Corporate Accountability

Peoples' Forum on Human Rights & Business (Colombia; September 29-October 2, 2014)

In 2014 the Corporate Accountability Working Group (CAWG), co-hosted together with DeJusticia (an ESCR-Net member), will hold an international gathering of social movements and civil society groups working on corporate accountability, to: 

  1. Provide opportunities for participants to develop collective responses to key corporate accountability challenges;
  2. Provide greater access to information, as well as opportunities to influence civil society strategic direction, for groups typically excluded from strategic discussions that shape the international corporate accountability movement;
  3. Provide opportunities for participants to plan collaborative activities that strengthen alliances and maximise the collective civil society impact of our work, beyond the effect that can be generated by individual organisations;
  4. Allow for face-to-face planning that overcomes the significant limitations of remotely developing collective action plans.

For more information on the ESCR-Net Peoples' Forum on Human Rights & Business see our dedicated event website here.

Standards Setting

Following the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business by the Human Rights Council, the CAWG has lead international civil society efforts to advance hard law norm development.  Some examples of the CAWG’s work in standard setting include:

  • Advocacy for binding corporate accountabilty standards: Lead coordination of international and national civil society advocacy activities supporting the creation of a UN Intergovernmental Working Group mandated to develop a UN treaty on addressing corporate human rights violations;

  • Engaged in consultations aimed at developing a new UN General Comment by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on corporate actors and ESC Rights.

For further information on ESCR-Net CAWG's collective advocacy in support of advancing international standards, see our dedicated page on 'Advocacy for Binding Corporate Accountability Standards'. 

Extraterritorial Obligations

ESCR-Net CAWG launched New Practitioners’ Guide to Support the Interpretation and Application of ETOs in the Context of Corporate Human Rights Violation. The Corporate Accountability Working Group of ESCR-Net, led by members including Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), Inclusive Development International and Justiça Global, have developed a new resource for human rights practitioners called Global Economy, Global Rights – A Practitioners’ Guide for interpreting human rights obligations in the global economy.  

The resource was launched at a gathering of outgoing and incoming UN Special Procedure Mandate Holders in Geneva, on September 2, co-hosted by ESCR-Net, the Geneva Academy and FES. Joint communications and other activities of the Mandate Holders have helped to advance the collective actions of ESCR-Net members and working groups, notably with regard to the extraterritorial impacts of the steel project in India planned by South Korean steel giant, POSCO.

This resource is designed to support and inform the application of extraterritorial obligations in the work of UN Special Procedure Mandate Holders and other agencies, including the UN treaty bodies. The resource synthesizes and analyses the interpretation of extraterritorial obligations (ETOs) in the context of corporate human rights violations from the perspective of United Nations treaty bodies. The resource is built on the concluding observations of UN treaty bodies issued between 2007 and 2014, as well as the general comments issued by UN treaty bodies from 2000 onwards.

Strategic Case Support

ESCR-Net Members and partners frequently approach the Network, through various Working Groups, seeking strategic input and assistance in their cases of human rights abuse.  A high proportion of these cases have a corporate dimension to them and often the corporate accountability perspectives of these cases have not been fully explored.  Strategic case support and corporate accountability mechanism identification is something the ESCR-Net CAWG is ideally placed to provide to Members and partners.

In substance, this kind of assistance means:

  • Engaging with grassroots organizations, affected communities, and their allies to evaluate their specific objectives in relation to different advocacy strategies.

  • Based on stated objectives and desired approach, identifying which of many potential corporate accountability strategies or mechanisms best fulfill these objectives;

  • Facilitating connections and active partnerships with members of the CAWG that have the closest degree of expertise and experience in pursuing identified strategies or mechanisms, to understand their potential pitfalls and how best to gain the most from them. 

Where expertise and capacity exists to do so, and the cases match the criteria for case support for the CAWG, the Group will collectively provide assistance, with a view to opening or strengthening spaces for accountability and remedy. When the CAWG is not able to provide collective and ongoing support, the group works to facilitate connections with individual Members and to needed resources. The criteria for providing case support, which are guiding rather than mandatory, are the following:

1. Existing level of international support 

If groups that are requesting support already have assistance from several organizations, then there may be less need for collective ESCR-Net CAWG support 

2. Grave human rights abuses 

Where the assistance relates to cases that are having or are likely to have grave human rights impacts these cases are a priority

3. Urgent Action   

Requests for assistance that relate to abuses of human rights defenders associated with corporate accountability cases should be handled under ESCR Net’s SOS procedure first, before consideration of support with any other additional corporate accountability elements

4. Skills & Capacity of the CAWG 

Whether the CAWG can provide collective assistance will depend on the type of support we are able offer from within ESCR-Net, as well as external allies that can provide support. There are ‘substantive areas’ (e.g. evictions, resticted access to water, etc), and ‘types of assistance’ (legal, campaign advice, research, etc.), and ‘geographic focus’ (individual countries, regional or global capacity).  This will require some initial scoping before the CAWG agrees to provide support. 

5. Strategic Value 

Collective assistance, which requires significant time and resources, should focus on cases that further important areas in the field of corporate accountability.

The CAWG is currently providing assistance in the following cases:

Capacity Building

Increasingly there are useful resources available to groups affected by corporate abuse to assist in pursuing corporate accountability mechanisms.  However, these resources alone do not ensure groups are able to use them effectively. Drawing on the wealth of knowledge on conducting corporate accountability campaigns within the CAWG, the Group periodically facilitates mutual learning exchanges on key corporate accountability research and campaign techniques. The objectives of these kinds of trainings are to further the capacity of CAWG members and partners to: 

  • Understand the range of corporate accountability mechanisms available;

  • Identify which corporate accountability mechanisms are most appropriate for their objectives;

  • Provide guidance on how groups can engage these mechanisms;

  • Assist groups to prepare and implement advocacy strategies using these mechanisms. 

Working Group(s): 
Thematic Focus: