Amnesty welcomes new UN mechanism on Business and Human Rights, and hopes for swift implementation

The organisation said it looked forward to the prompt appointment of an independent Special Representative, and expected the ‘UN Norms’ (1) to feature prominently in his or her work.

Amnesty International UK Economic Relations Manager Tom Fyans said:

“The challenge facing the Special Representative will not only be defining the human rights standards to which companies should be held accountable, but also identifying the mechanisms to ensure these standards are adhered to.

“We expect that the UN Norms, the most comprehensive statement of standards and rules relevant to companies in relation to human rights, will figure prominently in the work of the Special Representative. The provisions set out in the UN Norms should form the basis for any further standard setting process taken forward by the Special Representative.

“We also call on the Secretary General to ensure the prompt selection of a Special Representative who is an experienced and independent expert on the impact of business activities on human rights, and who has a demonstrated ability to carry out effective consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, including communities affected by business operations.”

The resolution asks the Special Representative to take into account the recent report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2), that recommended to the Commission to act expeditiously to define the human rights responsibilities of business entities, and other existing initiatives on business and human rights including the UN Norms.

However, Amnesty International expressed strong disappointment that the United States voiced concerns at the possible development of standards for business, and voted against the resolution (3).

Tom Fyans continued:

“Amnesty International is disappointed that some governments seem to have pandered to employers organisations who have sought a lowest common denominator approach to standard setting on this important issue.

“Amnesty will continue to use the UN Norms as a benchmark of our expectations regarding the behaviour of companies in relation to human rights.”


The Special Representative has been mandated to identify standards of corporate accountability for businesses; elaborate on the role of states in effectively regulating the role of business, including through international cooperation; research and clarify concepts such as ‘complicity’ and ‘sphere of influence’; develop materials and methodologies for undertaking human rights impact assessments of business activities; and compile a compendium of best practices of states and businesses.

(1) The Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights adopted by the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, August 13 2003

(2) Report of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and related business enterprises with regard to human rights. E/CN.4/2005/91

(3) Prompted by the USA’s refusal to join consensus on the text, notwithstanding the many compromises that it and other delegations had made on the need for clearer international standards, South Africa tried unsuccessfully to amend the text to include an explicit reference to the UN Norms for Business.

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