After six years in office the UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, acknowledges that he has made progress in his job since his appointment in 2005, but he has been mainly driven by many NGOs that accused for decades the companies’ manners in some countries, particularly international businesses. Carlos Lopez, a senior legal advisor to the International Commission of Jurists, an NGO based in Geneva, reports that national and international corporations – and the states from which they originate – are opposed to excessively restrictive obligations or texts.
These firms consider that these rules could affect their ability to compete against other companies from China, India or Russia, which have different standards. But precisely a hundred years ago, the International Labour Organisation was created to establish standards that everyone would agree to meet.
It goes now beyond the rights of workers. Some suggest e.g. a set of standards, such as the right to a healthy environment. But businesses and their respective states do not want to hear about it. They say we must leave the markets go without putting rules that may impede business operations. Otherwise, facing too many binding rules (eg. taxes), they are afraid they will make less profit. There’s the rub.
A country where standards should urgently be implemented is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Navanethem Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has repeatedly criticized the serious violations of human rights in the region, breaches connected to the mining activities and the extraction of natural resources, which are often contracted with transnational industries.
Many armed groups control these areas and they do it for economic reasons. They want to make a lucrative profit because these regions are rich in minerals. It is very well described in the meddling report to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is precisely in these pockets controlled by armed groups that mining is organized. They manage resource exploitation in situations of terrible abuse that could be defined as international crimes. In addition, international companies and companies located in other countries buy these minerals and are therefore involved in transactions. So there are different levels of involvement of foreign companies. And the international community does little to change that.
Yet the situation in DRC is closely followed by the Security Council. It has established codes of conduct and asks corporations to pay particular attention to the fact that minerals mined in the DRC do not benefit armed groups and do not help fueling the conflict. Companies should have clearer objectives in terms of respect for human rights. It should set more rules to ensure that the entire chain, all activities in any way, do not violate human rights. And that in addition they do not contribute to ensure that others do so.
Last June John Ruggie’s mandate ended. The first Special Representative of the UN for Business and Human Rights has succeeded anyway adopting common principles. However, he did not want that these principles were binding. Thus, only the goodwill shall prevail. That is a bit thin in the competitive world of these often lawlessness areas where victims have often no remedy at law.