UN Human Rights Council LogoThe Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) has appealed to  governments, NGOs and private companies to send proposals for shaping the agenda for a UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations established last June.  

The working group officially began work in November by gathering five independent experts to look into the level of engagement and respect private companies and transnational corporations have for human rights with the aim of ensuring implementation of the Guidelines Principles on Business and Human Rights proposed in 2008 by John Ruggie, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights.

The responsibility of the private sector towards human rights currently rests on the voluntary nature of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and voluntary compliance by corporations to their own internal codes of conduct. In the last few years, headlines about human rights violations by corporations such as Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria, Unocal in Myanmar and the practice of mining ‘’blood diamonds’’ by transnationals throughout the world. 

Behind the headlines caused by these scandals, there has been an increasing awareness and engagement by the private sector in UN initiatives including the UN Global Compact.  In addition, an increased sense of responsibility has emerged through initiatives created directly by industry and corporate associations themselves as well as thorugh programs by NGOs like the Social Accountability International.

Challenges remain in establishing an efficient framework for private sector obligations and standards as well as an effective mechanism for monitoring and enforcement.