Now fast forward three years. In 2008 the Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed a conceptual and policy framework I proposed to better manage business and human rights issues. And it extended my mandate to 2011, with the task of operationalizing the framework.
The framework rests on three pillars: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others; and greater access by victims to effective remedy.
So, with the understanding that the corporate responsibility to respect human rights is but one component in a wider system of preventative and remedial measures, let me elaborate upon it here.
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect
The term “responsibility” to respect rather than “duty” is meant to indicate that respecting rights is not an obligation current international human rights law generally imposes directly on companies, although elements may be reflected in domestic laws, including labor law. At the international level it is a standard of expected conduct acknowledged in virtually every voluntary and soft-law instrument related to corporate responsibility, and affirmed by the Council itself when it welcomed the framework.
The corporate responsibility to respect human rights means to avoid infringing on the rights of others, and addressing adverse impacts that may occur. This responsibility exists independently of States’ human rights duties. It applies to all companies in all situations. As a joint statement by the IOE, ICC and BIAC has made clear, it exists even if national laws are poorly enforced, or not at all.
The scope of a company’s responsibility to respect is defined by the actual and potential human rights impacts generated through its own business activities and through its relationships with other parties—such as business partners, entities in its value chain, other non-State actors, and State agents.
Because companies can affect virtually the entire spectrum of internationally recognized rights, the corporate responsibility to respect applies to all such rights. In practice, some rights will be more relevant than others to particular industries and circumstances, and they will be the focus of attention.