The Business and Human Rights movement finds itself at interesting crossroads.
On the one hand, there is a push to create a binding treaty governing business and human rights. In June last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council resolved to “to establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group with the mandate to elaborate an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights” (see here). Quite what the parameters of this treaty might be, how it would address standard issues like extraterritoriality, and its relationship with overlapping initiatives and fields is still unclear, but the idea itself is momentous.
At the same time, there are several new initiatives that seek to address “gross” corporate violations of human rights and/or international crimes. Also in June last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously approved a parallel project “[r]equest[ing] the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue the work on domestic law remedies to address corporate involvement in gross human rights abuses, and to organize consultations with experts, States and other relevant stakeholders”. The OHCHR’s program of work for this project, to which I will contribute, is available here.
Similarly, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable has launched a separate but related project on corporate crimes that are linked to human rights abuses (see here). Whereas the OHCHR’s project focuses on “gross” human rights violations, the ICAR variant is concerned with corporate crime, including but not limited to corporate responsibility for international crimes. This project, that I’m also privileged to participate in, involves an Independent Commission of Experts comprised of Canadian Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie, Alex Whiting at Harvard, Anita Ramasastry at the University of Washington and others.
Finally, all of these new undertakings exist in the wake of Professor John Ruggie’s groundbreaking work developing the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. As is well known, in 2005, Professor Ruggie was appointed UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Business and Human Rights. After six years of work, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved his Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Together with helpful commentaries, these have created the dominant paradigm for processing corporate engagement with human rights, setting the backdrop for all these newer initiatives and programs.
But what sense to make of these projects as an ensemble? In particular, how do they sit with core philosophical, political and historical ideas about international human rights law generally? On a wider level, how do they relate to one another, cognate fields like international criminal law, or social processes? In this symposium, I invite some of the very best scholars in the world to address these questions. I start by posting Professor Ruggie’s closing plenary remarks to United Nations Forum on Business & Human Rights in Geneva on December 4, 2014. Then, I ask a set of leading commentators, from different disciplinary backgrounds and with varied political aspirations, to react to his statement. Finally, Professor Ruggie offers a response to these commentators.
In my opinion, the result is a rich scholarly exchange on issues of major contemporary importance. JGS