Improving Accountability and Access to Remedy for Victims of Business-Related Human Rights Abuse

Shift supported two rounds of workshops with member states that fed into this report’s development, particularly the recommendations on cross-border cases. The overview below is excerpted from the report.


The present report sets out guidance to improve accountability and access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses, following the Accountability and Remedy Project of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and in response to the request by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 26/22.

The report comprises two parts. The first part provides an introduction to the guidance, including an explanation of its scope, potential usage and important cross-cutting contextual issues. This is followed, in the annex, by the guidance itself, which takes the form of “policy objectives” for domestic legal responses, supported by a series of elements intended to demonstrate the different ways in which States can work towards meeting those objectives in practice. The report is complemented by an addendum (A/HRC/32/19/Add.1), prepared as a companion to the guidance, providing additional explanation and context drawn from the two-year research process of OHCHR.

Accountability and access to remedy: the urgent need for action

Business enterprises can be involved with human rights abuses in many different ways; because of the adverse impacts that business enterprises may cause or contribute to through their own activities, or by virtue of their business relationships. Ensuring the legal accountability of business enterprises and access to effective remedy for persons affected by such abuses is a vital part of a State’s duty to protect against business-related human rights abuse.

At present, accountability and remedy in such cases is often elusive. Although causing or contributing to severe human rights abuses would amount to a crime in many jurisdictions, business enterprises are seldom the subject of law enforcement and criminal sanctions.

Human rights impacts caused by business activities give rise to causes of action in many jurisdictions, yet private claims often fail to proceed to judgment and, where a legal remedy is obtained, it frequently does not meet the international standard of “adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered”.

State-based judicial mechanisms are not the only means of achieving accountability and access to remedy in cases of business-related human rights abuses. Other possibilities may include State-based non-judicial mechanisms and non-State grievance mechanisms, such as operational level grievance mechanisms. However, effective State-based judicial mechanisms are “at the core of ensuring access to remedy”.

Those seeking to use judicial mechanisms to obtain a remedy face many challenges. While those challenges vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there are persistent problems common to many jurisdictions. These include fragmented, poorly designed or incomplete legal regimes; lack of legal development; lack of awareness of the scope and operation of regimes; structural complexities within business enterprises; problems in gaining access to sufficient funding for private law claims; and a lack of enforcement. Those problems have all contributed to a system of domestic law remedies that is “patchy, unpredictable, often ineffective and fragile”.

The challenges are exacerbated in cross-border cases. While many domestic legal regimes focus primarily on within-territory business activities and impacts, the realities of global supply chains, cross-border trade, investment, communications and movement of people are placing new demands on domestic legal regimes and those responsible for enforcing them. 

The experiences of those seeking remedy suggest that there remain serious deficiencies in the implementation by many States of their international obligations with respect to access to remedy. The right to an effective remedy for harm is a core tenet of international human rights law. The obligations of States with respect to this right have been reflected in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework in terms of a “State duty to protect” against business-related human rights abuses, of which providing access to an effective remedy is an integral part.

Rectifying these deficiencies — which, in many cases, are rooted in wider social, economic and legal challenges — will not be straightforward. It will require concerted and multifaceted efforts from all States, encompassing actions relating to law reform and legal development, improvements to the functioning of judicial mechanisms, law enforcement, policy development and closer international cooperation. However, this is essential work towards realizing the imperatives of accountability and remedy for business-related human rights abuses.

Supporting the Norwegian OECD National Contact Point

Shift was pleased to provide support to the Norwegian National Contact Point (NCP) as it underwent a formal peer review process in 2013 in line with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Representatives of the NCPs of Canada, Belgium, Colombia, Netherlands and the UK were official members of the peer review delegation. Hungary, Mexico and the OECD Secretariat also participated as observers. In January 2014, the delegation submitted its final report.

Shift provided support in two main ways:

  • Working collaboratively with the Norwegian NCP to support the design, preparation and implementation of the peer review process and to document that process;
  • As a credible, constructive and independent analyst of the information gathered during the process, to report on the strengths and shortcomings of the NCP and provide recommendations for the NCP going forward. This analysis fed directly into the final report by the delegation.

Also see:

How to Use the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Company Research and Advocacy: A Guide for Civil Society Organisations

The summary is excerpted from the resource.


The objective of this guide is to help civil society organisations (CSOs) use the Guiding Principles in their research, campaigns, engagement and advocacy towards companies and governments. By using the Guiding Principles in corporate research, campaigning, engagement and advocacy, CSOs can play an indispensable role as a countervailing power in confronting companies with their responsibility to respect internationally recognised human rights and ensuring they are held to account to meet their responsibility and improve their behaviour. Thereby, CSOs can contribute to making the Guiding Principles of real value for rights holders likely to be negatively affected by corporate activities.

Furthermore, by using the Guiding Principles in their research and advocacy and building up expertise, CSOs will be able to provide national and international authorities with useful insights in the strengths and weaknesses of the Guiding Principles, helping to improve the international business and human rights framework in due course.

Principles for Responsible Contracts: Integrating the Management of Human Rights Risks Into State-Investor Contract Negotiations

This resource is based on extensive consultation during Ruggie’s UN mandate with government and company legal representatives involved in such negotiations, particularly from the African region. The summary is excerpted from the resource. We also recommend training materials related to this topic issued by the UN.


Every business venture has the potential to have positive and negative impacts on people and human rights – those rights and freedoms that the international community has agreed that people need in order to live with dignity. In some cases, where the potential positive and negative human rights impacts of a venture are direct and significant, managing human rights risks will be an essential consideration to be included at the earliest stages of the life cycle of the venture. This is the case where the project presents either large-scale or significant social, economic or environmental risks or opportunities, or involves the depletion of renewable or non-renewable natural resources.

In such cases, irrespective of the sector involved, the negotiation process between a host State and a business investor offers a unique opportunity to identify, avoid and mitigate human rights risks. This will help optimize the full range of benefits to be drawn from the investment and help ensure the potential negative impacts on people are avoided or mitigated. Moreover, these principles will help ensure that States maintain adequate policy space in the investment contract, including for the protection of human rights, while avoiding claims relative to the contract in binding international arbitration.

The 10 principles that can help guide the integration of human rights risk management into contract negotiations are listed below:

  1. Project negotiations preparation and planning: The parties should be adequately prepared and have the capacity to address the human rights implications of projects during negotiations.
  2. Management of potential adverse human rights impacts: Responsibilities for the prevention and mitigation of human rights risks associated with the project and its activities should be clarified and agreed before the contract is finalized.
  3. Project operating standards: The laws, regulations and standards governing the execution of the project should facilitate the prevention, mitigation and remediation of any negative human rights impacts throughout the life cycle of the project.
  4. Stabilization clauses: Contractual stabilization clauses, if used, should be carefully drafted so that any protections for investors against future changes in law do not interfere with the State’s bona fide efforts to implement laws, regulations or policies in a non-discriminatory manner in order to meet its human rights obligations.
  5. “Additional goods or service provision”: Where the contract envisages that investors will provide additional services beyond the scope of the project, this should be carried out in a manner compatible with the State’s human rights obligations and the investor’s human rights responsibilities.
  6. Physical security for the project: Physical security for the project’s facilities, installations or personnel should be provided in a manner consistent with human rights principles and standards.
  7. Community engagement: The project should have an effective community engagement plan through its life cycle, starting at the earliest stages.
  8. Project monitoring and compliance: The State should be able to monitor the project’s compliance with relevant standards to protect human rights while providing necessary assurances for business investors against arbitrary interference in the project.
  9. Grievance mechanisms for non-contractual harms to third parties: Individuals and communities that are impacted by project activities, but not party to the contract, should have access to an effective non-judicial grievance mechanism.
  10. Transparency/Disclosure of contract terms: The contract’s terms should be disclosed, and the scope and duration of exceptions to such disclosure should be based on compelling justifications.