Statement of Support for the UN Human Rights Norms for Business

18/03/2004
Urgent Appeal

In our view, the UN Human Rights Norms for Business represent a major step forward in the process of establishing a common global framework for understanding the responsibilities of business enterprises with regard to human rights. The five-person Working Group of the Sub-Commission for the promotion and protection of human rights, which drafted the Norms, developed them through an open process of consultation with governments, businesses, NGOs and unions over a period of nearly four years. By adopting the Norms on August 13, 2003, the Sub-Commission also approved an extensive commentary on the Norms that provides clarification of the scope and interpretation of the proposed norms and transmitted both the Norms and Commentary to the UN Commission on Human Rights.

The value of the Norms lies in providing coherence to a disparate set of human rights obligations of non-state economic actors presently found in various international law instruments, voluntary standards, and company codes. For instance, they incorporate the minimum labour standards embodied in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles of Rights at Work. The Norms do not create new legal obligations, but simply codify and distil existing obligations under international law as they apply to companies.

The UN Norms do not attempt to circumvent or undermine the responsibilities of governments to enforce existing human rights laws. In fact, they state at the outset that “States have the primary responsibility to respect, ensure respect for, prevent abuses of, and promote human rights recognized in international as well as national law.” Nor do the Norms attempt to impose responsibilities on businesses which are not appropriate to them.
Instead they clearly state that companies have only responsibilities “within their respective spheres of activity and influence.” Indeed the entire thrust of the Norms is to encourage the development of stable environments for investment and business, regulated by the rule of law, in which contracts are honoured, corruption reduced, and where business enterprises, both foreign and domestic, have clearly defined rights and responsibilities.

We believe that it is critically important at this stage to avoid a rushed decision on the UN Norms on the basis of inadequate or insufficient information. The UN Norms deserve a chance to be more carefully studied by the Commission on Human Rights, governments and the business community before any action is taken. We therefore urge Delegations at the Commission on Human Rights not to take actions that could undermine the Norms at this session.


The NGO community and the members of civil society (full list below) will consider any attempt to act against the Norms — including sending the Norms back to the Sub-Commission — to be detrimental to the notion of corporate accountability.

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  • Co-signatories

    RAID, Rights and Accountability in Development, United Kingdom
    Amnesty International, International Secretariat
    ODEMIHF, Org. para el desarrollo de las mujeres inmigrantes haitianas y sus familiares, Inc., Santo Domingo
    Human Rights Council of Australia Inc, Australia
    Amnistía Internacional, Sección México
    Pax Christi Netherlands
    FairFood, Netherlands
    INFID, International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, Indonesia
    Center of Concern, USA
    Indignación A.C., México
    Front Line, The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Ireland
    WALHI (Indonesia NGO forum for Environment/FoE Indonesia), Indonesia
    China Labour Bulletin, Hong Kong, China
    Mineral Policy Institute, Australia
    Ririki, Intervención Social, México
    EarthRights International, USA and Thailand
    Human Rights Advocates, USA
    Natural Heritage Institute, USA
    Movimiento por la Paz, el Desarme y la Libertad, Guatemala
    The Norwegian Forum, Norway
    Fundación Mujer y Futuro, Colombia
    WIDE, Network Women in Development Europe, Belgium
    Center for Justice & Accountability, USA
    Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA
    IDEAS, Iniciativas de Economía Alternativa y Solidaria, Spain
    Amnesty International Belgium
    India Commitee of the Netherlands (ICN), Netherlands
    Center for Economic and Social Rights, USA
    Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order, USA
    Anti-Slavery International, United Kingdom
    FIAN Internacional, Sección México
    Sampradaan Indian Centre for Philanthropy, India
    Fair Trade Organisatie, Netherlands
    Red de Apoyo a la Causa Zapatista, México
    Forum Menschenrechte, Germany
    Bronkhorst International Law Services, Netherlands
    Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, A.C., México
    Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, India
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Switzerland
    SOLIFONDS, Switzerland
    Organización Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores (ORIT), Venezuela
    Schweizer MIVA, Switzerland
    Norvega Esperantista Ligo / Norsk Esperanto-Forbund, Norway
    Massagepraxis Wellness, Switzerland
    Infact, USA
    Friends of the Earth International, Netherlands
    Associazione TATAVASCO - Rete Lilliput, Italy
    Environmental Health Fund, USA
    Red Bioplaneta, Mexico
    Derechos Humanos Positivos, Mexico
    FIDH / International Federation of Human Rights


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