Since 2014, a working group within the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights has been considering the issue of business and human rights. A key focus of its mandate is to elaborate an international, legally binding treaty aimed at protecting and regulating human rights within corporate activities. 

In the latest stage of its work, the Working Group is considering what options are available to enhance access to effective remedies for those whose human rights are affected by corporate activities. 

The Working Group has recently asked for input from States and other stakeholders to analyse current and proposed remedies by way of a questionnaire. The responses to the questionnaire will inform the Working Group’s report to the UN General Assembly on this issue in October 2017. 

All relevant stakeholders are invited to respond to the questionnaire including: international and civil society organisations, human rights defenders, trade unions, businesses, industry associations, lawyers and academics. 

The questions address issues such as: 

  1. the existence, types and effectiveness of available remedies for business-related human rights abuses; 
  2.  the extent to which remedies are available to hold businesses incorporated or domiciled in a given jurisdiction accountable for overseas conduct; and 
  3. how prevention, deterrence and redress may be combined to enhance the overall effectiveness of any remedies.

The challenges facing the Working Group are not insignificant. There are real questions over whether it will be able to come up with a treaty that is both effective and widely adopted across a range of states. One key issue requiring careful consideration is how any treaty will be enforced and the remedies available for breach. Currently, there is little consensus on this issue. And so it seems the Working Group still has much work left to do before it can put forward a viable treaty. 

In any event, the true value of this exercise may not be in the final output but rather in the discussions, such as this one on remedies, which occur along the way. By shining a light on these questions, the Working Group offers all stakeholders a space to explore issues and challenges in the protections currently in place as national legislators and tribunals follow different paths in 'operationalising' the UN Guiding Principles in their domestic legal regimes. And it gives Governments, businesses and others an opportunity to consider how best they can work together to address any challenges. 

Responses to the States’ Questionnaire and the Other Stakeholders’ Questionnaire are due by 15 June 2017. The Working Group will report on the responses at its third session, which will take place from 23 to27 October 2017.