How are the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights being put into action?

When people are living in poverty, the conditions they have to endure can represent violations of their human rights - and it is often the poorest who suffer the worst violations. Equally, over the past decade there has been growing recognition of the importance of securing rights to the alleviation of poverty. For example, securing the land rights of smallholder farmers helping access to funding and their willingness to improve their lands and productivity. In parallel a dialogue about the business impacts, both positive and negative, on human rights has been developing.

This dialogue reached a turning point in 2008, when the United Nations published a framework on business and human rights setting out:

  • the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business enterprises,
  • the corporate responsibility to respect human rights,
  • and the need for greater access by victims to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial.

And three years later, the UN published the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights providing guidance to both governments and businesses on how to operationalise this framework. It is early days, but this week of articles looks at how the Guiding Principles are being promoted, how companies are beginning to integrate them into single company and collective action, and how the principles support multi-stakeholder action to relieve poverty.

Please join our discussion below. Post your own questions and on Wednesday 3rd July at 10.30 EST / 15.30 BST our panel of experts will take them up in live eDiscussion - please join them then.

Here are some questions to get us started:

  1. What is your awareness of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights? What specific questions do you have about them?
  2. How is your company going about the implementation of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights? And what is it learning?
  3. What ways can you see in your work whether in a development organisation or a company, of using the approach of the UN Framework and Guiding Principles to help address issues of poverty?

Editor's Note:

Luke Wilde, Director of twentyfifty ltd.

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I am really looking forward to the discussion tomorrow on this important and highly topical subject.

In particular I hope we can find out more about what difference the Guiding Principles have made to companies actions on the ground - rather than their public declarations and organisational changes (appointing Human Rights Advisors etc). If a responsible company already has an active environmental and social responsibility framework which includes impact assessment and tracked mitigation actions (rather than good PR), what has been the additional benefit of "Ruggie implementation"? Or, dare I say this, has it introduced an additional layer of opacity and complexity on a companies' frontline activities by adding human rights language poorly understood by the frontline managers and their workforce? Let's have some examples of where a better outcome for all has been achieved please. (And I ask this as an ardent promoter of the need for responsible and accountable business to play an active and positive role in social development - to be clear!)

Man after my own heart Graham! Thank you for getting the conversation going...let's hope we can address your concern in the eDiscussion tomorrow. Keep the questions coming!

Good afternoon, one of my overnight reflections on Graham's challenge is that I have seen companies with existing ESIA processes paying more attention to specific 'vulnerable groups' in their assessments such as the disabled, children or indigenous groups - this is a key feature of a human rights approach.

Looking forward to being joined by the other members of the panel this afternoon. Anyone want to put a couple of questions up now for them to being with?

Hi Luke

Marcela and I are here.


Hi There,

I’m having trouble following the conversation. I have tried to view this site on both a google chrome and a internet explorer browser. In both cases the page is disjointed and i’m pretty sure not the way that your webdesign is intended to look like. Could someone please let me know if this is a common issue or just mine. Such a shame as I really can’t follow the debate.


Welcome to the eDiscussion! Thanks to twentyfifty for organising today's event, and to our panelists for joining:

  • Matthias Leisinger, Head of Corporate Responsibilty, Kuoni
  • Marcela Manubens, Global VP for Social Impact, Unilever
  • Alan Sadler, Communications Manager, Ethical Trading Initiative
  • Luke Wilde, Director, twentyfifty ltd
  • Katryn Wright, Program Manager, Global Business Initiative on Human Rights

To kick things off, can I ask the panel - what is your awareness of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights? What specific questions do you have about them?

Hello all, and thank you for the opportunity to join today. To kick-off my awareness comes from our work at the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights. Our work focuses on two main strands related to the Guiding Principles - first, convening and engaging the GBI member companies on peer-to-peer learning on human rights, with a focus on the GPs. And second, our Outreach work promote and disseminate the GPs to business audiences in emerging and developing markets.

Hi, I’m Alan from the Ethical Trading Initiative. We’ve run a couple of sessions for our company members to help them get to grips with the Guiding Principles. Level of engagement varies greatly, with many companies unsure where best to start. If you're one of those, you're not alone. Awareness and engagement is certainly growing however. One of our members who has piloted work directly around the UNGPs is Tesco. Due diligence work led them to design a grievance mechanism for a network of fruit farms in South Africa. They worked with a local NGO on a communications toolkit to help roll it out. There’s further info about this project at

Hi. Just saw this topic for today with great interest. I have seen a few examples where applying a human rights lens to a specific issue has greatly helped companies deal with a complicated situation. A questions for the panel: 1) I am interested in how global companies are rolling out their human rights policies and systems in different markets. Could any of the panellists share insights on capacity building or training that their companies have had to initiate and different approaches they had to take in different markets?

Hello everyone. The brilliance of John Ruggie's work was to bring together the global, universal human rights principles, best business practices to create the protect and respect pillars and then creat a pillar that addresses remedies in the absence of implementation or in the presence of significant obstacles.

We have been working with multinational companies and human rights for almost a decade. The Guiding Principles have brought great clarity to the work, and we find ourselves working now with individuals companies to help them develop their internal due diligence practices. Over the next two days we are sharing this experience of practical implementation through the training course; operationalizing the guiding principles which we are running for the UK UN global compact network - and have run for the German network since 2008.

Hello - looking forward to an inspiring discussions. 3 years ago Tourismconcern - a UK based NGO focusing on sustainable tourism launched a paper called 'putting tourism to Rights' calling on all major tourism stakeholders to take action to ensure that human rights of individuals and communities in tourism destinations and industry employees are respected and protected. for us as a company that was the starting point

An example from Unilever has been the engagement with Oxfam. They conducted an independent study on UNGP in action in our operations in Vietnam. We felt strong that it was important to have a uncompromised voice to look into our operations and hold a mirror. You can find a public report at Oxfam's and our website. We received recommendations on two levels: for Vietnam and for our global operations. As a result we made specific commitments, eg, to strenghten the existing grievance mechanisms, to conduct further training with Supplier, to review our practices on contract labour, etc.

Hi Michelle, good question. I believe that leading companies have started off with pretty generic materials on human rights when it comes to training/capacity building. They are now beginning to recognise the need for specific tailoring / localisation particularly when it comes to high risk countries. We developed a module for a mining company which was sending an exploration team into DRC. I think what was interesting about this, was that we designed it to bring to life the corporate policy and guidance, and facilitated some 'rules of the road' which were really team/individual behaviours designed as preventative - that really made it real for them in their daily work.

Great comments so far! Let me pose the second question - how is your company going about the implementation of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights? And what is it learning?

We as Kuoni have conducted a human rights impact assessment last year in Kenya as a pilot to assess our human rights impacts along the value chain - the report ist publicly available; we have identified six core areas we want to mitigate the impact and defined measures as follow up. training is one of them. But as luke highlights training is still very generic in our company and has to be tailored to the different countries but also management levels - a major challenge.

Hi Michelle, some things that we are seeing are companies designing training modules and conducting training, both online and face to face, and undertaking capacity-building to ensure that respect for human rights is integrated throughout the business functions and units. Also, some companies are doing this not just for their own employees, but for their suppliers and other business partners in their value chain.

Dear Marcela, one of the things we are seeing elsewhere - particularly in states which are undergoing rapid social change, and I think of Eqypt amongst others. Is that worker expectations are changing quite fast, and this means human rights issues are being raised which perhaps haven't surfaced in the past. I think is probably pointing towards a capacity building/training requirement for local management around managing to international standards / expectations. Did the Oxfam/Vietnam report show this in any way?