The Ruggie Framework: An Adequate Rubric for Corporate Human Rights Obligations?

87 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2009

See all articles by David Bilchitz

David Bilchitz

South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law; University of Johannesburg

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Date Written: April, 24 2009

Abstract

In 2005, John Ruggie was appointed as a Special Representative to the Secretary-General of the United Nations with a mandate to investigate a number of important questions relating to the obligations of business for the realisation of fundamental rights. Through investigating a number of important conceptual and normative issues, this article attempts to provide a critique of two central claims made by the Ruggie mandate. The first of these involves the assertion that, in general, corporations do not have binding legal obligations under international law. This article seeks to show that a number of accepted features of international human rights law require as a necessary logical consequence that corporations have binding obligations for the realisation of fundamental rights. Whilst there is a lack of clarity as to the exact nature of these obligations under international law, it is argued that Ruggie's rejection of binding legal obligations also does not assist in the development of customary international law in this area and may in fact hamper progress in this regard. The second major claim this article evaluates is the proposition advanced in the recent Ruggie framework that corporations have only a 'responsibility to respect' fundamental rights. This responsibility effectively involves a duty upon business to avoid causing harm to the fundamental rights of others either through its own actions or those it is associated with. It is contended that Ruggie's attempt to capture the nature of corporate obligations is deeply flawed in its restriction of corporate obligations mainly to those which are negative in nature. In fact, corporations also have positive duties actively to contribute to the realisation of fundamental rights and this article attempts to provide a normative basis for this assertion. The importance of the imposition of positive obligations, particularly for developing countries, is illustrated through an example concerning the duties of pharmaceutical companies to make life-saving drugs available at affordable prices to those who need them. Accepting Ruggie's minimalist framework as it stands would mean reducing widely our expectations of business and the very possibility of transforming our world from the current status quo of vast differentials in well-being into one that offers the possibility of realising the rights of all.

Keywords: Ruggie Framework, human rights, corporations, binding obligations, positive duties, responsibility to respect

Suggested Citation

Bilchitz, David, The Ruggie Framework: An Adequate Rubric for Corporate Human Rights Obligations? (April, 24 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1394367 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1394367

David Bilchitz (Contact Author)

South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law ( email )

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University of Johannesburg ( email )

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