Special Session of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights

In late June, Foley Hoag’s CSR practice was selected to serve as the new Secretariat for the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (“The Voluntary Principles”).  On June 30 and July 1, three Foley Hoag attorneys, Gare Smith, Sarah Altschuller, and Amy Lehr, helped facilitate a special Mid-Year Special Session of the Voluntary Principles hosted by the United States Government, the current chair of the Voluntary Principle’s Steering Committee.

The Voluntary Principles, a tripartite multi-stakeholder initiative established in 2000, provide guidance to companies in extractive industries on maintaining the safety and security of their operations within a framework that ensures respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Voluntary Principles urge companies to

recognize a commitment to act in a manner consistent with the laws of the countries in which they are present, to be mindful of the highest applicable international standards, and to promote the observance of applicable international law enforcement principles.

More than sixty representatives of companies, governments, and nongovernmental organization, representing the Principles’ “three pillars”, attended the Mid-Year Special Session, and engaged in collaborative discussions aimed at formulating a common vision for the future as the Principles enter their second decade.

Notably, John Ruggie, the U.N. Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, addressed participants. (.pdf)  Citing a three part framework under which states have a duty to protect human rights, companies have an obligation to respect human rights, and access to remedies must be provided to rights-holders, (as set forth in his 2008 report to the UN Human Rights Council (.pdf)) the Special Representative observed that the Voluntary Principles “address a critical subset of issues encompassed by the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework. They cut across all three of the Framework’s pillars. And they literally can affect life and death issues.”  He noted that

the worst forms of corporate-related human rights abuse take place in conflict or otherwise stressed governance zones. They account for the largest number of foreign direct liability claims against multinational companies, such as the Alien Tort Statute, brought in domestic courts but often invoking international standards.

The Special Representative then observed that companies operating in areas of conflict "increasingly suffer significant financial costs as a result of stakeholder-related risks to their operations—which in turn reflect push-back by communities for harms they associate with company activities."  The Voluntary Principles aims to address both the security concerns of companies as well as the common interest of companies and communities to prevent security-related human rights abuses.

Foley Hoag’s new role as Secretariat of the Voluntary Principles allows our attorneys to build upon a wealth of experience in advising clients on specific in-country efforts to comply with the Principles as well as the development of corporate policies that that incorporate respect for human rights and enhance compliance with host and home-government laws and voluntary codes, including the Voluntary Principles.  

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