Human rights and business - discussing the United Nation's new role

24 June 2011

On 16 June this year, in an unprecedented step, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) endorsed a new set of Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.

Controversy rages around the extent transnational corporations are legally obliged to respect human rights, says Professor David Kinley.
Controversy rages around the extent transnational corporations are legally obliged to respect human rights, says Professor David Kinley.

For the first time these principles will provide a global standard for states and companies to both prevent and remedy "adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity".

A seminar presented by Sydney Law School on Monday 27 June will evaluate these new principles and whether they are adequate to address the diversity of corporate activities around the world - from mining to financial services, from technology to the construction industry.

Professor David Kinley from Sydney Law School who will be speaking at the event, said, "After six years of a rollercoaster ride, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, has had his final report endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council. But this is only the end of the beginning. The controversy rages on around questions regarding the extent to which transnational corporations are legally obliged to respect human rights and what responsibilities they bear.

"Although many Western states and large multinational corporations warmly welcomed the guiding principles on the respective duties of states and corporations, as well as what remedies should be available to the victims of abuses, many NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were more cautious. As were states such as Ecuador whose courts have just handed down an enormous multi-billion dollar award against oil giant Chevron.

"One area of concern is the insubstantial and non-binding nature of the guidelines and how to keep up the pressure for tighter regulation of corporate conduct," Professor Kinley said.

The seminar brings together three renowned and long-standing experts in the field. They will discuss the implications for governments and corporations alike, the role that should be played by the Australian government and major Australian corporations and the latest news of high-profile cases in the US seeking to enforce international legal obligations on the overseas operations of US businesses.

The speakers are:

  • Professor David Kinley, Sydney Law School
  • Rachel Nicholson, Allens Arthur Robinson
  • Odette Murray, Attorney General's Department

The guiding principles are the culmination of six years of research, consultation and discussion involving governments, businesses and civil society from around the world including investors and affected individuals and groups.

The new standards outline how states and businesses should implement the United Nations 'Protect, Respect and Remedy' Framework in order to better manage business and human rights challenges.

Event details

What:After Ruggie: The future of business and human rights

When: 5.30pm, Monday 27 June (registration and refreshments from 5pm)

Where: Minter Ellison Room, Level 13, St James Campus, 173-175 Phillip Street, Sydney. See map

Cost: $150, Sydney Law School alumni $120, fulltime students $44

To register or for more information, visit the Sydney Law School website.