On the Margins of Profit …

… Rights at Risk in the Global Economy

Published on Human Rights Watch, Volume 20, No. 3(G), 54 pdf-pages, by CHR&GJ, February 2008 – Download the HRW-report.

An excerpt, page 50: … Conclusion: Companies create jobs and economic opportunities, and can be a positive force for human rights improvements when they engage in responsible practices. They also can act in a way that is neutral with regard to human rights. Yet, too often, as the examples in this report illustrate, business actors themselves engage in abusive behavior or contribute to human rights violations, often with lasting effects on individuals and communities the world over.

Globalization has led to widespread growth in commerce and the reach of business, but human rights protections have lagged behind. There are no clear, common rules to prevent business-related human rights abuses and provide adequate remedies and reparation when they occur.

The scope of abuses points to the need to develop global standards that define a common benchmark for business conduct. Such standards would not only motivate businesses to reform their practices, but also would help ensure that governments do more to prevent and punish business-related abuses. Ultimately, of course, what is needed is not merely better standards setting common rules for business conduct or more vigorous state enforcement of laws and regulations, though both are essential, but concerted action by all relevant actors to ensure that business activities do not impede the enjoyment of human rights.

This report has sought to contribute to an improved understanding of the impact of business activities on the rights of individuals and communities. Many colleague organizations, scholars, and other experts are working toward the same end. Greater awareness of business-related abuses and the harm suffered by the victims, it is hoped, will help spur action to meaningfully address the problem.

(In mid-2008, the United Nations special representative on business and human rights, John Ruggie, is anticipated to issue his final report and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. That occasion provides an important opportunity for the Council to reflect on the subject of business and human rights and consider next steps. Over 200 civil society groups and individuals wrote to Prof. Ruggie in October 2007 to convey their views and suggestions. Joint letter from civil society groups and concerned individuals to John Ruggie, first issued on October 10, 2007, with 141 signatories and updated on October 25, 2007, to reflect an additional 100 signatories, . Prof. Ruggie’s response, dated October 15, 2007, is available here).

Human Rights Watch February 2008: Human Rights Watch and CHRGJ, along with other non-governmental organizations and institutions, recognize the need for a variety of efforts on several fronts, including within companies, industries, and countries—to strengthen the protection of human rights in relation to business activities. Yet unless these diverse efforts can be made more consistent and effective, unless they are fully aligned with human rights principles, and unless they are far-reaching in their application, they will continue to fail to protect individuals and communities from harm. For that reason, we believe that a UN declaration or other international instrument that defines a common benchmark for business conduct is essential. Clearly articulated and widely endorsed global standards would create a framework for concerted action to ensure that business behavior around the world is human rights compliant.

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