Ruggie on Human Rights and Recession

Professor John Ruggie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, has recently submitted an update on his work to the UN’s Human Rights Council. This latest report includes a section on the impact of the economic crisis on the human rights responsibility of business. A key passage:

However painful the near-term may be, going forward elements of the business and human rights agenda should become more closely aligned with the world’s overall economic policy agenda than in recent decades. Governments once championing neo-liberal economic doctrines have been reminded starkly that they have duties no other social actor can fulfil, resulting in a recalibration of the balance between market and State. For other countries, the need to deepen their domestic markets will require greater attention to social investments and safety nets,thereby fostering their citizens’ fuller realization of certain economic and social rights.

Companies have had to acknowledge that business as usual is not good enough for anybody,including business itself, and that they must better integrate societal concerns into theirlong-term strategic goals. Society as a whole cries out for remedy where wrong has been done.

The terms transparency and accountability resonate more widely than before. And calls for fairness are more insistent. Because the business and human rights agenda is tightly connected to these shifts, it both contributes to and gains from a successful transition toward a more inclusiveand sustainable model of economic growth.

However painful the near-term may be, going forward elements of the business and human
rights agenda should become more closely aligned with the world’s overall economic policy
agenda than in recent decades. Governments once championing neo-liberal economic doctrines
have been reminded starkly that they have duties no other social actor can fulfil, resulting in a
recalibration of the balance between market and State. For other countries, the need to deepen
their domestic markets will require greater attention to social investments and safety nets,
thereby fostering their citizens’ fuller realization of certain economic and social rights.
Companies have had to acknowledge that business as usual is not good enough for anybody,
including business itself, and that they must better integrate societal concerns into their
long-term strategic goals. Society as a whole cries out for remedy where wrong has been done.
The terms transparency and accountability resonate more widely than before. And calls for
fairness are more insistent. Because the business and human rights agenda is tightly connected to
these shifts, it both contributes to and gains from a successful transition toward a more inclusive
and sustainable model of economic growth.

BSR’s Faris Natour adds his take on Professor Ruggie’s work.

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