Robinson and Ruggie bring a lot to the table

Commentary, 27 October 2011

By John Morrison, Chief Executive, IHRB

Jack Ucciferri doesn’t mince words. His op ed in the Huffington Post laments a world facing a “fundamental democratic deficit” with leaders who “don’t seem able to discern what the people are saying.”

We share Mr. Ucciferri’s impatience with persistent economic and social injustice in countries from every region, but find his criticisms of former Irish President Mary Robinson and Harvard professor and former United Nations official John Ruggie misguided and ill informed.

Mr. Ucciferri of course has every right to say what’s on his mind. But to imply that Mary Robinson is a leader who doesn’t continue to challenge the status quo, including by demanding greater state and corporate accountability for human rights and global justice, suggests strongly that he hasn’t been listening to Robinson's voice beyond his questionable interpretation of her remarks at a recent graduate seminar.

Equally troubling, Mr. Ucciferri’s contention that the work John Ruggie led over the past six years at the UN to establish the first internationally agreed standard clarifying baseline business responsibilities for actions which negatively impact on human rights has resulted in a “patently worthless document” is nothing short of absurd. Mr. Ucciferri either isn’t aware or chose to omit the fact that the new UN framework on business and human rights he so disdains has in its short life already been incorporated into standards shaping government and corporate action from the OECD to the International Finance Corporation to the International Organization for Standardization, to say nothing of its impact on emerging national legislation in countries on all continents, Section 1502 of the US Dodd-Frank Act concerning conflict minerals being just one case in point.

Mr. Ucciferri also didn’t see fit to mention that experts from his own industry - 29 investors collectively representing over $2.7 trillion in assets under management - publicly welcomed Ruggie’s work earlier this year as providing much needed authoritative guidance which they now are using in their own advocacy with companies and investors aimed at mitigating human rights related risks in corporate performance.

Clearly there is much work still to be done to hold governments and corporations more accountable for respecting human rights. There continue to be many competing views on how best to realize rights in practice. We can all agree that efforts to date have not produced the results we want to see.

But instead of criticising two of our world’s most committed leaders to that cause, we urge Mr. Ucciferri to look more deeply at the progress that has been made in recent years to move the business and human rights agenda forward, and join in working more actively with the growing movement to make respect for human rights part of mainstream corporate practice.

Related Links:

The People at the Head of the Table Are Talking Past the People Sitting Around the Table - Jack Ucciferri, 27 October 2011

Investor Statement in Support of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights - May 2011

UN "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework - Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights - Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

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