal and practical precedent for the UN taking on such a guiding role. The UN has prior practice issuing comprehensive legislative guides on subjects needing universal, standardized law. In addition, the UN has already begun providing guidance on human rights due diligence as it applies to indigenous rightsholders. The development of standardized human rights due diligence laws is crucial to ensuring corporate respect for human rights; the UN’s strong ties to national governments and longstanding authority in the human rights arena best positions it to provide guidance to states on how to effectively do so.

In providing public guidance to states on model corporate human rights due diligence, the UN would not be creating new human rights obligations but would instead be assisting states to meet existing obligations in the new context of business. Further, with the UN’s guidance, human rights due diligence regulations could be built into existing frameworks for impact assessment and monitoring that many states have already established.

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