Centre for Business & Human Rights

Human rights are basic rights to secure dignity and equality for all. They have the following characteristics –

Universal - applied to everyone;

Inalienable - can neither be taken away or given up;

Indivisible - there is no hierarchy among rights;

Interdependent and interrelated - violation of one right affects other rights

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948 as a common standard for all people of all nations. The UDHR consists of 30 articles and has been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, economic transfers, etc. The UDHR does not have the force of law, but is codified in international law by two covenants (1966) on civil and political rights; and social and cultural rights. The UDHR and these two covenants form the International Bill of Human Rights and nations have the primary duty to look after human rights.

History and Evolution

1964 - first UNCTAD conference held in Geneva for greater engagement of newly independent nations in global trade.

1970s - Sullivan Principles promote corporate social responsibility to apply economic pressure on South Africa against its policy of apartheid; MacBride Principles are a corporate code of conduct consisting of nine fair employment principles for U.S. companies dong business with Northern Ireland.

1976 - OECD guidelines for MNEs.

Early 1990s - ESCAP requested the Secretary General to constitute a Group of Eminent Persons to study the impact of MNCs on economic development and international relations. The Group recommended formulation of a code of conduct for TNCs containing rights and responsibilities of TNCs and host governments in relation to each other. No agreement could be reached and was dissolved in 1994.

1998 - UN Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of HRs established a Working Group on TNCs and the WG developed norms of responsibilities of TNCs and OBEs in 2003. In 2004 the Commission resolved that the norms had no legal standing.

2000 - Kofi Annan launches the UN Global Compact (UNGC) consisting of 10 principles in areas of HRs, labour, environment and anti-corruption. The Indian chapter is called Global Compact Network India (GCNI) and was registered in 2003. The GCNI works with businesses, academic institutions and civil society organizations to strengthen responsible business initiatives.

2005 - Kofi Anan initiates development of Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) with a group of world’s largest institutional investors. The idea underlying the PRIs is that economic, social and governance (ESG) affect investment, therefore, should be considered alongside conventional financial factors. There are six principles and they provide a global framework for mainstreaming investors to consider these issue. These principles were launched in the NYSE in 2006

2011 - United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP) launched. In 2005 Kofi Anan appointed Prof. John Ruggie as a UN Special Representative (UNSG) who followed an approach of “principled pragmatism” and presented the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework to the UN Human Rights Council. This framework provides a conceptual architecture and outlined the roles of the businesses and governments for human rights. These became the UNGP in 2011. These are as set of 31 principles directed at nations and companies and describe their roles and responsibilities. These principles form the first globally accepted human rights framework that for preventing and addressing adverse human rights impacts linked to business activities. The PRR framework is described below:

Protect - nations should protect human right abuses by third parties, including businesses through
appropriate policies, regulation and adjudication.

Respect - corporates should act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address
adverse impacts that occur.

Remedy - greater access to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial.

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