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The Global Compact and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

As the United Nations office with primary responsibility for human rights, the mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is to work for the protection of all human rights for all people; to help empower people to realize their rights; and to assist those responsible for upholding such rights in ensuring that they are implemented.

Aims

In pursuing this mission, OHCHR has four strategic aims:

  1. to enhance the effectiveness of the UN human rights machinery;
  2. to increase UN system-wide implementation and co-ordination of human rights;
  3. to build national regional and international capacity to promote and protect human rights; and
  4. to analyze, process and disseminate reports, recommendations and resolutions of UN human rights organs and bodies, as well as other relevant human rights information.

In the area of business and human rights, the OHCHR’s work is focused around four main components:

 

  1. The High Commissioner’s support for the development of human rights standards applicable to the corporate related human rights issues and advocacy for the implementation of such standards;
  2. Support to the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights;
  3. Active support to and involvement in the Global Compact;
  4. Work at field level to build capacities in the business community to promote the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, including through activities and engagement with the Global Compact Networks on how to integrate human rights into business practice.

The Secretary-General’s Global Compact initiative has provided a valuable framework for OHCHR’s efforts to engage the corporate sector on the issue of human rights. OHCHR is focusing its activities in this area on the following:

Clarification of roles and responsibilities of States and business enterprises respectively in relation to corporate related human rights abuses

The impact of business on the enjoyment of human rights is increasingly subject to scrutiny by civil society, stakeholders and communities at large. Within the United Nations human rights system, this is also being addressed, not least in the context of the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who has presented the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” policy framework for business and human rights. Now commonly referred to as the UN framework for business and human rights, it clarifies the roles and respective duties and responsibilities of business and States and rests on three distinct, but interrelated pillars: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others; and greater access by victims to effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial.

OHCHR is also working to sensitize other UN human rights mechanisms like UN treaty bodies and other Special Procedures to the private sector aspects of their respective mandates.

Providing Information and Education

Business leaders are rapidly becoming better informed and supportive of human rights as a critical part of social responsibility. However, many are still unaware or ill-informed. OHCHR believes that it can contribute to significantly enhancing business knowledge by working with the Global Compact and other key partners to provide timely and "user-friendly" information to the corporate sector on UN human rights standards and their implementation mechanisms. More accurate information could help overcome hesitations regarding human rights.

OHCHR is also encouraging dialogue between the business community and human rights advocates to share experiences and plan future cooperation in this area. Identifying and recognizing good business practices which have positive impacts on human rights, is seen by many business leaders and OHCHR as an effective way of stimulating others to take action.

Contact

Lene Wendland
Adviser on Business and Human Rights
Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section
Research and Right to Development Division
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
E-mail: lwendland @ ohchr.org
Tel: +41 22 928 9299
Fax: +41 22 928 9010