The Death of the U.N. Norms

Author: Bart Mongoven, Stratfor, Published on: 10 March 2006

In his first report on issues relating to the human-rights obligations of businesses, U.N. Special Representative John Ruggie effectively negated three years of work on a code of conduct by the U.N. Human Rights Commission -- and simultaneously carved out a conceptual role for the United Nations in regulating the activities of multinational corporations...If implemented as a treaty, the Norms [UN Norms on business & human rights] would mean that a company could be sued for failing to provide extensive benefits to its employees and local communities, or for failing to prevent localized violations of human rights. Ruggie has scrapped that framework and recommended another approach...[N]ation-states would be the venue through which multinational corporations are called to account. A treaty following this approach would not be easily weakened by rogue countries that simply do not enforce human-rights standards; the decision to enforce the standards would rest with the governments of the corporations' home countries. In other words, under this structure, a company like Yahoo!, which faces difficult ethical and operational considerations in countries like China, would be able to point to U.S. enforcement of the human rights treaty, and legitimately tell Beijing that the company cannot comply with certain demands...[D]espite pilot attempts by businesses to implement them, the Norms were entirely unworkable in practice and progress toward a treaty was completely stalled.

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Related companies: Yahoo! (part of Verizon)