There have been numerous efforts to standardise CSR and even to insert a modicum of obligation in order to hold companies accountable. The United Nations Global Compact is a framework for business encompassing human rights, environment and corruption. Companies are encouraged to sign and join the global compact and to abide by its ten principles that include human rights and labour standards. It is voluntary and like individual company CSR policies, can sometimes be used for publicity purposes to boost a company’s image.
In 2003, the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights approved the Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights. The Sub-Commission was a body of the UN Human Rights Commission of Human Rights, the precursor to the UN Human Rights Council, and its draft attempted to codify standards for corporations’ human rights obligations. There was considerable support for the Norms from NGOs and others, but the Sub-Commission handled the presentation of the norms poorly, insisting from the outset that their adoption would instantly make them legally binding. The Human Rights Commission agreed that the Norms would have no legal standing.
With the failure to adopt the obligatory norms for transnational corporation, the UN Secretary-General engaged John Ruggie, one of the original proponents of the Global Compact, to explore the drafting of standards concerning business and human rights.
Ruggie came up with a set of principles that have now been accepted by numerous stakeholders, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They were endorsed by the UN at the Human Rights Council in 2011. The Guidelines reaffirm that the state has the obligation to protect human rights. That is, that governments must prevent human rights abuses by third parties, in this case companies and corporations. Business then must accept the responsibility to respect human rights – a legal obligation of the state, but not legally binding on business. Finally, the principles grant the victims of abuses brought about by the practices of business access to remedy. This is a shared responsibility between the state and business.
Once again, these are guidelines only and in no way enforceable. However, their almost universal acceptance provides human rights advocates a modicum of opportunity to expose those governments and business who do not abide by the Principles.