human rights & business (and a few other things)

Business and Human Rights in the Cleaning Sector – Call for Evidence

The British Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is the National Human Rights Institution for Britain, has launched a project on recruitment and employment practices in the cleaning sector, building on their enlightening report on the meat and poultry processing sectors, published in 2010. They are calling for evidence from cleaners, employers and trade unions, and will conduct interviews in the coming months.

This is a sector where the human rights risks are important as the workforce is 60% female, 37% migrant workers, 59% part time and 22% aged over 54. It is also a sector most of us working in an office environment are users of, even though we may only rarely see cleaners as they work after or before office hours.

I really look forward to seeing the results of this and hope that it will bring about positive developments in the cleaning sector, as has happened in the meat and poultry processing sectors thanks to the Commission’s previous project.

Extraterritorial Obligations of States in Business and Human Rights – A talk at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights


After the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and Harvard University, my research leave has now brought me to the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights in Oslo, where I am spending a few days as a visiting researcher.

On Tuesday I gave a presentation on the extraterritorial obligations of states in the area of business and human rights as part of the Centre’s “Human Rights and Development” research group  lunch series. I reviewed the evolving positions of the UN treaty bodies on this question and commented on the latest developments. These are:

1. The concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee on Germany, issued in November 2012, in which the Committee, using the language of UN Guiding Principle 2, stated  that,

The State party is encouraged to set out clearly the expectation that all business enterprises domiciled in its territory and/or its jurisdiction respect human rights standards in accordance with the Covenant throughout their operations. It is also encouraged to take appropriate measures to strengthen the remedies provided to protect people who have been victims of activities of such business enterprises operating abroad. [para. 16]

2. General Comment No 16 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children’s rights, which I reviewed in a previous post, and were issued in March 2013.

3. The Human Rights Committee’s recently published list of issues in relation to the upcoming examination of Ireland in 2014, which contains the following paragraph:

Please provide information on how the Government addresses concerns regarding the activities of private businesses based in the State party that may lead to violations of the Covenant outside the territory of the State party.

My colleague Dr Shane Darcy from the Irish Centre for Human Rights wrote an interesting post on this on his blog on Business and Human Rights in Ireland.

This is a fast growing area within the business and human rights field and one with numerous opportunities for developments, which I will try to keep track of on this blog.


Exploitation of Natural Resources as a War Crime – New Campaign Including a Brilliant Video

Three NGOs, the Open Society Justice Initiative, Conflict Awareness Project and TRIAL (Track Impunity Always) have joined forced to advance the fight against the looting of natural resources in conflict zones.

The “Stop Pillage” Campaign (#StopPillage on Twitter)  seeks to hold perpetrators and accomplices of pillage around the world accountable by gathering reports, conducting investigations, building cases for criminal complaints, and raising global public awareness. They have put together a really good video which I highly recommend.

The difficulties in holding corporations and corporate leaders to account for this kind of behaviour are many. Often the crimes occur in areas of weak governance, where nothing can be expected from the local authorities. Another option is to initiate proceedings in the countries of incorporation of the parent companies, or of residence of the individuals but this raises often insurmountable jurisdictional issues, not to mention the costs that are prohibitive for disempowered victims living on the other side of the world. A final option is prosecution by the International Criminal Court, for example on the basis of the nationality of the offender (Article 12 ICC Statute). The problem is that since the Court is supposed to focus on the worst crimes and the worst perpetrators, this kind of accomplice liability is unlikely to be considered “grave enough” for the Court to look into it. Moreover the Court does not have jurisdiction over corporations, only individuals.

On 14 November 2013 the New York Times published an interesting article on this issue by James G. Stewart, an assistant professor of law at the University of British Columbia and formerly part of the office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

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