The Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, which outline ways for companies and governments to prevent and address human rights abuses, were endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June.

Now what?

You can help answer this question. The new UN-appointed Working Group on Business and Human Rights is calling for input as it develops its three-year work plan.

The Working Group’s mandate includes:

  • Promoting the dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles
  •  Identifying good practices and lessons learned
  • Advising on the development of domestic legislation and policies
  • Leading a new annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

The collection of good practices is clearly of interest to the business community. In BSR’s human rights training session before last week’s BSR Conference 2011, the 20 companies in attendance were hungry for examples from other businesses that have implemented the Guiding Principles. A number of companies have stated their intent to do so, but it’s too soon to know what they’ve produced. The Working Group would provide a great service by following up with these companies and bringing their experiences into the public domain.

Some companies have expressed their desire to see sector-specific guidance. A group of banks including Barclays and Credit Suisse recently declared that they will develop “a practical application guide setting out the challenges and best-practice examples of operationalizing the Guiding Principles in universal banks.” Additionally, BSR published a report in August on applying the Guiding Principles in the information and communications technology sector, and in October, BSR held a workshop in Paris for capital-intensive industries.

A number of human rights campaigners expressed disappointment that the Guiding Principles did not place more emphasis on corporate accountability, so expect to see them press the Working Group on this front. 

The Working Group is not the only game in town when it comes to addressing company impacts on human rights: Other multilateral agencies like the OECD, International Organization for Standardization (better known as ISO), and the International Finance Corporation are all working on this issue, as are individual companies, government agencies, lenders and investors, NGOs, and communities affected by business.

But the UN sets the agenda at the global level. Given the extensive uptake of the Guiding Principles even in their infancy, it is clear that the UN has the potential to produce tools that are useful to a wide range of people and organizations around the world.

But that potential won’t be realized without stakeholder input. Exercise your voice and enable the UN Working Group to help all of us ensure that business contributes to the realization of human rights rather than causes harm.

What would be most useful to you? Email the Working Group directly at wg-business@ohchr.org by December 8. If you would prefer to feed into BSR’s submission, add a comment here, or contact BSR Human Rights Director Faris Natour at fnatour@bsr.org before November 30.