UN Guidelines leads the way for Business and States but were to?

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

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After six months stakeholder communication is the UN guiding principles for Human and Labour Rights finally finished. The aim was to create some form of standard which both business, countries and not least NGO and CSO could positive respond to. In total has the principles been under way for about six years with several draft and papers for discussion been issued during the period.

Again it is the three guiding principles that Ruggi presented some three years ago that makes up the cornerstone of the work, Protect, Respect and Remedy. 

The principles are interpreted as “The Guiding Principles highlight what steps States should take to foster business respect for human rights; provide a blueprint for companies to know and show that they respect human rights, and reduce the risk of causing or contributing to human rights harm; and constitute a set of benchmarks for stakeholders to assess business respect for human rights.”

The principles are organized under the UN Framework’s three pillars:

  • The State Duty to Protect Human Rights
  • The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights
  • The need for greater Access to Remedy for victims of business-related abuse.


While states are a fairly established entity on this planet there are still debate what role business should take. To what degree do we want corporation to take over some of the functions that we normally contribute to the umbrella of responsibility of the state? In the framework presented is “The role of business enterprises as specialized organs of society performing specialized functions, required to comply with all applicable laws and to respect human rights.” Of cause referring to the functions of business in relation to the three principles described. With this description we can’t narrow the responsibility to just organizations operating within an economic rational but must include organizations as a whole in whatever form they take. The principles go further and state “These Guiding Principles apply to all States and to all business enterprises, both transnational and others, regardless of their size, sector, location, ownership and structure.”

Furthermore states must provide jurisdiction if there is none to business enterprises basically meaning that business should be empowered to uphold Human Rights. “This requires taking

appropriate steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress such abuse through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication.”

But are we really interested in that business takes over the role of the state even if the state is weak? What will happen when the state get back on its feet and wants its power back will business give it back voluntarily or will there be strings attached which is dictated by the company itself. These are largely unanswered questions which both business and states need to address in order for the framework to be really effective. In the list of the biggest economies in the world there are now companies like Wal-Mart, Shell, Exxon, BP, Toyota and Total all with significant influence on national economies and not least politics as I have argued before.    

The word Governmentality comes to mind when companies are being tasked with governing themselves beyond the real control of a single state authority but rather with a pseudo from of governance which is more unreal than real power.  Maybe this is what Ruggie is refereeing to when he says that “Endorsement by the Council would enable the global community to move beyond the confusion and polarization of the past by establishing an authoritative point of reference that recognizes the central role that States need to play, gives businesses predictability in what is expected of them, and provides other stakeholders, including civil society and investors, the tools to measure progress where it matters most – in the daily lives of people.”

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