I spend a lot of time on this blog looking at corporate responsibility for minimizing human rights impacts within their spheres. It is my primary area of focus within my scholarship and the area that I feel where we have the greatest ability to impact change.
However, I was reminded that there are two other very important pillars in the three pillar Protect, Respect and Remedy framework (the foundational document for the subsequent Guiding Principles).
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop hosted by the U.S. Department of State in conjunction with Harvard Law School’s Pension Project Workshop. The workshop was entitled Promoting Labor and Human Rights Through Investment. As the name would suggest, there was a lot of discussion regarding what role institutional investors can and should have in promoting human rights issues within corporations.
The conference was fascinating – it felt like I learned a seminar’s worth of material in seven hours. There were many themes that emerged throughout the day – too many to put all in one post. But, one thing that struck me as a I looked around the room was – despite the many issues that the United States has in struggling with this issue – I have reason to remain hopeful; of the more than fifty participants who were involved in the workshop during the day, almost half of them were from the federal government. Representatives from the Department of State and the Department of Labor were there to take part in a conversation that, in order to be successful needs to take place on all levels of government.
I also learned that it’s more than just appearances – there are different agencies throughout the federal government that are taking concrete steps to try and implement the State’s duty to protect.
Here are just three examples:
- The Department of State recently issued a document entitled U.S. Government Approach on Business and Human Rights
- The Department of Labor has produced a toolkit for responsible business on the issue of reducing child labor and forced labor
- President Obama’s administration has issued Executive Order 13514 requiring federal agencies to report on their sustainability efforts.
These actions highlight the fact that, although imperfect, there is still movement here in the United States on the State’s Duty to Protect. And I’m not the only one taking note. On their recent country visit to the United States, the U.N. Working Group for Business and Human Rights commented that it “welcomed the US Government’s political leadership in supporting and committing to the implementation of the GPs. Government agencies at both federal and state levels are making notable efforts to address specific business-related human rights challenges.”
Generally, my own philosophical viewpoint on business and human rights issues is that in order to effect change in this area we will need to focus our efforts on changing business practices. While I still believe this is true, yesterday’s workshop reminded me that if used wisely, the United States can have an incredible role to play as well.