In August 2000, the United Nations Economic and Social Council proposed a code of conduct based on the human right standard for business enterprises focusing on the impact of multinational companies’ activities and their compliance with human rights guidelines.
In 2005, Mr. John Ruggie, a Professor was appointed the United Nation (UN) Special Representative on business and human rights. One of his core tasks was to identify and simplify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability for multination corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights.
By June 2008, Ruggie offered the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework to the Human Rights Council with three clear intentions. (1) state obligation to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication; (2) the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, i.e. to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts that occur; (3) greater access by victims to effective remedy both judicial and non-judicial. And, by June 2011, the UN ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ (the Guiding Principles) was adopted.
The principles symbolize the foremost and exceptional universal standards for averting and addressing grave human rights abuses that are linked to business activities, particularly the extractive operations. In general, the aim is to address human rights violations in states where there is weak governance and least respect for human rights while vesting the obligation for citizens’ human right protection in the state.
It is the responsibility of the state to protect the citizens from the human right violation, however, rather than take up this responsibility, the state often enters into an alliance with the corporations, providing cover and support for them to carry out their business in return of revenues at the expense of citizens rights.
The legitimacy of the Guiding Principles stems from the activities of International Oil Companies (IOCs) and other extractive companies globally. Their activities have triggered the debate about social justice. And, apart from the human right violation that comes with their operations, they also engage in economic repatriation and create inequality in the countries they operate.
In Nigeria for instance, the Ogoni people, for over 62 years are victims of human rights violations arising from the activities of the IOCs. In a 15-year period from 1976 to 1991, there were reportedly 2,976 oil spills of about 2.1 million barrels of oil in Ogoniland, accounting for about 40% of the total oil spills of the Royal Dutch/Shell globally. In 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment report found that in the last 50 years, oil exploration has destroyed Ogoniland and estimated that it could take up to 30 years to rehabilitate the area.
Needless to argue, extraction industries have brought improvement in the economy and create jobs. However, they are associated with grave human right abuse; they do not respect international minimum human rights standards and thus are guilty of human right violations. Some of these human right violations affect directly, children, women, workers who work in an unsafe environment and poorly paid jobs as well as indigenous peoples and the community members.
Experiences have shown, relying on the state alone cannot ensure human rights protection. Private actions, media exposure, protest, advocacy, lobby, and lawsuits appear to be some of the practical approaches to put pressure on extractive companies to uphold the human right. Thus, it is important, we begin to examine, the possibility of the Nigerian state to hold and bring accountability to extractive operations that are socially detrimental and are responsible for grave human right abuse.
But, the core debate is whether the IOCs and other extractive companies are subject to any direct international legal obligation to respect and protect human rights. The principles are not legally binding on the IOCs, but we firmly encourage them to respect and uphold human rights in their communities of operations. Thus, one may argue, the Guiding Principles only makes available alternative approaches and did not address holistically the problem. Extraction companies may adopt them solely for public relations, and that might not change their operational behavior.
States and regional bodies are concerned by the human right abuse committed by the owners of giant business operations. For instance, in 1998, the European Parliament passed a resolution asking the European Union (EU) to design a Code of Conduct for European Multinationals. In December 2000, UK and USA Governments, alongside many leading extractive and energy companies, released the “Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
Although, states have the primary responsibility to protect their citizens from human right abuse; however, one cannot ignore the corresponding responsibilities of individuals, non-state actors, and civil society organization. Thus, it will be appropriate for Civil Society Organizations and the media to monitor extractions industries operation and human right compliance.
Extractive companies will not willingly adopt the voluntary principles, thus, civil society organizations must put pressure on them to achieve that. The CSOs should not only push for the adoption, but also for community human right protection as part of company’s operational internal rules. They should use monitoring compliance as a standard for promoting ethical investment initiatives.