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Video: UN Special Representative John Ruggie on efforts to end human rights violations by corporations in areas of conflict

Dr. John G. Ruggie is the Special Representative of the Secretary‐General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises. Last week, he announced efforts by a group of states to address the problem of corporate involvement in human rights violations in areas of conflict. The UN News Centre reports:

With the worst abuses of human rights by corporations taking place in areas of conflict, an independent United Nations expert today announced that a group of nations is joining forces with the world body to identify how to quash such violations in war zones.Areas wracked by fighting “attract illicit enterprises who treat them as lawless zones,” John Ruggie, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, told reporters in New York.

Even well-recognized firms can become involved in some of the most serious abuses, including complicity in forced labour and genocide, he added.

The first meeting of the more than one dozen nations, to be held next month, will be an informal and off-the-record session to come up with practical administrative and legal measures Mr. Ruggie could then propose to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

The governments will “bring their experiences to the table and we will pick and choose from what makes the most sense,” he said.

Countries that have agreed to take part include Brazil, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Nigeria, Norway, Sierra Leone, the United Kingdom and the United States.

On criticism over the actions of Chinese firms in Africa and Latin America, Mr. Ruggie likened their situation to that of North American mining companies when they first entered the Andean region.

“Their operations were run by cowboys who thought they’d never left Denver or Calgary and they did a miserable job and made a mess of things,” but ultimately they were forced to change their practices, he said. “My aim in this project is to shorten the learning curve significantly and to make sure that everybody does learn.”

The mandate of Mr. Ruggie, who was first appointed to his role in 2005, includes operationalizing a three-pronged framework which emphasizes the need for the State to protect against rights abuses by third parties; corporations’ responsibilities to respect human rights; and access to remedies, be they judicial or mediation services.

Let’s hope that these efforts have a positive effect.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.