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NGOs welcome adoption of new Council of Europe Recommendation on Human Rights and Business

ECCJ, Amnesty International, FIDH and ICJ welcome the adoption of the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member States on human rights and business (the Recommendation) on 3 March 2016...The following highlights some of the most significant contributions of the Recommendation:

1) A clear and strong statement that member States should adopt measures to require business enterprises to respect all human rights, and that this should extend to global business operations in many circumstances.

2) The clear call on member States to encourage and where appropriate require mandatory human rights due diligence for business enterprises domiciled in their jurisdiction and those conducting substantial activities in their jurisdiction, including through human rights impact assessments.

3) The explicit recognition of the State-business nexus and obligation to respect human rights: from the activities of state-owned enterprises, the provision of financial support, the granting of export licences to privatising the delivery of services, competent authorities are asked to apply additional measures to ensure respect for human rights, human rights due diligence, and to ensure the decisions of these State authorities are subject to administrative or judicial review.

4) The need for member States to take into consideration possible human rights impacts when concluding trade and investment agreements or other relevant conventions.

5) Some of the most significant contributions of the new instrument are in the area of legal accountability of business enterprises and access to justice for victims of corporate human rights abuse.

6) Numerous recommendations aimed at strengthening a range of State-based non-judicial mechanisms such as labour inspectorates, consumer protection authorities and environmental agencies, NHRIs, ombudsperson institutions and national equality bodies, to make sure such bodies are effective and have the mandate and capacity to consider business-related human rights complaints, and afford reparation to victims.

7) A built in review mechanism that requires member States to demonstrate their progress in five years’ time.

Despite these notable positive elements, the Recommendation falls short in a number of important respects. The language used regrettably reflects States’ overall reluctance to adopt stronger commitments in certain critical areas. The Recommendation fails to address the question of the application of statutes of limitations to crimes under international law committed by corporations. Additionally, provision for assessment and review of the Recommendation’s implementation over time is disappointingly weak. It is hoped that future reviews will reconsider these issues in the Recommendation.

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