Human rights and business
- Parliamentary Assembly
- Assembly debate on 6 October 2010
(32nd Sitting) (see Doc.
12361, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human
Rights, rapporteur: Mr Haibach; and Doc. 12384, opinion of the Committee
on Economic Affairs and Development, rapporteur: Mr Elzinga). Text adopted by the Assembly on
6 October 2010 (32nd Sitting). See also Recommendation 1936 (2010).
1. The globalisation of the economy
challenges the effectiveness of international human rights protection. Large
multinational corporations have been criticised for violations of
human rights, especially in developing countries. Child labour in
the textile industry, environmental disasters caused by the oil
industry or breaches of the right to privacy in telecommunication
companies are examples of these concerns.
While the responsibility to protect human rights is primarily
that of states themselves, businesses also have responsibilities
in this area, especially where states have “privatised” classic
state functions such as certain areas of law enforcement or military
activities. The Parliamentary Assembly calls for the legal vacuum in
this area to be filled, as it has already done in Recommendation 1858 (2009)
private military and security firms and erosion of the state monopoly
on the use of force.
3. The Assembly notes that many of the alleged human rights abuses
by businesses occur in third countries, especially outside Europe,
and that it is currently difficult to bring extraterritorial abuses
by companies before national courts or the European Court of Human
Rights (the Court).
4. The Assembly is also concerned about the existing imbalance
in the scope of human rights protection between individuals and
businesses. While a company may bring a case before the Court claiming
a violation by a state authority of its rights protected under the
European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, the Convention),
an individual alleging a violation of his or her rights by a private
company cannot effectively raise his or her claims before this jurisdiction.
5. The Assembly notes that, over the past few decades, a number
of frameworks and toolkits have been adopted at international and
European levels in an attempt to define the responsibilities of
businesses. They are principally based on the concept of “corporate
social responsibility”. These are essentially only “soft” law instruments
or voluntary codes of conduct. They lack effective judicial or other
legally binding mechanisms to protect victims of abuses by businesses
and do not provide adequate guidance to businesses on measures that
should be taken to avoid human rights abuses.
6. The Assembly points out that the economic crisis is no excuse
for non-observance of human rights standards. Indeed, the future
of the social market economy as a reasonably just and efficient
model of economic development should depend on the respect of basic
rules of fairness by all economic actors.
Therefore, the Assembly calls upon member states to:
foster accountability for corporate
human rights conduct, in particular by:
guidelines on public procurement and investment of public funds
aimed at excluding companies associated with human rights abuses;
7.1.2 establishing bodies to advise governments on ethical issues
7.1.3 including, in public procurement and investment contracts,
clauses recalling the obligation to protect human rights;
7.2 encourage the implementation of the United Nations “Norms
on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and other
business enterprises with regard to human rights” by business entities
registered within their jurisdiction;
7.3 legislate, if necessary, to protect individuals from corporate
abuses of rights enshrined in the Convention and in the revised
European Social Charter (ETS No. 163);
raise awareness of the Council of Europe’s human rights
standards among businesses, in particular by:
a toolkit on mainstreaming best practices in the field of human
rights protection into every aspect of a business and on how to
conduct human rights impact assessments, in co-operation with business
organisations and human rights groups;
7.4.2 co-operating with national human rights institutions in
disseminating relevant information to companies and assessing progress
and possible problems.
8. The Assembly also calls on member states to enhance their
co-operation with other international bodies, in particular the
European Union, the United Nations, the International Labour Organization,
and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,
in order to consolidate coherent standards on corporate responsibilities
in the area of human rights protection.