Week of 14 June 2021
What has changed in the 10 years since the UNGPs were endorsed, and where do we go from here?
Our key takeaway: Over the course of a decade, the UNGPs have completely reshaped what it means for business to address impacts on people, but the path forward requires leaning in even further on access to remedy, bridging governance gaps and breaking down siloes with the climate and environment and sustainable development agendas.
Marking the 10th anniversary of the endorsement of the ground-breaking UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights published a stock-taking report on the status of UNGPs implementation. Below are some of the overarching findings:
- The “normative clarification” of the concept of human rights due diligence (HRDD) over the past decade is “the most influential contribution of the UNGPs.” The UNGPs not only outlined the core elements of HRDD—identify, prevent and mitigate adverse impacts, and account for how they are addressed—but also established HRDD as the “cornerstone of the business responsibility to respect human rights.” Since 2011, the HRDD framework has given rise to existing and emerging regulations on business, human rights and the environment. What’s more, “the uptake of the human rights due diligence standard by organizations framing and influencing business operations and decision-making in different regimes has created what can be best described as a consolidated web of pressure, where a range of different actors are mandating or incentivizing business to respect human rights.”
- Despite exponential progress in key areas, some challenges have persisted and new obstacles have arisen—showing that the journey is far from complete. One of the most troubling issues is the lack of access to remedy and justice for people harmed by companies. Barriers to remedy are not unique to a handful of the most regressive legal systems, but are in fact ubiquitous across the globe. Despite some courtroom successes for victims of corporate abuses, especially in recent years, more work needs to be done by governments and companies alike to facilitate remedy. Another challenge is a continued, fundamental “disconnect between improvements at the policy level and human rights due diligence in business practice.” Finally, “the key standards of the UNGPs have been largely absent” from other global policy agendas like the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement—all the more significant because “the due diligence standard and the accountability focus of the UNGPs make them a valuable framework for practical achievement of a ‘just transition’ to a green economy.”
- We are not yet on a linear path forward and progress needs to happen on multiple different fronts. For one, governments need to push forward with not only regulation but other policy tools to “incentivize responsible business.” There is also “a need to leverage the financial sector and the momentum of the increasing focus” on ESG among mainstream investors. For their part, companies will need to recognise the ways in which their own business models and practices (e.g. supply chain purchasing practices) contribute to human rights harms, and disclose more about their efforts to respect human rights—including actual outcomes on the ground.
And because we are celebrating an anniversary after all, we’re providing you with the gift of a longer update for this one! Here are some of the things we’ve been reading and listening to this week as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the UNGPs:
- Video statements about the UNGPs from global leaders across government, the UN, civil society, trade unions and industry associations, available on the landing page for the UNGPs 10+ project
- A new Shift podcast series, Building Bridges for Impact; the series kicks off with “A Conversation with Professor John Ruggie” as its first episode
- Francis West, The Quiet Radicalism of the Responsibility to Respect: The Striking Progress and Untapped Potential of the UNGPs ten years later
- UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Taking Stock of Investor Implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Addendum report)
- Global Business Initiative on Human Rights, podcast: 10 key insights about the UNGPs at 10, in 10 minutes with Andrea Shemberg
- Olivier de Schutter, Towards a social economy: The next generation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
For more, see Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights at Ten: Taking Stock of the First Decade. Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, A/HRC/47/39 (June 2021)