Speech by Nicholas Howen, ICJ Secretary-General, delivered at the ‘Business and Human Rights’ conference organized by the Danish section of the ICJ

by | Sep 22, 2005 | Events

Yesterday Secretary-General Nicholas Howen gave a speech at the ‘Business and Human Rights’ Conference in Copenhagen on why there is a need to develop clear, common and binding global rules on corporate accountability and human rights.

“To sum up, we need global standards, which need to be legal and based on human rights law and standards. The controversy is on the table now. We have a set of Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with regard to Human Rights. These were drafted by a group of experts in the United Nations, called the Sub-Commission on Human Rights, after wide consultation with business, governance and civil society. They have brought everyone out into the open, those who have fiercely opposed the norms such as the International Chamber of Commerce and those that see these Norms as one important, imperfect step on the road to the human rights legal accountability of business.
The Norms do not change international law; they do not create new law. They bring together what already exists and point the direction towards a common, universal set of benchmarks. They are not the devil incarnate as they have been portrayed by some. They are a starting point.
There are outstanding questions about how companies can put human rights into practice. Some businesses have recognized the value of the Sub-Commission’s norms and are testing how they can be put into practice – most constructive is the work of the Business Leaders Initiative for Human Rights (BLIHR). The International Commission of Jurists is also launching a new initiative. I am announcing today that we are setting up an expert
panel of jurists to consider over a twelve month period when companies should be held complicit in the most serious human rights violations carried out by governments, that is international crimes such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. These legal principles will help to fill a vacuum. They will help companies understand when they are seriously at risk of being seen to be complicit in the most serious human rights violation.
What divides some companies from many human rights advocates is whether human rights should be a matter of obligation or voluntarism. But what should bring us all together is the need now, for a common set of universal standards around which we can all agree and move forward. Then let us see whether voluntary initiatives
are enough or we need to continue moving towards obligation.

Denmark-speech Howen-event-2005 (full text in English, PDF)

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