11 August 2011

Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

On 16 June 2001, the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the business responsibility to respect human rights expressed in a list of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights drafted by the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, Prof. John Ruggie.

Of the Guiding Principles, Principles 11 to 21 contain the most important implications for businesses. They make the recommendation that businesses should go beyond the expectations of the law in respecting human rights; they should benchmark their activities against the International Bill of Rights (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) as well as the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Senior management personnel are encouraged to facilitate and support firm-wide human rights impact assessments and related policies, procedures and remedial processes.

Following the endorsement of the Guiding Principles, the Code for Responsible Investing in South Africa, drafted in support of the United Nations Code for Responsible Investment (2006), was endorsed by the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange as well as the Financial Services Board amongst others on 19 July 2011. It encourages businesses to take environmental, social and governance (ESG) as well as sustainability issues into consideration.

These initiatives are but two examples of instruments forming part of the increasing regulatory framework surrounding businesses and human rights internationally and locally, which will impact on your business.

Christine Jesseman

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