The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

The 6th Forum on Business and Human Rights will take place during the next 3 days in Geneva, Switzerland. As an academic participant in the Forum with the support of London Metropolitan University, I will have the opportunity to have an insider view of the debate. Since all stakeholders will participate in the debate, the 6th Forum offers a unique place for discussions in the way forward. More than 2,200 people are expected to participate: states’ representatives, different sectors from the civil society, NGOs, victims’ associations, lawyers, academics, business organisations and representatives, consulting organisations, among others. You can track the participants and follow some of the Forum panels on stream here.

This brief report seeks to empower the reader with a clear knowledge of the role played by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the existence of this Forum. The ‘Ruggie’s principles’ document – as they are commonly known due to the author’s name, Dr. John G. Ruggie -  is currently the most important tool within the Business and Human Rights Community. Not only because it distributes responsibilities among main actors, that is, states and companies, but this document was the first normative text that governments did not negotiate on their own, and yet, it was unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council. This ultimate consensus is very important. Although the endorsement of the Ruggie’s Principles in 2011 is not the problems’ solution, this document represents the ‘end of the beginning’ (Ruggie,2014).

This document is based on a previous one from 2008: ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy framework for Business and Human Rights’. It details the framework of responsibility that actors accept when we talk about human rights and companies. Although we will not go into details about the latter, it is important to understand that The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is the result of an operational development of this Framework.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are based in three pillars:

(I) Responsibility to Protect: The first pillar develops the role of the state as a protector for human rights against third parties’ abuses. Third parties include corporations. This protector role is exercised through supervision and promotion of human rights [GP6]; through efficient measuring and enterprises counselling [GP3c]; and through special actions for companies managed by Governments [GP4] or these operating in conflict zones [GP7]. Simultaneously, states maintain their human rights obligations ruled in other international treaties [GP5] and they should make sure that business activities derived from governmental departments are aware of their human rights duties [GP8] (Ruggie,2014).

(II) Responsibility to Respect: The second pillar is formed by 14 of the 34 total principles. This pillar addresses the corporation’s responsibility to respect human rights. First, these principles require political compromise from corporations; second, a due diligence process is required to identify, prevent, mitigate and account human rights impacts with, within or because of the activity derived from the company; finally, corporations should develop measures to repair negative consequences in human rights situations where they are involved (Ruggie,2014). Furthermore, people and community affected by business activities should be taken under consideration.

(III) Access to Remedy: The third pillar is founded on the need to provide effective access to judicial and non-judicial remedies for victims of human rights abuses related to a business activity. Those mechanisms should be legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, and compatible with rights, based on dialogue and sustained in a common learning (Ruggie, 2014). The integration of those principles into the business practices, suppliers and partners is crucial to avoid conflicts between departments.

Today we can talk about the existence of UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG) thanks to the work done by Dr. John G. Ruggie during his time as Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. The UN group promotes “the effective and comprehensive dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles” (Baughen, 2015). Anyone can access to their public reports available on the internet.

Moreover, the working group organises this forum once a year. But their success does not depend only on them, but on the predisposition to the debate and the analysis that the participants have. Added to our power of conviction on those who do not participate in the debate yet, so they can join and find their space for action.


Baughen, S. (2015) Human Rights and Corporate Wrongs: Closing the Governance Gap. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Ruggie, J.G. (2014) ¿Solamente Negocio? Multinacionales y derechos humanos (Just Business? Multinationals and Human Rights). Icaria Editorial. Barcelona.