Stating the case: How human rights defenders can gain from strengthened implementation of the UN Guiding Principles and a treaty on business and human rights


(Artículo en inglés y español) The Ambassadors of Ecuador and Norway explain how the business and human rights initiatives which they have led at the UN can both serve and benefit from human rights defenders on the ground.

In the build up to the third UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, ISHR will publish a series of articles by key human rights defenders and experts in this field, before launching a special edition of its Human Rights Monitor on 1 December, in both English and Spanish. Click here to join our Spanish language mailing list.

Lea este artículo en español aquí.

ISHR has invited the leaders of the two main initiatives on business and human rights at the Human Rights Council -  the Ambassadors of Ecuador and Norway - to explain how the business and human rights initiatives which they have led at the UN can both serve and benefit from human rights defenders on the ground, given that both resolutions contain paragraphs which recognise the valuable role played by civil society organisations in promoting corporate respect for human rights and exposing and seeking remedy for corporate violations.


By H.E. Steffen Kongstad the Ambassador of Norway to the UN in Geneva

The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) have become the authoritative tool for dealing with human rights abuses involving business. Business, particularly larger enterprises, as well as international institutions have picked up the Principles, including the OECD, ASEAN, African Union and IFC. National action by states to implement the Principles includes both hard regulation and other incentives, like public procurement regulations, aimed at strengthening respect for human rights in business enterprises.

Where the UNGPs are acted upon, they help reduce the overall incidence of corporate-related human rights abuses. Yet, it is increasingly well documented that many stakeholders who speak out publicly about adverse human rights impacts linked to business operations often face threats, attacks and reprisals.

The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms that everyone has the right to defend their own rights and those of other people. When States do not follow up their responsibility to protect human rights defenders, or when business fails to respect human rights, this is not due to a lack of clarity in international obligations. Rather, the primary issue is the lack of implementation of these obligations, which requires concrete action and political will in practice, not only in principle.

Against this backdrop, the Human Rights Council resolution on business and human rights adopted by consensus in June 2014 called for a range of short term actions and implementation of the UNGPs by business, states and the UN. Furthermore, the resolution initiated longer-term processes aimed at clarifying relevant legal issues and initiating discussion of legal and practical measures among states, with the view to improving access to remedy now, rather than in the future.

The apparent conflict between those favouring a new international treaty and those who do not, is rather abstract. The real issue is between those committed to the implementation of the UNGPs and ensuring that human rights are respected, promoted and protected on a daily basis, and those who demonstrate little engagement to respect human rights and protect human rights defenders in practical terms. Norway shares civil society’s view that there is a large implementation gap. This is precisely why we need the voices of human rights defenders and victims of corporate related human rights abuses to encourage and support firm, concrete and immediate action on the ground by States, businesses and the UN.



By H.E. Luis Gallegos Chiriboga the Ambassador of Ecuador to the UN in Geneva

Resolution A/HRC/RES/26/9[1] represents a further step for the tireless struggle of human rights defenders against corporate abuses. The possible adoption of an international legally binding instrument on business and human rights could level the playing field of victims deprived of a voice for many years in search of corporate liability and accountability. 

In this regard, the proposal of Ecuador and South Africa tries to cover this flaw. Under the new international instrument, one option for States is to require companies to carry out human rights impact risk assessments[2] before allowing them to initiate its operations. This should cover the application of the principle of due diligence of the company in every step of the ladder, including its relationship with the community where it operates and therefore with human rights defenders. The application of a deterrent sanction to both, the legal entity and the agent responsible of its action, is necessary if any corporation violates those obligations.

Therefore, human rights defenders must become active participants in the debates of the Inter-Governmental Working Group (IGWG), as they are an "institution" of memory, truth and trust among all the stakeholders involved. The United Nations should also pay special attention in this regard, and facilitate all resources needed to ensure their effective participation and collaboration.

States and other relevant stakeholders should keep a constructive dialogue among the IGWG, the Working Group of Experts on Business and Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders with the aimed of guaranteeing effective justice and redress for victims of corporate abuses.  

Finally, the support given by more than 600 NGOs during the negotiation and adoption of the resolution is a remarkable example of their role in this important issue. In this sense, human rights defenders, as part of civil society, are the cornerstone for the protection of the rights of victims and every proposal designed in this area must take into account their participation. 

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[1]Human Rights Council, Resolution A/HRC/RES/26/9, Elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights” adopted by the Human Rights Council during its 26° Ordinary Session, 26 June 2014.

[2]International Commission of Jurists, Needs and Options for a New International Instrument in the Field of Business and Human Rights (Geneve, June 2014).


  • Europe
  • Latin America and Caribbean
  • Corporate accountability
  • Human rights defenders
  • United Nations
  • Ecuador
  • Norway