UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

The UN Guiding Principles 

In June 2011, in an unprecedented step, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed a set of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Guiding Principles establish an authoritative global standard on the respective roles of businesses and governments in helping ensure that companies respect human rights in their own operations and through their business relationships. 

The UN "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework 

The Guiding Principles were developed by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie of Harvard Kennedy School, over the six years of his UN mandate from 2005 to 2011. They elaborate on the three pillars of the UN "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework that Prof. Ruggie proposed to the Human Rights Council in 2008. The three pillars of the Framework are:

  • The state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication;
  • The corporate responsibility to respect human rights, that is, to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and address adverse impacts with which they are involved; and
  • The need for greater access by victims to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial.

As Prof. Ruggie stated when presenting the Guiding Principles to the UN Human Rights Council: "Each pillar is an essential component in an inter-related and dynamic system of preventative and remedial measures: the State duty to protect because it lies at the very core of the international human rights regime; the corporate responsibility to respect because it is the basic expectation society has of business in relation to human rights; and access to remedy because even the most concerted efforts cannot prevent all abuse." 

From Pillars to Principles 

The Guiding Principles spell out the implications of the three pillars of the Framework for governments, businesses and other stakeholders. They are based on extensive research and consultations with representatives from governments, business, civil society organizations, and legal and academic experts across all continents, gaining broad acceptance and support. 

From Principles to Practice 

The Guiding Principles have played a key role in the development of similar standards by other international and regional organizations, leading to global convergence around the standards they set out. The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is reflected in the updated Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in the human rights chapter of the Guidance on Social Responsibility from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 26000), and in the revised Sustainability Framework and Performance Standards of the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group). 

At the regional level, the European Commission's 2011 Communication on Corporate Social Responsibility calls on all European businesses to meet their responsibility to respect human rights, as set out in the UN Guiding Principles. When the Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles, at the end of Prof. Ruggie's mandate, they also created a 5 member expert Working Group on Business and Human Rights to help implement and disseminate the Principles. The UN Guiding Principles are applicable to all governments and to all businesses in all situations. We believe that the greatest challenge now is ensuring that the Guiding Principles are effectively implemented and generate real change on the ground, to the benefit of individuals' enjoyment of human rights around the world. Shift aims to make a leading contribution to meeting this shared challenge.