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21 Sep 2021

UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

In Memory of John G. Ruggie: Tribute by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

GENEVA (21 September 2021)

The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights expresses its great sadness at the death of Professor John Ruggie, the former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (2005-2011), who passed away on 16 September 2021. The Working Group commemorated Professor Ruggie's extraordinary contribution to the field of business and human rights with a minute of silence at the opening of its 30th Session in Geneva on 20 September 2021, and expressed its sympathy to Professor Ruggie's family and friends.

All of those who worked with Professor Ruggie, including Working Group members past and present, greatly respected his vast intellect, tireless commitment to the field of business and human rights, thought leadership and commitment to the United Nations, as well as his many remarkable personal qualities. Few individuals have contributed as much as Professor Ruggie to collective efforts to build a more just and sustainable global economy. His commitment to "principled pragmatism" and developing practical solutions to complex challenges have had tremendous impact on laws and policies shaping business respect for human rights.

Professor Ruggie's work in the field of business and human rights was remarkable and visionary. His leadership was critical to the development of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which were developed through an unprecedented and wide-ranging multi-stakeholder process. Endorsed unanimously by the Human Rights Council in 2011, the Guiding Principles provide the authoritative global standard and common action platform to make respect for human rights part of a standard business practice. They set out the framework for State duties and business responsibilities to prevent and address business-related human rights abuse.

The "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework and the Guiding Principles to implement these three pillars (which have commonly been referred to as the "Ruggie Framework" and the "Ruggie Principles") were at the same time revolutionary and practical enough to resonate with the realities faced by governments and businesses. Their focus on "tangible results for affected individuals and communities" to contribute "to a socially sustainable globalization" were most prescient. The pragmatism inherent in the Guiding Principles, and Professor Ruggie's own qualities as a diplomat and human being, helped to bridge long-standing and previously heated disagreements between stakeholders on whether business had responsibilities regarding human rights and how far that responsibility should extend.

However, he was the first to recognize that the creation of the Guiding Principles was only the "end of the beginning". The growing momentum of human rights due diligence legislation inspired by the Guiding Principles is but one of the testaments to his leadership – not only as a thought leader, but someone who had the rare skill of helping to turn ideas about greater social justice into actionable policy and legal measures.

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Guiding Principles this year, we now mourn the loss of their author, Professor Ruggie. However, his work and legacy will live on for many years to come. On a daily basis, they are inspiring hope and bringing real change to peoples' lives in all regions of the world. We will continue building momentum for the necessary changes in law, policy and business practices that his work helped to inspire, always in his spirit of making a difference where it matters most: in the daily lives of people on the ground. Past and present members of the Working Group have had the great honour of continuing his work through our mandate (as Special Procedures mandate holders) to promote the effective dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles. We had the pleasure of interacting with Professor Ruggie several times, not least at the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights (another one of his many legacies) that we guide.

In marking Professor Ruggie's passing, which is so keenly felt, we hope that his family, friends and colleagues will take comfort from the fact that his work continues to inspire decisive actions by governments, business, civil society, international organizations and others to implement the three pillars of the Guiding Principles. The world has lost a true leader and brilliant mind. Professor Ruggie was a much valued and deeply respected leader of the business and human rights community, a friend, teacher, and mentor to countless individuals. We would like to express our sincere condolences and sympathy to his family and closest colleagues and friends. He will be deeply missed by all of us.