Non-State Actors

...every individual and every organ of society...shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance...
Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Non-state actors include organizations and individuals that are not affiliated with, directed by, or funded through the government.  These include corporations, private financial institutions, and NGOs, as well as paramilitary and armed resistance groups.  In the context of human rights and particularly ESCR advocacy, there has been an increasing focus on the human rights responsibilities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Globalization has increased the influence of the private sector with mixed results for the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. The economic production of many of the world's largest corporations exceeds the GDP of many countries. Transnational corporations, with operations in various countries, wield enormous power (even over countries' domestic economic policies) that challenges traditional state-based mechanisms of accountability.  As countries compete with one another for investment, often relaxing labor and environmental standards, some become unwilling or unable to adequately protect human rights. In addition to direct violations of human rights, corporations and banks risk becoming complicit in violations of human rights when they invest in countries facing violent conflict, struggles over resources, and governmental corruption and abuses of power.

Presently it is difficult to hold international corporations accountable for violations of the human rights of workers, communities, and consumers, often involving their subsidiaries, subcontractors, and suppliers in other countries.  There is an urgent need for common international standards on the human rights responsibilities of business, which recognize the primary obligation of home and host country states but also articulate the obligations of corporations within their spheres of influence.  Recognizing patterns of violations involving corporations and gaps in the protection of human rights given the growing power of corporations, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights approved the Draft UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights, while ongoing consideration of these issues by the UN Human Rights Council has led to the appointment of a UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Business and Human Rights.  

Relevant International Frameworks:
The OECD Guidelines involve National Contact Points able to receive complaints, each of the following standards rely on voluntary corporate compliance.
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy

ILO Labour Standards Conventions

United Nations Global Compact

Other Resources

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre