This week’s post includes a number of recent reports on issues ranging from conflict minerals to children’s rights. It also notes the release of the Sustainable Development Goals and the convening of Climate Week NYC.
Category Archives: U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
In late July, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced H.R. 3226, the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015. The bill, if passed, would require companies to file annual reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) disclosing their efforts to identify and address specific human rights risks in their supply chains. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is expected to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.
The proposed federal legislation, co-sponsored by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), would apply to companies with annual worldwide gross receipts exceeding one hundred million… More
At the conclusion of the G7 Summit held on June 7 and 8, the assembled leaders released a declaration endorsing the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Specifically, leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan stated that
We strongly support the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and welcome the efforts to set up substantive National Action Plans.
Shareholder proposals filed during this year’s proxy season reflect investors’ continued concerns about the social and environmental impacts of corporate operations. The Proxy Preview published by As You Sow, the Sustainable Investments Institute, and Proxy Impact, provides an overview of the 433 non-binding shareholder proposals that had been filed by investors for the 2015 proxy season as of mid-February.
Of the proposals reviewed in the Proxy Preview:
27 % address environmental matters, including climate change; 26% addressed corporate political activity; 15% addressed human rights, including labor rights; and 9% addressed… More
U.N. Guiding Principles Reporting Framework Released by the Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative
In late February, after 18 months of research and consultation, a new Reporting Framework has been released to help companies report on their human rights performance in a manner aligned with the expectations set forth in the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Reporting Framework is intended to enable companies of all sizes, and in all sectors, to report on their efforts to operate consistently with the corporate responsibility to respect human rights.
The Framework was released by the Human Rights Reporting and Assurance Frameworks Initiative (“RAFI”), which… More
Frequently Asked Questions on the U.S. Government’s National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct
On February 12, the U.S. Department of State released a set of “Frequently Asked Questions” (“FAQs”) with regard to the U.S. Government’s efforts to develop a National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct. The plan is expected to be released by the end of this year.
As announced in September, the U.S. Government is working on a National Action Plan “to promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency and anticorruption, consistent with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the… More
Protecting the Rights of Children Should Be Integral to Every Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy
Consideration of the rights of children should be integral to any Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) strategy or policy. Traditionally, companies have focused on reducing and eliminating the use of child labor in their supply chains as a means of protecting the rights of children. While important, companies should keep in mind that respecting and protecting children’s rights extends far beyond the use of child labor. A robust CSR strategy should reflect a comprehensive understanding of the many ways by which businesses may adversely impact children’s rights. Developing and implementing strategies or policies to protect the… More
Civilian application of drone technology has increased dramatically in recent years. The burgeoning civilian opportunities are a potential boon for investors, who view this emerging market as one that will expand long into the future, notwithstanding current and pending regulation of the industry. VCs are eager to get in on a piece of the action.
Notably, drones have historically been used primarily by the military, and this usage continues to be the primary driver of the market for drones and drone technology today. Up to 87 countries are currently using some form of drone… More
In November, the Government of Canada announced a revised Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) strategy for the extractive sector. Building on Canada’s plan for Responsible Resource Development, the strategy (“Doing Business the Canadian Way: Advancing Corporate Social Responsibility in Canada’s Extractive Sector Abroad“) focuses on the activities of extractive sector companies, but is intended to provide “a more general audience with an overview of Canada’s approach to promoting and advancing CSR abroad.”
The strategy states clearly that “[t]he Government of Canada expects Canadian companies operating abroad… More
The Business and Human Rights Working Group of the International Bar Association (“IBA”) recently released draft guidance for bar association and business lawyers on implementation of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“the U.N. Guiding Principles”).
As stated in a press release by the IBA, the intent of the draft guidance for bar associations is to:
encourage bar associations to improve understanding of the relevance and applicability of business and human rights principles; urge bar… More
On September 24, at a meeting of the Open Government Partnership at the United Nations, President Obama announced that the U.S. Government would develop a national action plan to promote responsible business conduct. The United States had been under considerable pressure from civil society organizations and others to develop such a plan.
Specifically, and as stated in a fact sheet released by the White House:
The United States will develop a National Action Plan to promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency… More
Companies increasingly face expectations that they will “know and show” that they are taking appropriate steps to manage the human rights impacts associated with their business activities. New transparency requirements on issues ranging from conflict minerals to investments in Burma reflect this trend.
With respect to human trafficking, existing statutes such as the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and proposed statutes such as the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act require companies to report on their efforts to conduct due diligence on their supply… More
On June 11, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced H.R. 4842, the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2014. The bill, if passed, would require companies to file annual reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) disclosing their efforts to identify and address specific human rights risks in their supply chains.
The proposed federal legislation, co-sponsored by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), would only apply to companies with annual worldwide gross receipts exceeding one hundred million dollars. If enacted, the legislation would require the… More
The European Union took another step toward requiring large companies to publish social and environmental performance reports when the European Parliament approved amendments to a draft directive by a 599-55 majority last week. All that now remains for the measure to come into force is for the leaders of the 28 EU member states to approve the directive by a qualified majority at their next meeting, currently scheduled for late June.
Now that the European Parliament has essentially finalized the text of the non-financial reporting directive, the scope of its requirements… More
Corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) may have its roots in voluntary efforts by businesses to address their broader impacts on society, but the trend towards CSR becoming mandatory advanced significantly this week under a deal that will soon require all large European companies to begin issuing annual social and environmental performance reports.
On February 26, the European Council and the European Commission reached an agreement that all but guarantees that the forthcoming European directive on corporate social responsibility will require all publicly traded companies with more than 500 employees to… More
In November, Gwen Jaramillo and I published a piece in Practical Law that looked at trends relevant to CSR. The piece covered a range of topics, including new legislative and regulatory requirements, the role of the board of directors, and key concerns for corporate general counsel.
In noting the key role of the board in overseeing a company’s approach to CSR, we observed:
A key function of the board is to oversee management’s approach to: risk management; legal and regulatory compliance; and strategic planning. The board… More
Gare founded the CSR practice in 2000 after serving as Senior Foreign Policy Advisor and Counsel to U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Gare also previously served as Vice President of Levi Strauss & Co.
Earlier this month, a group of global banks known as the Thun Group released a discussion paper exploring the ways in which financial institutions might seek to integrate the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights into their core business activities.
Current members of the Thun Group include Barclays, BBVA, Credit Suisse AG, ING Bank N.V., RBS Group, UBS AG, and UniCredit.
Notably, one of the identified drivers for the Thun Group’s work includes “acting instead of waiting for legal requirements.” The authors observe that the Guiding Principles represent “hardening”… More
Increasingly, companies will face explicit demands from investors, especially members of the socially responsible investor community, that they provide detailed disclosures regarding internal processes and procedures to assess and manage the human rights impacts of their operations. For many companies, responding to these requests will require careful review of the nature of the impacts of their operations and the development of internal capacity to understand and communicate those impacts through a human rights lens.
Following up on the release of the U.N. Protect, Respect, Remedy Framework and the U.N…. More
This week, members of the United Nations (“U.N.”) Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations are making an official visit to the United States as part of the Group’s mandate to promote the effective implementation of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The visit, only the second by the Working Group since its establishment in 2011, provides an important opportunity to engage all stakeholders on efforts… More
As mentioned in last week’s post, participants in the Voluntary Principles Initiative recently held their Annual Plenary Meeting. The discussions began with opening addresses from Professor John Ruggie, the former U.N. Special Representative on Business and Human Rights and author of the U.N. Guiding Principles, and Dr. Margaret Jungk, from the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights.
On March 13-14, participants in the Voluntary Principles Initiative gathered in The Hague for the 2013 Annual Plenary Meeting. Foley Hoag’s Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) practice has served as the Secretariat for the Voluntary Principles Initiative since June 2010.
Established in 2000, the Voluntary Principles Initiative is a tri-partite multistakeholder initiative that provides 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.
Outreach and implementation efforts were… More
The Telecommunications Industry Dialogue, a group of eight telecommunications companies, recently published a set of Guiding Principles on freedom of expression and privacy. Originally formed in 2011, the Industry Dialogue also announced a two-year partnership with the Global Network Initiative.
Through a commitment to the Guiding Principles, these companies have agreed to
Create and maintain policies establishing commitments… More
As memories of New Year’s Eve fade, and another Inauguration Day winds down in Washington, D.C., it’s time to look ahead and identify key events and emerging trends that we think will help shape the business and human rights agenda in 2013.
Here are five developments that we’ll be watching closely:
Further integration of human rights considerations into business management systems. Eighteen months after the release of the U.N. Guiding Principles, companies are working to determine how best to incorporate human rights considerations into the management of their… More
On December 4 and 5, more than 1,000 participants from 85 countries gathered for the first U.N. Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. The Forum focused on “trends and challenges” in the implementation of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the “Guiding Principles”), which were formally endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2011. The Forum includes discussions of a broad set of key issues in the business and human rights space, ranging from access to remedies to… More
Western companies are more accountable than Chinese companies – via tort suits, civil society pressure, government regulation, and non-judicial accountability mechanisms such as the OECD Guidelines, to name a few. Although Western companies’ operations do create negative social, environmental and human rights impacts, it could be worse. Be thankful that they are operating in difficult environments such as Sudan, because in their absence, Chinese companies will fill… More
The proposed draft of the revised Equator Principles, released on August 13, reflects a greater focus on human rights, with explicit mention of the expectation of human rights due diligence as set forth in the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The revised Principles also cover a wider range of project financing structures in recognition of the fact that the project finance market has diversified significantly since the Principles were first released in 2003.
The Equator Principles are a voluntary set of standards for determining, assessing, and managing social and environmental risk in project financing. To… More
Amy Lehr, the author of this post, will be presenting during a webinar on “Responsible Business in Myanmar: Operating Context, Sanctions, and International CSR Standards,” this Thursday, August 16, at 11:00 a.m. She will be joined by John Ruggie and Gare Smith. Information on registration can be found here.
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The U.S. decision to ease financial and investment sanctions on Burma for the first time since 1997 is a landmark – and controversial – moment. It presents Western businesses with an opportunity to enter… More
One of the challenges for companies seeking to manage the adverse human rights impacts of their operations is how to deal with impacts that are most directly tied to business partners, suppliers, and even governments. Companies have varying degrees of control over the actions of third parties, and yet the activities of third parties have the potential to expose companies to a range of reputational – and legal – risks.
In the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Guiding Principle 19 states that appropriate actions to prevent… More
I recently published an op-ed in The Christian Science Monitor cautioning companies seeking to make investments in Burma (Myanmar) to make sure that the inflow of new investments does not end up harming the country’s long-suffering citizens.
The op-ed recommends that such companies undertake human rights due diligence, consistent with United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, “to ensure that their activities do not cause or contribute to harm, regardless of the conduct of the state.” When the European Union suspended sanctions on Burma in April, it… More
Access, an advocacy organization that promotes open and secure access to the Internet, recently released its Telco Action Plan, a document that sets forth ten steps and implementation objectives for telecommunications companies (“telcos”) seeking to operate with respect for human rights.
Access launched the plan at last month’s Stockholm Internet Forum and intends to use the document as a platform for dialogue with telcos that seek to operate in political and legal contents that may post threats to freedom of expression, access to information, and/or privacy… More
U.S. Supreme Court Review of Corporate Liability Under the Alien Tort Statute — An Overview of the Oral Arguments in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum
On February 28, in proceedings that were both closely watched and anxiously anticipated, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum. For the first time, the question of whether corporations are proper defendants in Alien Tort Statute ("ATS") cases is squarely before the Court. Petitioners had sought Supreme Court review of a decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals finding that corporations are not proper defendants under the ATS.
Corporate Liability: Defined by International Law or a Question of Domestic Enforcement?
A preliminary transcript of the… More
A coalition of 80 institutional investors sent a letter to Congress last week in support of the Business Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act (HR 2759). As discussed previously, the proposed legislation would require companies to disclose efforts to identify and address the risks of human trafficking, forced labor, slavery, and the worst forms of child labor in their supply chains.
Former UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights John Ruggie, now a senior advisor to our CSR practice, recently authored an article in Corporate Secretary magazine in which he observed that there has been a "convergence of expectations" with regard to business responsibilities in the area of human rights.
These expectations are set forth in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, authored by Professor Ruggie and his team. As discussed previously, these Principles were endorsed by… More
Business Ethics magazine recently published an interview with John Ruggie, the former U.N. Special Representative on Business and Human Rights who recently joined Foley Hoag’s CSR practice as a senior advisor. Michael Connor, Editor and Publisher of Business Ethics, conducted the interview. The conversation focused on the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the business drivers for respecting human rights, and the ways in which the Principles have been adopted by both public and private stakeholders.
Speaking about the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, Professor… More
More than a Resource: Water, Business, and Human Rights, a recent report by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (“IHRB”) calls on companies to take action to respect the human right to water.
The report references the emerging consensus among international institutions that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, and highlights the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, drafted by the former U.N. Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, as providing the most authoritative guidance on how to implement this responsibility. The… More
September 7, 2011 — John G. Ruggie, the former U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights and current Harvard professor, has joined Foley Hoag LLP’s Corporate Social Responsibility Practice as a senior advisor.
Ruggie authored the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which the U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed in June after six years of development. The Guiding Principles set a standard of practice that is now expected of companies with regard to human rights. They also make recommendations to governments and are likely to affect legal and policy developments at national and international levels.