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UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

This resource is the global authoritative standard on the business responsibility to respect human rights, unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.

June 2011 | John G. Ruggie; United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights | Pages: 42

Also see our primer page on the Guiding Principles for a quick guide to what is critical to know about the Principles.

Where Do the UN Guiding Principles Come From?

The UNGPs were developed over the course of six years under my mandate as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights. They were built on extensive research and nearly 50 international consultations on every continent, and were unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, describes the UNGPs as “the global authoritative standard, providing a blueprint for the steps all states and businesses should take to uphold human rights.” The Economist has referred to them as a “watershed event” in putting human rights more firmly on the business agenda.

What Do the UNGPs Cover?

The UNGPs are built on the three-pillar “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework:

  • States have a duty to protect human rights through policies, regulation, legislation and effective enforcement | See our resources on Pillar I
  • Enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights: that is, to avoid people’s human rights being harmed through their activities or business relationships, and to address harms that do occur | See our resources on Pillar II
  • Where individuals’ human rights are harmed, they should have access to effective remedy: both states and enterprises have a role to play in enabling this | See our resources on Pillar III

What Does the Responsibility to Respect Human Rights Mean for Enterprises?

In order to “know and show” that it respects human rights, an enterprise should have in place:

What Are the Ways in Which Enterprises Can Be Involved With Negative Human Rights Impacts?

Resources on determinining whether the company caused, contributed or is linked to negative human rights impacts

  • They may cause negative impacts, for example if employees are injured due to unsafe working conditions, or if they displace communities from their lands and livelihoods without due process and adequate compensation;
  • They may contribute to negative impacts, for example if their purchasing practices incentivize suppliers to force workers into unpaid overtime to meet contractual requirements, or if multiple companies drain or pollute the water resources essential for local communities’ drinking supply;
  • They may be linked to negative impacts, for example if forced labor or child labor is used to make their products, or if customer privacy is breached by a service provider or government, despite the company’s efforts to avoid these outcomes.
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