The Necessity for a Business and Human Rights Treaty

28 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2015

See all articles by David Bilchitz

David Bilchitz

University of Johannesburg; University of Reading - School of Law

Date Written: November 30, 2014


In June 2014, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution whereby countries agreed to commence discussions on a legally binding instrument relating to transnational corporations and other business enterprises. In this article, I outline four arguments for why a treaty is necessary to cure important lacunae in international law in this field. The arguments all are rooted in a common normative understanding of fundamental rights and seek to ensure that they are accorded the importance they deserve in this increasingly globalized world. Whilst each argument on its own has strength, this paper aims to emphasize the cumulative case that the four arguments create in favour of a treaty. The emphasis throughout is upon why a binding legal instrument is particularly important, as opposed to softer forms of regulation such as the United Nations Guiding Principles. I then turn to several objections recently raised by Professor John Ruggie, the former Special Representative of the Secretary General on Business and Human Rights. I attempt to show why none of these objections provides good reason to abandon the idea of a treaty as well as why it would be unfortunate to proceed with Ruggie’s more restrictive proposal for a treaty that only addresses ‘gross’ human rights violations.

Keywords: business, human rights, treaty, United Nations Guiding Principles, John Ruggie

JEL Classification: K10, K22, K33, Z00

Suggested Citation

Bilchitz, David, The Necessity for a Business and Human Rights Treaty (November 30, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

David Bilchitz (Contact Author)

University of Johannesburg ( email )

PO Box 524
Auckland Park
Johannesburg, Gauteng 2006
South Africa
0113391194 (Phone)
0113391167 (Fax)


University of Reading - School of Law ( email )

Reading, RG6 6AH
United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics