The publication of the ‘next 10 years’
to mark the tenth anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and
was made an even more solemn occasion at the United Nations Business and Human
Rights Forum today, as the occasion also
marked the recent passing of their author and champion, Professor John
But Ruggie would have been the first to celebrate the achievements of the last
10 years — to have a sparkle in his eye over the ideas going forward and express
his well-known sense of humour over the complex challenges in being able to do
Above all, he would have used his incredible intellect to analyse what will work
in the new programme and the force of his commitment to make the case for it to
So, for businesses, what is the sparkle in the new roadmap and the new ideas
which can make it happen?
The ‘just transition’ to the challenges of climate
and the aspirations of the Sustainable Development
Goals are at the forefront
of the proposals, with companies urged to intensify efforts to prevent and
address adverse impacts across their business activities and value chains.
Shortfalls in respect for human rights are recognised not simply through
corporate violations; they are seen as systemic challenges, requiring
systems-level change. Businesses are invited to enhance collective action with
other companies, governments and other stakeholders, to be effective.
The roadmap sustains the ‘smart mix’ between regulatory and voluntary actions
established in the Guiding Principles but says the momentum towards mandatory
human rights due diligence is a ‘wave’ that should be seized.
There are calls to overcome implementation obstacles — including local
legislative barriers to LGBTQ+ rights, and combatting corruption and respecting
human rights in conflict zones — through identifying practical factors in
countries and localities with which companies must grapple. The roadmap asks
businesses to recognise adverse impacts do happen, and throw a spotlight on how
human rights harms are quantifiably being addressed in sectors and broader
geographies. Regional platforms — a regional ‘race to the top’ — are recommended
as key to driving uptake of the UNGPs, which cannot be achieved through the
global approach alone.
Full respect for human rights by business is described as a strategic — not just
an operational issue — requiring a change of corporate culture and of business
models. The new roadmap recommends that integration of human rights due
diligence into corporate governance becomes a hallmark of the next decade.
Coherence by governments and in multilateral institutions to ensure respect for
human rights by businesses using all public policy levers was an oft-repeated
call from the early days of the Guiding Principles. The new roadmap adopts this
again and identifies the ‘unique’ role of the United Nations itself to achieve
this. However, it says businesses must also be ‘challenged’ to ensure their own
coherence. Companies are asked to redouble their efforts to stop practices
‘inconsistent’ with their public pronouncements on business and human rights.
Political lobbying is identified as a specific area for action.
The roadmap also sees ‘access to
unfinished business — described as a core component of the Guiding Principles,
not yet realised. However, the roadmap puts emphasis on people — not simply as
victims, but as right-holders. In the next 10 years, corporate support for the
concept of ‘stakeholder
should be matched by advances in how companies can be ‘meaningful’ in their
engagement with stakeholders. Businesses are asked to intensify efforts to
preserve civic space and to offer greater protection to trade unions, human
rights organisations and individual defenders — whose lives are risked daily in
seeking to uphold the principles, where they are most at risk.
The growth of sustainable finance in the next ten years is seen as a major
opportunity, with the new roadmap highlighting the responsibility of investors
to managing human rights risks in their investment activities and showing how
they take action to manage those risks.
Other players singled out for heightened actions towards business and human
rights include what are called ‘shapers’, professionals including accountants,
management consultants, lawyers, business and law schools, all of whom shape
business decisions and who have their own responsibilities for respecting human
Outgoing member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Dante
Pesce — who spearheaded the roadmap initiative — told delegates that it is an
umbrella in which all participants can play their part, providing “strategic
orientation, not prescription.”
Pesce echoed the call made annually at this
for implementation of the UNGPs, by saying the next 10 years will be
“implementation of effectiveness.”
Fellow member of the UN Working Group Anita Ramasastry predicted action in
the next decade on topics she said had not yet been sufficiently addressed —
including the climate crisis, political action by
the informal economy, access to remedy, and recognising rights holders.
“We have to begin discussions with rights holders at the start of the process,
not after we have designed systems and frameworks. It is time to align the ‘S’
in ESG to focus much more on human rights,” she told the Forum.
Businesses attending the Forum will welcome this challenge, but join UN leaders
in asking: What is effective?
Reviewing your company’s existing human rights approaches against the eight
identified in the roadmap will be a good first step.
Can the company’s actions be more localised, more meaningful, more
collaborative, more quantifiable and more consistent?
Will companies mobilise their business partners and value chains to extend the
attention to human rights to new geographies and localities, which global
leaders say is now necessary?
Chair of the UN Human Rights Council, Nazhat Shameem Khan, used today’s
official opening of the Forum to call on business to increase the pace and scale
of implementation of the UNGPs — saying, “it is especially important in the
post-COVID situation and in rapid digital markets pushed forward by the
A decade ago, few would have predicted a global pandemic. In 10 years’ time, the
deadline for halving the world’s carbon
will have been reached. This is the ‘next decade’ for which the Business and
Human Rights roadmap is written.
“2030 is the moment of reality,” Githa Roelans, Head of the Multinational
Enterprises Unit at the International Labor Organisation told delegates.
It is this sense of urgency, of emergency, which may ultimately be the driver
that leads the roadmap to be successful beyond what has been achieved since
As Allan Jorgensen, Head of the OECD Centre for Responsible Business
Conduct, told the Forum: