In Memoriam: John G. Ruggie (1944-2021)

John Ruggie on the plenary stage at the BSR Conference 2018.

September 20, 2021
  • BSR Staff

All of us at BSR are deeply saddened by the passing of John Ruggie, leader, colleague, and friend.

John is known to many of us at BSR and in our wider network as the dogged visionary who led the creation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  It is no accident that they are referred to as the “Ruggie Principles.” The significance of the Guiding Principles cannot be overstated. They created the de factor global standard on how business should safeguard and advance human rights.  They have been adopted and applied by companies in every corner of the world. John’s vision in steering the Principles to conclusion was matched only by the complexity of the task of achieving a consensus that all stakeholders and nations could embrace.

Aron Cramer, BSR’s President and CEO, recalls that when he spoke with John soon after he was named the Secretary General’s Special Rapporteur on Business and Human Rights, and asked John what he hoped to accomplish, John’s reply was “avoid a train wreck.”  That comment, and his subsequent, painstaking work, showed John at his best: bringing humility, insight, and a strong sense of purpose.  John knew that his task would bring criticism: he never let that deter him, not for one day.

While the UN Guiding Principles are what many of us remember him for—and are deeply grateful for—his professional achievements go well beyond that. John was a close partner with Secretary General Kofi Annan in reforming the United Nations, and he was, along with Mr. Annan and Georg Kell, the architect of the UN Global Compact, to name only two of his signal accomplishments.

Cramer said, “When the definitive history of responsible business in this era is written, John will be in every chapter. He was a master builder who constructed a framework enabling business to shape a better, fairer world, with dignity and respect for all. At a time when globalism is rejected in the name of division, John believed in the universal values of human rights, and was relentless in keeping all of us focused on the vision in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. John also was an extremely kind person. I had the privilege of getting to know John, and travel to far-flung locations with him, getting to see his great sense of humor. I will miss him greatly.”

All of us hope to leave a lasting impact. John has shown us all what that looks like when it is more than an aspiration. His legacy and memory will continue to guide us, enable progress, and give us a model to which we should aspire.

At a time when human rights and democracy are under threat in all corners of the world, it is now up to all of us to take the tools and vision that John has now passed to us, and make the most of them.

Additional tributes to John Ruggie from our partners and friends throughout the Human Rights community.

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