Anna Triponel | 24 September 2021
Over the past week, we have mourned John Ruggie’s death, and learned more about his contributions as a political scientist, to the business and human rights world and to the world at large. John has touched millions of lives through his work, and his legacy will live on. As a recently-graduated lawyer, who had decided to commit her life to business and human rights and yet was entirely unsure about how to do this, meeting John – and having the privilege of working with him – changed the course of my life forever.
John always took the time to support and empower younger talent. Whether it was taking the time to be interviewed for student research, giving feedback on ideas and articles, or supporting someone’s professional growth, John was incredibly generous with his time. I’ve heard of even more stories since his untimely death, of how he consistently sought to empower, uplift and amplify other, more junior, people’s work. He was a great source of inspiration to me in my work, and helped me at critical junctures. For instance, when I started a weekly listserv, he encouraged me to continue it at a time when I was unsure of its impact. I will miss his vision and insight, as I know many other professionals who had the privilege of knowing him will too.
John forged consensus – even where there appeared to be none to forge. No one else could have pulled off the feat that he did. Looking back now, it can be easy to take the existence of the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for granted. That companies are expected to take steps to respect people in their operations and along their value chain seems quite logical. Yet, this was not so at the time of John’s UN mandate. Watching John in action was a case of ‘watch and learn’ – and learn we all did. He would listen deeply to people’s comments, and care deeply about forging a consensus. He was humble yet powerful; he was inclusive yet authoritative. When John was in the room, it felt like everything was possible. And it somehow always was.
John’s sense of humour was off the charts. I would be emailing with John about a serious matter – like a new court case, or a new law – and I would suddenly burst out laughing when opening his email response. In addition to his creative intellectual thinking, he always had a witty or unexpected comment or emoji to share. I can probably say that I have never laughed so spontaneously at someone’s emails as at John’s. It was inspiring to see him combine meaty and challenging topics with laughter and joy.
John put people first, as was clear in the UN Guiding Principles that he created. In his lifetime, he saw the immense impact he had on the world through his professional writings and his work. He saw that the spirit of the UNGPs would continue through the business and human rights community – including through the organisation he chaired, Shift. And he touched countless professional lives. I feel honoured and privileged that mine was one of them. John laid the foundations for a rights-respecting business world, and now it’s up to us to continue on the path he set out for us. My thoughts are with Mary and Andreas Ruggie and other family members at this time.
Anna Triponel is a business and human rights advisor at Triponel Consulting and Senior Advisor at Shift. She was a consultant at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, providing input into the work of John Ruggie to develop the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.