Memorandum submitted by the Business Leaders
Initiative on Human Rights
The Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights,
a six-year initiative founded in Brussels in 2003, has drawn together
leading companies from across a range of business sectors. Its
express intention has been to demonstrate how the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights can be integrated into business management across
a range of geographies, political contexts and business functions.
We have taken an evidence-based approach and
have developed processes, tools, essential steps and methodologies
to enable us and other businesses to move forward on this critical
Our member companies are some of the biggest
in the world: ABB, Areva, Barclays, Ericsson, Gap Inc., General
Electric, Hewlett Packard, National Grid, Novartis, Newmont, Novo
Nordisk, StatoilHydro, The Coca-Cola Company and Zain. The initiative
was been chaired by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland
and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Everything that we say here is said with a sense
of humility. Our member companies are open about the complexity
of the challenges they continue to face but have developed a confidence
and proactive approach to human rights. The past six years have
reinforced to us that the business and human rights movement is
still in its infancy but is arriving at another critical point
in its developmentone that requires a greater lead from
states and inter-governmental organisations. Some of the comments
I will make here are as true of business as they are of states.
This is not a critique, much more an invitation for closer partnership.
We have been at the fore-front of business support
for the work of Professor John Ruggie, and we joined the member
states of the United Nations Human Rights Council in supporting
the Protect, Respect and Remedy framework. Others also have commended
this common framework:
"...a well-constructed and clearly articulated
framework for addressing business and human rights... which has
significantly advanced the debate."
This quote comes not from Amnesty International,
although it mightgiven their warm endorsement of the framework,
but instead from three of the world's umbrella business associations:
the International Organisation of Employers, International Chamber
of Commerce and the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to
In the brief time allowing we would like to
make just three major points in this statement.
First, that Business needs States to
champion this common framework
Second, that the voluntary/mandatory
nature of the debate has been over-polarised within the European
Third, there is a real opportunity for
UK and European leadership.
1. BUSINESS NEEDS
The State Duty to Protect Human Rights requires
Governments to deliver a leveller playing field to business in
terms of enforced regulation but also political expectation. We
see as essential much better alignment between trade, investment,
corporate law, securities regulations and human rights policy
and it considerably increases the risk of business when regulation
is unmatched and sometimes contradictory.
There needs to be much closer alignment between
the human rights expectations of companies and those expounded
through bilateral trade and investment, host government agreements,
export credit guarantees, overseas development assistance and
also the activities of EU embassies throughout the world.
Some European states have become powerful leaders
in business and human rights dialogues with other global regions
but we would like to see a stronger position from the European
Companies also look to States to hold the laggards
and free-riders to account. There is a clear need for much better
remedies and accountability mechanisms to penalise companies who
currently give little concern to the abuse of human rights, or
their complicity or direct involvement in them. The European Union
could do much to strengthen the position of OECD National Contact
Points and/or develop an Ombudsperson for the Union.
Crucial, is that European States also bring
into the framework other global regions so that business from
Africa, Asia and the Americas are also held to account by their
home and host governments. At present, a few high-profile European
companies attract a high percentage of public and political angst
about corporate human rights abuse: sometimes this is deserved,
but sometimes it hides the deeper reality that Chinese, Russian,
Brazilian and Indian companies need also to be as accountable
for their actions at home and overseas. We are pleased to report
that business leaders from these and other regions are also now
stepping up into the dialogue.
Nevertheless, Europe should lead by example
and there is much we can do to ensure European business is world-class
in human rights. States also have a particular additional role
to play when these companies are:
fully or partly state-owned or operated
( it is a sector rising in significance due to the current economic
major suppliers to state authorities;
small and medium sized enterprises across
the Union where there is a real issue of capacity and need for
or for the companies (many of whom are
not publicly listed) in the corners of Europe who may have been
less accessible to member nation tax policies but need to be just
as accountable to human rights.
2. THE VOLUNTARY/MANDATORY
The real human rights challenges for European
business operating throughout the world are often complex dilemmas.
There are very many places where States are unwilling or unable
to protect their populations due to internal conflict, corruption
or poverty. There is a very uneven regulatory environment for
human rights and even then business has often to navigate the
competing demands of local populations and sometimes conflicts
between human rights themselves.
It remains clear that the duty to protect human
rights rests with statesand in particular host governments.
But businesses often find themselves having to assess the requirements
of national laws, international human rights norms and the social,
investor and political expectations on a company in order to guide
An approach to "Corporate Social Responsibility"
that might have some meaning within the 27 member states
of the European Union where there is relatively strong state capacity
and something of a regulatory level playing field is one thing.
But this may mean little, in human rights terms, when European
business operates beyond the Union.
3. THERE IS
UK AND EUROPEAN
Some of the best partnerships between Government
and Business on human rights have been outside the European Unionand
when they have involved European States it has often been despite
and not because of the European Union position on CSR. Some of
the most innovative work is currently underway in parts of Africa,
the Middle East, South and East Asia. Some of this is supported
by the Overseas Development Agencies of EU member states.
Companies are willing to step up into leadership
positions: first it was labour rights in supply chains, then civil
and political rights relating to security in oil and mining companies.
Now it is multi-faceted. For example:
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have launched
their own code on freedom of expression and privacy;
Novartis, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi-Aventis
are the first pharmaceutical companies to recognise their responsibility
for the right to health;
Suez, Veolia, Thames Water, Coca-Cola
and Pepsi have all recognised human rights in relation to water
and so on.
We need a state position that matches this business
leadership. There is no better framework than advanced by the
United Nations and initiated by Professor John Ruggie. The Business
Leaders Initiative on Human Rights commends this framework to
the UK Government and hopes it might inspire your and our actions
over the months and years ahead.