In the era of massive development and huge competition to attract investment, states have been striving to ensure better ambience for foreign investors. One of the core issues of concern in this regard is human rights situation in the business sector. The reason is obvious. Many business initiatives, enterprises and projects have caused immense sufferings to people. This happens when the business sector abuses the rights of different stakeholders which are either directly or indirectly associated with their activities. Bangladesh has been confronting many challenges related to human rights in the business sector. The challenges include unregulated child labour, weak protection against workplace harassment and other forms of discrimination. The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 which resulted in the death of more than a thousand workers, the Tazreen fire which caused death of hundreds and other similar disasters work as reminders of the need to to formulate policies and regulations ensuring basic human rights of workers and other stakeholders. Ensuring proper human rights compliance in the business sector is crucial to attract foreign investment, particularly from the European Union and North America. This is where the relevance of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights lies.
Responsibility of business operations for addressing human rights abuses had been a matter of debate at the international level. The Transnational Corporations Commission was formed in 1973 to formulate code of conduct on TNCs which could not reach to any fruitful conclusion due to the division among nations. Further steps had been attempted but ended with no solution. The appointment of Harvard Professor John Ruggie in July 2005 as the special representative on the issue of human rights and TNCs made the task possible. He formulated the 'protect, respect and remedy' framework which was highly appreciated by international community. This has subsequently been named as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights' (UNGPs). The UNGPs were unanimously approved by the UN Human Rights Council on June 16, 2011. It is an instrument consisting of 31 principles on the issue of human rights concerning business enterprises around the world regardless of the size, sector, structure, location and ownership of business. The GPs are based on three pillars namely 'Protect', 'Respect', and 'Remedy'.
The first pillar bestows upon the duty of the states to protect human rights in business operations. The state is required to pass laws that prevent human rights violations and ensure that these laws are implemented. The second pillar deals with the responsibility of the business sector. It confers a duty on businesses to operate in such a manner that their activities do not infringe the rights of others. It asserts that the government may not always be in the vanguard position to concentrate on protection of human rights in the business sector. Thus, the onus lies upon the corporations to ensure that human rights of the respective workers and relevant others must be taken care of and concrete steps are adopted to address the issue. The third pillar, as the name itself indicates, has been endorsed to safeguard if human rights in business sector is infringed. It includes both the states' responsibility to provide access to remedy through judicial, administrative, and legislative means whereby victims are facilitated to complain, investigation and settlement. Similarly, it refers the businesses' responsibility to prevent and take remedial measures in case of any infringement on the rights of other stakeholders.
UN Guiding Principles is a useful tool to ensure human rights implementation in the business sector. It serves as a uniform framework code for developing domestic legal arrangement to curb the challenges. The domestic legal mechanism in Bangladesh, particularly labour laws, need to be revisited to ensure compliance with the guiding principles. The expansion of labour courts should be the prior implementing agenda in order to curb the challenges exist in the practical and procedural barriers to access judicial recourse. Similarly, the robust involvement of National Human Rights Commission would facilitate in non-judicial remedy mechanisms. To sum it up, the attraction of foreign investment as well as fulfillment of state's obligation under international human rights instruments would be substantially achieved by endorsing the content of the guiding principles.
The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Law, BRAC University and Advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.