Why are human rights a global problem

Human rights in the globalized economy

Effective, internationally agreed rules for the protection of human rights in the economic sector have become more and more important over the past 20 years, emphasizes John Ruggie, UN special envoy for business and companies. He is the main author of the UN guidelines which aim to protect human rights in a globalized economy.

The lead author of the new UN guidelines: John Ruggie

Because the rights of companies to operate globally have been significantly expanded during this time - among other things through strict rules for the protection of investments and patents. But in this changed economic environment, "the protection of human rights has not been developed accordingly," complains Ruggie.

Protection, respect and reparation

The UN guidelines on business and human rights assume that this protection continues to be the primary responsibility of states and their governments. But companies too have to respect international human rights norms - as well as national laws and regulations.

According to the UN guidelines, the companies in their area of ​​responsibility should prevent slavery, child labor and all other forms of economic exploitation. They must ensure safe and decent working conditions - in accordance with the core agreements of the International Labor Organization (ILO). When building industrial plants or pipelines, buying land or mining energy resources and other raw materials abroad, companies have a duty to respect the human rights of the local population. When human rights violations occur, it is the shared responsibility of businesses and governments to find redress.

Implementation so far not very specific

With the adoption of these guidelines by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011, however, it was not yet done; the decisive factor was their concrete implementation, stressed John Ruggie. Experts discussed this implementation problem over the past 18 months at a global forum for business and human rights in Geneva. There Andrey Galaev, CEO of the Russian energy company Sakhalin, stated that the requirements of the UN guidelines had been fully implemented in his company since it was founded in 2000.

Debbie Stothard, human rights activist of the alternative ASEAN network ALTSEA, has not yet been able to point to a concrete example of the implementation of the new UN guidelines in the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But she expressed the hope that these will at least in the future develop into an effective instrument to improve human rights protection in the countries of their world region: For example in Burma and other Asian countries, where foreign corporations sometimes arbitrarily and even violently attack the rural population expropriate.

Stavros Lambrinidis, EU special envoy for human rights

The European Union recently published a human rights guide for small and medium-sized enterprises, the European Union's Special Representative for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, emphasized at the Geneva forum. Special EU guidelines for companies in the oil and gas industry, the information and telecommunications sector and for employment agencies are to follow in April 2013.

Lawsuits against multinational corporations

Allegations of human rights abuses against multinational corporations are now being taken up by national judicial authorities in the countries where the corporations are headquartered, explains John Ruggie. This development gives him hope for improvements in the protection of human rights. The Swiss judiciary has started investigations against the food company Nestle - after a complaint by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin against leading managers of the group. They are accused by the plaintiffs that the company was jointly responsible for the murder of an uncomfortable trade unionist at a Nestle subsidiary in Colombia.

Similar lawsuits are now being tried in courts in Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and other countries, Ruggie reports. These forms of extraterritorial jurisdiction are increasing because "governments recognize that nothing less is at stake than the social sustainability of globalization".