The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are regarded as the global authoritative standard on business and human rights. They are increasingly reflected in public policy, in law and regulation, in commercial agreements, in international standards that influence business behaviour, in the advocacy of civil society organisations, and in the policies and processes of governments worldwide.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011, following six years of multi-stakeholder consultations, research and pilot projects.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are based on three distinct but inter-connected “pillars”: The State Duty to Protect against human rights abuses; the Corporate Responsibility to Respect human rights; and the need for there to be Access to Remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses.
The State Duty to Protect is a legal obligation, enshrined in international law.
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect is, in the words of the Commentary to the UN Guiding Principles, “a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate. It exists independently of States’ abilities and/or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations, and does not diminish those obligations. And it exists over and above compliance with national laws and regulations protecting human rights.” (UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Guiding Principle 11, Commentary).
Thus, the Corporate Responsibility to Respect is conceptually distinct from legal liability, although, as discussed in this handbook, there will be occasions when a failure by a business enterprise to meet this responsibility may give rise to legal risk.
The Commentary to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights also states that:
“Business enterprises may undertake other commitments or activities to support and promote human rights, which may contribute to the enjoyment of rights. But this does not offset a failure to respect human rights throughout their operations.” (see UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Guiding Principle 11, Commentary, emphasis added).
“The responsibility to respect human rights requires that business enterprises:
(a) Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur;
(b) Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.”
(UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Guiding Principle 13).
Access to Remedy is a fundamental tenet of international human rights law. States and business enterprises have a role in ensuring access to remedy, as part of their own respective legal duties and responsibilities.