What are the top 10 issues in business and human rights in 2012?

On International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2011, the Institute for Human Rights and Business released its list of the top 10 emerging business and human rights issues for 2012. Through its top 10 list, the IHRB seeks to address diverse aspects of how the 'Protect, Respect and Remedy' Framework and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights can be implemented to achieve real change in corporate human rights performance over the coming year and beyond.

Issues which made the top 10 list for 2012 include:

  • combating casualisation of labour and the erosion of workers' rights;
  • providing legal redress for business participation in human rights violations;
  • putting children squarely on the business agenda;
  • ensuring that companies respect human rights in cyberspace;
  • recognising the importance of women's rights in business;
  • strengthening community consultation by business;
  • engaging investors on the need for human rights due diligence;
  • linking the fight against corruption to corporate respect for human rights;
  • operating responsibly in high risk environments; and
  • addressing the negative impacts of land acquisition and use on communities and nations.

In its list, the IHRB highlights a number of high profile developments from the past year which are likely to gain further attention during the course of 2012. For example, the list draws attention to human rights impacts associated with the use of internet and cell-phone technology during the Arab Spring uprisings and the principles developed by the Global Network Initiative to guide decision-making by information technology companies. It also highlights the recently launched UNICEF, Save the Children and the United Nations Global Compact Children's Rights and Business Principles Initiative and the increasingly pressing need to develop tools to leverage the potential of the financial sector to facilitate rights realisation.

In addition to these recent developments, the top 10 list identifies a number of issues which have been firmly on the agenda for some time but remain prominent and significant. The list recognises significant issues such as the impact of changed political circumstances, such as the independence won by South Sudan, on activities in high risk environments, and also recent breakthroughs to address barriers to effective community consultation. The list further notes that the US Supreme Court is due to hear Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co in 2012 to consider whether businesses can be held liable under the Alien Torts Claims Act.

With the recently established United Nations Expert Working Group on Business and Human Rights due to announce its work plan and formally commence work in January 2012, we can look forward to these and other business and human rights issues featuring more prominently on the international agenda in the year ahead.

The IHRB works to raise corporate standards and strengthen public policy around business-related human rights issues. Its top 10 list can be accessed at:  http://www.ihrb.org/top10/business_human_rights_issues/2012.html#

Catie Shavin is a lawyer and member of Allens Arthur Robinson's Corporate Responsibility Group