UN Human Rights Committee recognises extraterritorial obligations regarding business activity

The UN Human Rights Committee has recognised extraterritorial obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. On 31 October 2012, in its Concluding Observations on Germany's sixth periodic review under the ICCPR, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern regarding steps taken by Germany to protect against the human rights impacts of German companies operating abroad. Importantly, it stated:

The State party is encouraged to set out clearly the expectation that all business enterprises domiciled in its territory and/or its jurisdiction respect human rights standards in accordance with the Covenant throughout their operations. It is also encouraged to take appropriate measures to strengthen the remedies provided to protect people who have been victims of activities of such business enterprises operating abroad.

The UN Human Rights Committee's observations follow its request that Germany comment on allegations that families forcibly evicted at gunpoint from their homes and lands in the Mubedne District of Uganda, to make way for a coffee plantation owned by a subsidiary of German company Neumann Kaffee Gruppe Hamburg, continue to live in extreme poverty. These allegations have also been the subject of an investigation by the German National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

This clear recognition by the UN Human Rights Committee that States have extraterritorial obligations under the ICCPR with respect to business' human rights impacts reinforces the global authoritative standard articulated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Catie Shavin is a lawyer at Allens.