After a failed attempt of the United Nations to establish mandatory standards for businesses in 2003, in June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) presented to it by the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, Professor John G. Ruggie.

The UNGPs are organized around three pillars: the state's duty to protect human rights; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need to provide access to remedy for those who have been adversely affected by business-related activities.

The UNGPs have become the authoritative framework for preventing and addressing corporate human rights abuses. Nonetheless, their main limitation is that they are not legally binding, which means that they do not create new obligations for states or for businesses. The UNGPs are a soft law instrument that elaborates on the implications of existing normative frameworks, standards and practices for States and businesses, and include points covered variously in international and domestic law.

The role of purely voluntary approaches and the need to combine these with mandatory standards for companies has been and continues to be central to the debate on this subject.

Following up with the UNGPs many business enterprises are implementing their responsibility to respect human rights through voluntary commitments However, the reality of the actions of businesses on the ground has shown the limitations of over reliance on voluntary measures and ‘soft law’ regulation. Recent developments at national and EU level show the use of hard law to govern corporate behavior in an effort to comply with the state duty to protect and to fill in the content of the business human rights due diligence. From this perspective this presentation explores major trends in the State duty to protect human rights against corporate-related abuse. It will also discuss positive and negative implications of recent developments.


A sandwich lunch will be available from 12.30. The meeting will begin at 1pm.