Business and Human Rights: The Evolving International Agenda

39 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2007

See all articles by John Gerard Ruggie

John Gerard Ruggie

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: June 2007


The state-based system of global governance has struggled for more than a generation to adjust to the expanding reach and growing influence of transnational corporations, the most visible embodiment of globalization. This paper reviews two recent chapters in this endeavor, focused specifically on human rights: the "Draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights," adopted by the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights but not by its parent body, the UN Human Rights Commission (since replaced by the Human Rights Council); and the author's subsequent UN mandate as Special Representative of the Secretary-General "on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises." The paper analyzes key conceptual flaws of the draft Norms, noting the pitfalls of imposing on corporations, directly under international law, the same range of human rights duties that states have; it presents an empirical mapping of current international standards and practices regarding business and human rights, ranging from the most deeply rooted international legal obligations to voluntary initiatives; and it proposes a strategy for building on existing momentum in order to reduce human rights protection gaps in relation to corporate activities.

Keywords: Business and Government Policy, Human Rights, International Affairs/Globalization, Welfare/Health Care/Social Policy

Suggested Citation

Ruggie, John Gerard, Business and Human Rights: The Evolving International Agenda (June 2007). KSG Working Paper No. RWP07-029, Available at SSRN: or

John Gerard Ruggie (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-384-7569 (Phone)
617-496-0063 (Fax)

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