Advocating for International Corporate Accountability

The ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group advocates for corporate accountability at the international level. The Working Group actively supported in the past the UN Human Rights Norms for Business (UN Norms), as the first comprehensive, international statement of the human rights responsibilities of companies. To further education and advocacy efforts, the Working Group created and widely distributed the UN Human Rights Norms for Business: Briefing Kit, complimenting earlier efforts to support the UN Norms at the 60th Commission on Human Rights (2004), through a Statement of Support signed by almost 200 organizations. The Working Group went on to facilitate the participation of NGOs and grassroots groups throughout the world in consultations on business and human rights, held by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) at the request of the Commission. Thirty groups submitted input for a collective ESCR-Net submission to OHCHR, and over fifty groups and individuals endorsed a second Joint Submission to OHCHR (2004), which was also presented at consultations in London and Geneva.

Members of the Working Group continued their advocacy at the 61st Commission on Human Rights (March-April 2005). In addition to facilitating information-sharing between interested groups, the Working Group helped to organize an NGO side event on human rights and business, which highlighted the voices of communities impacted by corporate abuses of human rights. The Working Group also assisted in drafting and collecting over 90 endorsements for a Joint Letter to the country delegations to the Commission, highlighting the ongoing need to strengthen corporate accountability for human rights at the international level.

In response to the Resolution of the 61st Commission on Human Rights, the Secretary General appointed John Ruggie as the Special Representative on Human Rights and Business in July 2005, and the Working Group set about ensuring that his mandate be informed by meaningful consultationthrough the participation of indigenous groups, social movements and other affected communities and NGOs.

Toward that end, the ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group submitted a Joint NGO Report to a UN Consultation on Human Rights and the Extractive Industry in Geneva, on 10-11 November 2005. This report highlights patterns of violations in the extractive sector and gaps in the protection of human rights, containing the contributions and input of over twenty groups. The report concludes that there is a need for a common, international set of standards articulating the human rights responsibilities of business, which must ultimately be enforceable.

Throughout this time, Working Group members have participated actively in regional consultations with the Special Representative in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 2006; Bangkok, Thailand, June 2006; and in Bogotá, Colombia, 18-19 January 2007; as well as in New York City and London.  At the Asia regional consultation, 21 civil society organizations drafted a common statement to the Special Representative. In Latin America in 2007, groups related to the Working Group also presented the Latin American Civil Society Declaration to UN Special Representative on Human Rights and Business.

The second report of the Special Representative was presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 28 March 2007 in Geneva. The ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group then contributed to and endorsed a joint NGO intervention in response to the report at the Human Rights Council.

In October 2007, the Corporate Accountability Working Group drafted in collaboration with Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) the 2007 Joint Open Letter to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights and Business. This letter—endorsed by over 240 organizations and individuals worldwide—expressed shared concerns about the execution of the mandate, and constructively proposed a number of issues critical for further exploration during a key time of transition in the Special Representative’s mandate. The Special Representative’s response set out the lines of work of his team for the following year.

In June 2008, the Special Representative presented his third report, "Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights" for consideration by the 8th Session of the Human Rights Council in determining the content of a follow-on mandate. The ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group worked in tandem with a number of other human rights and development organization in attendance to strengthen the mandate of the Special Representative by offering government delegations information and analysis of the nature and scale of the problem and by ensuring that the views, experiences and expertise of those suffering abuse were central in any efforts to identifying solutions. The 2008 Joint HRC Submission on Business & Human Rights was drafted in collaboration with ActionAid, Amnesty International, EarthRights International, Friends of the Earth International, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, Oxfam International, Rights & Accountability in Development (RAID), and Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). This statement argued for the need to broaden the focus of the Special Representative’s efforts beyond the elaboration of the “protect, respect, and remedy” framework, and to include an explicit capacity to examine situations of corporate abuse. This was followed up in person in Geneva with a Joint Oral Statement at the Council. Video of this 2008 Joint Oral Statement can be found here.

Within the context of these civil society advocacy efforts, ESCR-Net presented its Collective Report on Business & Human Rights in person to a large number of government delegations at the Human Right Council. Prepared in collaboration with 40 civil society organizations around the world, this Collective Report surveys 159 cases of alleged human rights violations by, or involving, companies in order to illuminate the scope of these incidents, analyze existing gaps in the protection of human rights in the context of business, and offer recommendations to the United Nations on how to strengthen business accountability to human rights. Envisioned as a space to offer testimony of the actual impacts that business conduct has on the human rights of individuals, communities and indigenous peoples, the report reasserts in qualitative terms that business impacts on fundamental rights are widespread. That is, they are not limited to certain countries or regions, nor do they occur only within certain sectors or affect only certain rights. In the surveyed cases from 66 countries, business enterprises have had significant negative impacts upon the enjoyment of all types of human rights, in different political systems, around the world and across industries.

The report concludes by calling on the UN to establish a broader follow-on mandate on business and human rights, ensure consultation with adversely affected individuals, communities and indigenous people, initiate an inter-governmental process for the adoption of global standards on business and human rights, intensify efforts to strengthen redress and accountability and enhance accountability and capacity of governments to fulfill their obligation to protect.

Following on its commitment to ensuring meaningful consultations with affected people, ESCR-Net’s Corporate Accountability Working Group also co-hosted a side-event at the 8th Session of the Human Rights Council entitled "Voices from the Ground: The Human Face of Human Rights and Business." This event brought together southern experts and community members directly affected by business human rights abuses from India, Côte d'Ivoire, the United States, the Philippines, Mexico and Iraq to present their views, perspectives and recommendations to deepen the understanding of the UN of the actual situations and concrete drivers of human rights violations involving companies. Approximately 100 individuals attended, including a large number of HRC member governments, UN and High Commission staff, and other interested parties. The UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights made public remarks in response to each of the presentations. Video coverage of this special event will soon be available here. Thank you to all of the co-hosts and especially to the panelists for their invaluable efforts!

Read our 2009 Advocacy Guide on Business and Human Rights in the United Nations, download it here.

Read our Novermber 2009 submission on business and human rights to the Office of the High Commisioner for Human Rights, download it here.

Read our latest Joint Civil Society Statement on Business & Human Rights to the UN Human Rights Council here.


Working Group Description: 

The ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group works to strengthen the human rights accountability of corporations operating in different sectors and regions, advocating for a common, international set of standards articulating the human rights responsibilities of business, which must ultimately be enforceable.