A new chapter in the protection of human rights: a decade of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Business and human rights

Business and human rights, © AA

18.05.2021 - Article

In 2011, the United Nations adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. After ten years, it is now time to take stock. On 18 May, the Federal Foreign Office is hosting an international dialogue on the protection of human rights in the global economy.

By adopting the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ten years ago, the United Nations created a global framework for corporate due diligence. It defined both demands made of states to protect human rights as well as the responsibility of businesses for their global supply and value chains.

On the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Guiding Principles, the Federal Foreign Office has invited international decision-makers from politics, business and civil society to discuss the progress made. At the same time, forced labour, the exploitation of children in mines or the driving out of small-scale farmers however remain a sad reality. Further efforts are thus crucial. An important focus of the discussion will be European and German legislative proposals on corporate due diligence in supply chains.

At the opening of the conference on 18 May, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas underscored:

Human rights, social and environmental standards need to be reflected in all of our international trade relations and agreements. Yes, we want open markets. But our market must no longer be open to products and companies relying on forced or child labour or any other practices that violate human rights.

For a fair and sustainable economy

On 3 March 2021, the Federal Government adopted draft legislation on corporate due diligence along supply chains. Debate is currently underway in the German Bundestag. The draft law is also based on the findings of the business and human rights monitoring that the Federal Foreign Office has conducted twice since 2018. This monitoring examines the extent to which businesses have anchored the respect of human rights in their supply chains and their corporate culture. The study was part of the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP). The NAP is currently being updated through talks with experts from society and business being held to that end. The aim is to adapt the NAP to current demands and feed the law on supply chains as a new element into the policy mix. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas emphasised on 18 May:

Building back better after the pandemic won’t work without protecting human rights along global supply chains. Many of our companies know that. They want to make sure that the quality label “Made in Germany” also holds true for products “Made with Germany”. Our new human rights due diligence law will serve as an incentive in this regard.

What are the UN Guiding Principles?

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for the first time constitute a generally recognised point of reference for human rights obligations of states and for the responsibility of companies in global supply and value chains. The UN Guiding Principles were drawn up during a six-year consultation period under the direction of then Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Prof. John Ruggie. The UN Human Rights Council adopted them by consensus in 2011. The UN Guiding Principles have become a fixture in the work of many international organisations, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Further information on the Federal Government’s human rights policy

Guiding principles for business and human rights:implementing the UN framework (German)


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