Rights for people - rules for business

13 Sep 2010|Added Value

Doing the right thing can be the single most important aspect of your business in terms of securing its long term viability. NGO’s, like Germanwatch, advocate for a political, economic and social framework that will move Corporate Social Responsibility beyond a voluntary requirement.  Cornelia Heydenreich, Senior Advisor Corporate Accountability, Germanwatch gives us their viewpoint.

“European companies impact people’s lives all over theworld. While these companies can positively influence societies by investing and providing jobs, they can also cause substantial harm to people and the environment. Particularly in the third world countries, companies too often act irresponsibly – from employing children to destroying rainforests.

Recent examples of negative impacts of European companies and their suppliers include the deaths of 50 textile workers in a Bangladeshi supplier for H&M, the suicides at the world’s largest electronics supplier factory of Foxconn in China, the aftermath of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico or the sourcing of coltan for electronics and other goods which is fuelling the armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These events make headlines and cause public concern. And pose a reputational risk to the companies involved. However, it is not only the public that is concerned; politicians are looking to take action. There are currently two important processes at the European and International level.

At the United Nations, Professor John G. Ruggie serves as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on business & human rights. John Ruggie has proposed a policy framework for business and human rights based on three pillars: the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including businesses; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and greater access by victims to effective remedies. In the first half of the next year, Ruggie is expected to present his final report about how to implement this framework.

At the European level, the discussion about Corporate Social Responsibility is developing beyond the ‘corporate voluntary’ status. In 2009, the then EU Vice President and Commissioner Guenther Verheugen stated: “Regulation and CSR, while being mutually exclusive, are dynamic and evolving. CSR in twenty years will certainly encompass some other commitments than it does today.” At the moment, the EU is awaiting the results of a commissioned study analysing the existing EU legal framework applicable to European companies operating in third countries. The EU is working towards obtaining a level-playing field for businesses to remind everyone that human rights are universal and should be globally respected.

Currently, that level-playing field is not always guaranteed. Companies that want to respect human rights as well as social and environmental standards, often feel at a competitive disadvantage. So we believe it will be in the interest of those willing companies that binding regulations for the social and environmental impacts of companies are established and legally binding. There is a new civil society campaign in Europe pushing for these rules, and they look for support from progressive companies. Its simple and clear slogan calls “Rights for people – rules for business”.

Cornelia Heydenreich, Senior Advisor Corporate Accountability, Germanwatch



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