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19 Sep 2021

Gerald Pachoud

In Memory of John G. Ruggie: Tribute by Gerald Pachoud

The world will miss a brilliant mind, a pioneering academic and an outstanding policy maker. Like many others, I will miss a mentor, a friend, and a constant inspiration to do better.

Throughout his career, John was a tireless advocate for social justice and, in his words, the need to combat the emergence of ugly “isms”, securing respect for human rights as a central aim of governance at all levels, from the local to the global, and in the private sector no less than in the public domain.

As UN Assistant Secretary-General, he was one of the architects of the United Nations Global Compact and the precursors of the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals. More than many within and outside the United Nations, John best understood the importance of human rights to peace and economic development. At a time when multilateralism and basic shared understanding of what human dignity is face severe challenges, his voice and wisdom will be missed.

Always championing his principled pragmatism approach - “an unflinching commitment to the principle of strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights as it relates to business, coupled with a pragmatic attachment to what works best in creating change where it matters most-in the daily lives of people”- John will always be remembered for what became known as “the Ruggie Principles” in which he made it clear that the need to respect human rights encompasses, differently but equally, States and business.

I was fortunate to join him in 2005 at the very beginning of the amazing journey that was his mandate as Special Representative of the Secretary General on Business and Human Rights - in the glory days of his team of one at the time. It was a transition period in a field of business and human rights that did not yet really exist, as we moved from the rigor and frustration of stalled debates to the elegance and apparent simplicity of a corporate responsibility to respect all human rights all the time.

The adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights marked the end of the mandate and only the beginning of the end of curbing corporate abuses, but these Principles have since concretely touched the lives of many people, which was John’s overarching objective. They are maybe also one of the best examples of John’s most striking quality: to articulate complex and sometimes truly revolutionary concepts in such an obvious and clear manner that they get accepted without (much) debate and, more importantly, they get acted upon. As he told me once, he had seen enough suffering in his life not to do everything he could to improve the situation as much as he could. And that he did.

John’s brilliance in this field and more broadly in global governance is well-known and will be rightly celebrated. Less widely known is that he was also an amazingly generous human being, gracious to those who worked with him, treating us as members of an extended family. Working together was more than being a colleague, it was a life-long connection with John and Mary, his beloved wife of more than five decades. And sometimes also a marathon, as they would start dancing late in the evening after a long day of work somewhere in the world.

In the conclusion to his tribute to his favorite boss Kofi Annan in 2018, John wrote “Kofi had the ability to inspire those of us who worked closely with him to achieve things we never thought we could. Sadly, he has passed. But his inspiration lives on—as do the many legacies he bequeathed to us all.”

Ditto, my friend, ditto.