Human Rights: A Moral and Material Business Concern

Human Rights: A Moral and Material Business Concern

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Human Rights: A Moral and Material Concern - Marcy Murninghan's new blolumn @MurnPost
Friday, July 1, 2011 - 10:11am


The TakeAway: Several sustainability milestones were reached in June, but the greatest of these was the UN Human Rights Council endorsement of the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, which established human rights as both a moral and material consideration for economic enterprise.

It’s the end of June, and time to break out the sunscreen and flip-flops. Before sipping those sangrias, we thought it worth reviewing the major milestones occurring this month, which advance sustainability and justice.  Among the markers are those involving human rights; sustainability impact; integrated / sustainability reporting; and sustainability ratings. This progress signals the maturation of a movement that has ancient roots, yet continues to be challenged by those with parochial beliefs in unlimited growth and the supremacy of coins and paper over people and planet.  And, they point to new frontiers in need of civilization, particularly regarding stronger integration of sustainability and justice into socio-political systems and an emerging world economy. Today and tomorrow, we’ll provide a recap before commencing flag-waving and fireworks.

First up: the landmark June 16th UN Human Rights Council (HRC) endorsement of the Guiding Principles for Business and Human RightsImplementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework. The HRC action further establishes human rights as both a moral and material part of economic enterprise, extending a principle that’s been around (but not widely accepted) for decades.  (Reminder: South African apartheid and the Sullivan Principles, or Northern Ireland discrimination and the MacBride Principles.)  The Guiding Principles were proposed by Harvard Kennedy School professor John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) on human rights and transnational corporations.  We think it’s among the most important milestones in the recent era of corporate responsibility and sustainability, particularly given its emphasis on stakeholder engagement and collaboration among government, business, and civil society.  


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