The international community adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in June 2011, pledging to address the adverse impacts of business activities. Five years later, progress has been minimal, writes Jerome Chaplier.
Nike’s use of child labourers was a big issue in the 90s. Nestlé’s profiting from child slavery in its Ivory Coast supply chains made headlines in early 2000. Likewise, the social and environmental harms caused by Shell in Nigeria will not easily wash away from public memory.
The UNGPs’ endorsement in 2011 represented an important step towards improved corporate accountability. They were the first global standard articulating that states must protect human rights against the adverse impacts of business activity and ensure access to justice and remedy for victims, while companies have a responsibility to prevent and address their negative impacts.
With the Principles, the debate moved from why to how states should ensure company responsibility for human rights. The moment brought hope and energy to a David and Goliath battle civil society and victims of corporate abuse had been fighting for decades.
But the UNGPs are only as effective as our governments allow them to be. And in the five years since their adoption, civil society excitement has worn off quickly. It has become obvious that despite their public commitments, the EU and its member states were in no hurry to walk the talk.
Proof is the multitude of human rights and environmental scandals that have continued to surface. The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, Dieselgate and the gross mistreatment of workers on FIFA’s Qatar 2022 stadiums are just some examples of continuing corporate disregard for people and the planet. And the epidemic extends to all industries: from mining to textiles, from agriculture to electronics.
ECCJ published this opinion article today, 16 June, in Euractiv.
by Jerome Chaplier (coordinator of the European Coalition for Corporate Justice)