Wits develop principles: business & human rights

The United Nations has mandated a group of scholars anchored by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University to develop what promises to become substantively human rights aware codes of good business practice.

In a statement released yesterday CALS announced that it and coalition partners in Asia and Africa has been appointed to develop a template for the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The assignment is interesting as coming alongside a flurry of business codes and initiatives that purport to observe human rights. On top of this pile, will be the so called codes of good corporate governance.

In South Africa these take form through the King codes which

are now on their third version and are officially known as the King III Report. In the UK, they have the Cadbury code and the Sarbanes- Oxley trail in the US. Critics, there are many, say this trail which has been driven by business interests has only come to fudge the human rights issues. In the post global financial crisis era there is a rising tide calling for business to be held accountable which is a move away from the view the business responsibility discourse.

The CALS announcement said the assignment was made by the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. The UN Working Group’s decision follows an open call earlier this year for project proposals on this topic, and an objective evaluation of the many proposals received on the basis of, among other things, the value and experience of the proposers.

Bonita Meyersfeld, Associate Professor and Director at CALS said “The UN Working Group has awarded this important National Action Plans (NAP) project to the coalition, with precise instructions to assist it in developing a NAP Template for use by governments, business enterprises, civil society and other stakeholders on a variety of topics,”

“This template will also inform the UN Working Group’s guidance to UN Member States and other actors at the UN Human Rights Council and other fora to better ensure accountability for human rights violations in the context of business activities.”

The coalition partners also include the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria; the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law at the University of Johannesburg; the Asian Business & Rule of Law initiative at the Singapore Management University Law School (SMU-ABRL), Singapore Compact, ASEAN CSR Network as well as independent consultants, Joanne Bauer, Adjunct Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, USA and Sumi Dhanarajan, Adviser at SMU-ABRL and a board member of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

The CALS statement also noted that the assignment is significant step in marking the first award and commissioning by the UN Working Group of a project involving third parties from the regions represented in the coalition.

We at ujuh.co.za hope that this will benefit the push for business to be held accountable for their actions. That is because the promise of responsibility that comes with documents like King III which have mainly translated into glossy annual reports which make largely unsubstantiated and unaccountable claims.


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