Groups pressed to protect human rights

Author: Hugh Williamson, Financial Times, Published on: 9 March 2007

Multinational companies are off the hook over fears they may be hit by new international rules on human rights, but face growing pressure to act voluntarily against such rights abuses, a United Nations report will argue today... [A]ccording to human rights groups...companies should be forced to follow binding global human rights rules [where] national governments are unable or unwilling to enforce them. John Ruggie, the UN's special representative for business and human rights and the report's author, rejects this approach, arguing that no such "silver bullet" exists to resolve often complex human rights issues. The report...highlights, for instance voluntary principles, signed by 16 leading oil, gas and mining companies, on ensuring security forces working for companies do not commit abuses against local citizens [Voluntary Principles on Security & Human Rights]... Despite "certain weaknesses of voluntarism" such initiatives offer "considerable innovation", says the report... Amnesty International, the human rights body, reacted with disappointment, arguing it still wanted to "make companies' human rights obligations binding". Lisa Misol, of Human Rights Watch, said "the Human Rights Council should now give voice to victims of human rights" to show that companies remained implicated in abuses. Stefano Bertasi, policy director of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce, said the report "confirms the primary role of the state, not companies, in protecting human rights". Companies would still help close "governance gaps".

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