Major conference on business and human rights: Do businesses have fundamental rights obligations?

Date: Jan 24, 2012 | News


The first major international conference investigating the work of the Ruggie mandate will take place in Johannesburg between 23 and 24 January 2012 at the Constitutional Court Auditorium, Constitution Hill.​

Whether it is gold-mining companies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or textile companies in South-east Asia, corporations increasingly have an impact upon fundamental rights. The global power and reach of multi-national corporations has created the need for urgent answers to a number of pressing questions: what are the legal obligations of corporations in relation to fundamental rights? How far do the obligations of corporations extend in developing countries? When can corporations be said to be complicit with governments and other actors in committing violations of fundamental rights?

 

All these questions have been subject to much debate within academic and legal circles. Prof John Ruggie of Harvard University was tasked by the United Nations to consult a variety of parties on these questions and to produce reports based upon research that seek to answer them. In June 2011, Prof Ruggie ended his mandate and took the overall position that corporations are generally expected to avoid harming fundamental rights as a matter of social expectation (but not international law). States are obligated to regulate corporate behavior in this regard and a variety of remedies must be provided to victims of corporate human rights violations.

 

​These positions are highly controversial. Many claim that corporations already have obligations at international law in relation to fundamental rights: indeed, the corporate ability to violate rights was already a matter that had to be dealt with after World War II in Nuremberg. Others argue that corporations should not simply be required to avoid harming rights: they have wider duties actively to play a role in helping to realize fundamental rights. These differing positions raise important issues concerning the very nature and purpose of the corporation in society.The first major international conference investigating the work of the Ruggie mandate will take place in Johannesburg between 23 and 24 January 2012 at the Constitutional Court Auditorium, Constitution Hill.​

 

David Bilchitz (co-organiser of the conference and both an Associate Professor at the University of Johannesburg and Director of the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC)) explains: “The purpose of the conference is to evaluate the work of the Ruggie mandate and to understand where it has advanced our understanding of business and human rights as well as its shortcomings. We hope the conference will help set the agenda for future work in this area.”

 

Conference programme

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