Just Business, Not As Usual |

Just Business, Not As Usual

Informally known as the “Ruggie Rules”, the groundbreaking “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” outlines how governments and businesses should implement the framework to better manage business and human rights challenges.

Prof. Ruggie said these have implications for governance and study of public policy. Beyond conventional remedies such as treaties and voluntary initiatives, he said there had been “no silver bullet”, as these were limited, at the discretion of companies, and lacked external accountability.

A byproduct of globalization

In April 2013, the devastating Savar building collapse in Bangladesh brought modern-day slave labour to global headlines. Pointing out that “it was everybody’s fault”, Prof. Ruggie cited inadequate safety and labour protection, and corruption in the government, noting that many of the factory owners were also in parliament. He also noted a “pressure to produce” by brands and their limited willingness to improve production.

Even as deregulation, privatization, and bilateral treaties have expanded both the rights and ability of businesses to operate globally and tied nations closer than ever, social and environmental regulations have not kept pace. Prof. Ruggie called this an “asymmetry of increasingly integrated markets, as fragmented regulatory authorities lagging behind”.

He clarified that the Guiding Principles was not to invent new standards. Rather, it was “to elaborate the meanings and implications of current standards—that we as governments and businesses should support.”

He said, “What we essentially did was to address the question of how. International labour rights and the need to respond to complaints are there, but what was lacking was an authoritative standard on how to do those on a global scale.”

The “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework and “due diligence”

Explaining the framework, Prof. Ruggie said states are required to protect against human rights abuses, not only by state agents, but also by third parties. This also pertains to companies, except that most international law may not apply for companies. “Remedy” refers to judicial remedy by the state and non-judicial grievance mechanisms.

While governments had to address legal obligations and policy rationales, businesses face operational risks increasingly imposing costs. Pointing out the limitations of UN implementation mechanisms, Prof. Ruggie said, “We started to collaborate with other international standard-setting bodies that have better leverage… We wanted to make certain guiding principles has life beyond the domain of the UN.”

For example, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)’s new ISO 26000 derived its human rights chapter from the Guiding Principles. The International Finance Corporation now explicitly references to the business responsibility to respect human rights in terms of tracking private sector banks.

Creating a ripple effect, guiding principles has filtered into national regulations as well. For example, on 23 May this year, the US government mandated that all US businesses investing more than US$500,000 must report annually on their policies, including those on human rights.

China, which bans the social media site within their own borders, has engaged the news media as a way to reach citizens amidst backlash to its mining plans; it set up a Facebook page in Myanmar. Prof. Ruggie said this (Sinopec and China) is a persuasive example to any community still uncertain of taking human rights issues seriously.

Quoting Gao Mingbo, head of the political section at the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, he said, “Companies must retain support of the local communities. If you don’t walk the walk, and just talk the talk, you won’t win the hearts and minds of the local people.”

As judicial remedies continue to evolve, he said the preventative concept of due diligence requirements is becoming a standard operating procedure. “Governments find it easier to tell businesses what to prevent. Civil governance are inclined to these because it avoids problems to begin with; and corporate governance finds it reduces risks of getting involved with human rights abuses.”


On 11 June, the LKY School hosted Prof. John G. Ruggie, Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School in a public lecture “Just Business, Not As Usual”.

Prof. Ruggie developed the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework that led to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In July 2011, the Principles were unanimously endorsed, establishing an authoritative global standard on the respective roles of business and governments for ensuring business respect for human rights.

The lecture was chaired by Prof. Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the LKY School.


The writer, , is Editor for Global-is-Asian, the quarterly magazine of the LKY School.

Synopsis:

Do the responsibilities of business include upholding human rights? What are the respective obligations of governments, brands and suppliers to protect and respect these rights, and to provide remedy when they are abused?

In light of the recent tragedies in garment factories in Bangladesh, where over 1,500 workers have died in building collapses and fires, these questions have become ever more pertinent and urgent.

Prof. John Ruggie was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights. He led the creation of the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework that led to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In 2011, the Principles were unanimously endorsed, thereby establishing an authoritative global standard on the respective roles of business and governments for ensuring business respect for human rights.

Will these Guiding Principles change the way that business is conducted? Will they change the way governments regulate business? Prof. Ruggie will address these questions in his Public Lecture at the LKY School.

Please click here for more details.

Speaker(s):

Prof. John G. Ruggie, Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Date:
Tuesday, 11 June 2013
Time:
5:15 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Venue:

Lobby, Oei Tiong Ham Building,
NUS Bukit Timah Campus,
469C Bukit Timah Road,
Singapore 259772

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