Letters to the Financial Times on the New Principles | Samuel Moyn | August 15, 2016


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Letters to the Financial Times on the New Principles

Letters to the Financial Times

January 19, 2011

Bizarre response by human rights groups to UN framework plan

From Mr John Ruggie.

Sir, Hugh Williamson reports that Amnesty International and some other pressure groups fear that adoption of a proposed set of guiding principles for implementing the United Nations “protect, respect and remedy” framework in the area of business and human rights “risks undermining efforts to strengthen corporate responsibility”, and that “the current draft should not be adopted by the Human Rights Council” (“Amnesty criticises UN framework for multinationals”, January 17). This is bizarre on several counts.

First, these same organisations keep telling the world that there are currently no global standards in the area of business and human rights, causing both governments and business enterprises to fall far short of desired practices. In contrast, the UN framework and guiding principles elevate standards of conduct significantly.

Second, these same organisations use the UN framework constantly as a basis for criticising the performance of companies, governments and international agencies – so how inadequate and unacceptable could its implementation possibly be?

Third, Amnesty and the others would have a lot to answer for if they actually were to oppose Human Rights Council endorsement of this hard-won initiative. In 2004, they heavily promoted a scheme for regulating companies that had no champions among governments and triggered the vehement and unified opposition of the business community. What was the result?

Victims of corporate-related human rights harm, for whom these organisations claim to speak, got nothing. Now, seven years later, we have a proposal on the table that enjoys broad support from governments, business associations, individual companies, as well as a wide array of civil society and workers’ organisations.

Do Amnesty and the others really urge its defeat – delivering “nothing” to victims yet again? How much longer will they ask victims to wait in the name of some abstract and elusive global regulatory regime when practical results are achievable now?

John Ruggie,

UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights,

Cambridge, MA, US


January 20, 2011

Stronger UN draft on human rights abuses needed

From Ms Widney Brown.

Sir, John Ruggie’s letter (January 19) in response to Hugh Williamson’s article “Amnesty criticises UN framework for multinationals” (January 17) is surprising on several counts.

At Amnesty International our researchers regularly investigate human rights abuses committed by corporations. We work with victims – from the Niger Delta to India, Netherlands to Papua New Guinea. We campaign for their rights and work with them to seek reparations. We do not believe the draft guiding principles effectively protect victims’ rights or ensure their access to reparations.

Let’s be frank – the real opposition to effective guiding principles does not come from Amnesty International but from business interests. The draft guiding principles enjoy broad support from business, precisely because they require little meaningful action by business.

Prof Ruggie has acknowledged that governments often fail to regulate companies effectively, and that companies working in many countries evade accountability and proper sanctions when they commit human rights abuses. The fundamental challenge was how to address these problems. His draft guiding principles fail to meet this challenge. Amnesty International believes they must be strengthened.

We have offered constructive advice, based on years of investigative experience, to help the process. We will continue to do so.

Widney Brown,

Senior Director for International Law and Policy,

Amnesty International


January 28, 2011

Proper powers needed to uphold human rights

From Mr Arvind Ganesan.

Sir, John Ruggie’s response (Letters, January 19) to Hugh Williamson’s article “Amnesty criticises UN framework for multinationals” (January 17) mischaracterises our views. Human rights organisations submitted comments to improve the proposed draft of guiding principles so that they can provide meaningful protection against human rights abuses.

We hope Prof Ruggie would recognise that there is little evidence that companies uniformly respect their human rights obligations unless there are mechanisms to require them to do so. That is consistent with other efforts to stop companies from harming the environment or engaging in bribery, as evidenced by the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the new anti-bribery law in the UK.

We recognise that a similar approach needs to be taken to prevent and address human rights abuses. It is unfortunate, however, that Prof Ruggie would claim that human rights organisations that do not endorse his views are a greater threat to local communities than unregulated businesses and governments that may actually commit abuses against them. We hope that he will instead use his guiding principles to articulate effective measures that actually oblige governments and companies to uphold human rights.

Arvind Ganesan,

Director, Business and Human Rights,

Human Rights Watch,

Washington, DC, US


February 7, 2011

Let AI and HRW hold out the promise to rights victims

From Prof John G. Ruggie.

Sir, In his letter to the FT on January 28, Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch repeats the earlier Amnesty International claim that the UN guiding principles for business and human rights do not “provide meaningful protection against [corporate-related] human rights abuses”.

While AI and others have been busy writing letters justifying their indefensible advice to the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty UK has been busy “urging” the UK House of Commons select committee on business, innovation and skills to adopt the very proposals that Amnesty’s international secretariat finds so inadequate.

In paragraph 3.2.1 of their submission, AI UK informs the committee that “the UN special representative on business and human rights offers the prospect of bringing about a significant improvement in the human rights impacts of companies globally. The UK should promote and support the UN special representative’s guiding principles when they are presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2011, as this will help create a level playing field on human rights, ensuring that responsible UK companies are not undercut by laggards operating to lower standards.”

One is tempted merely to say, “Amnesty, meet Amnesty.” But important differences between the two positions are worth noting. AI UK clearly believes that policy is an important instrument for inducing change in the behaviour of corporates. In contrast, the AI secretariat and HRW reiterate their belief that only a binding international treaty will do.

In an FT interview when she was UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour cautioned against this latter approach: “It would be frankly very ambitious to promote only binding norms considering how long this would take and much damage could be done in the meantime.” She was speaking, of course, about damage to victims.

So let AI and HRW hold out the promise to victims that something good may come their way in another generation. My aim, as I have stated explicitly from the beginning, is to reduce corporate-related human rights harm to the maximum extent possible in the shortest possible period of time. And I am doing so primarily by recommending significant changes in policies and practices, on the part of governments and businesses alike.

John G. Ruggie,

Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs,

Harvard Kennedy School of Government,

Cambridge, MA, US

Special Representative of UN Secretary-General for Business and Human Rights



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August 15, 2016

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Samuel Moyn

Harvard Law School

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