[PDF] A UN Business and Human Rights Treaty Update

Author: John Ruggie, Harvard Univ., former UN Special Representative on business & human rights , Published on: 1 May 2014

The development of an international legal instrument requires a certain degree of consensus among states. And there ought to be reasonable expectations that it will be enforced by the relevant parties...[T]he category of business and human rights…includes complex clusters of different bodies of national and international law…[A]ny attempt to aggregate them into a general business and human rights treaty would have to be pitched at such a high level of abstraction that it is hard to imagine it providing a basis for meaningful legal action...[H]ow would such a treaty be enforced?...[T]o add value any new treaty enforcement provision would have to involve extraterritorial jurisdiction…But state conduct generally makes it clear that they do not regard this to be an acceptable means to address violations of...human rights…It has also been suggested that a treaty body could oversee any such business and human rights instrument...If the reporting were done by states many would lack the capacity to do so adequately...And if the reporting were done by companies directly then presumably states would have to enforce that obligation upon them...[E]numerating these challenges is not an argument against treaties. But it is a cautionary note to avoid going down a road that would end in largely symbolic gestures, of little practical use to real people in real places, and with high potential for generating serious backlash against any form of further international legalization in this domain...

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