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Business and Human Rights: Research Results

How can victims of a fatal fire in a textile factory in Pakistan claim compensation from the main client of the textile factory, a huge clothing discounter in Germany? Are there alternatives to going to court? To which extent can companies be held liable for exploitation of workers? BIM’s Social Justice-Team works on these questions. Joining different expertise in the Social Justice-Team led to several recent research outcomes, which we are happy to present to you.

In 2008, UN Special Representative John Ruggie based the discussion on business and human rights on three pillars: protect, respect and remedy. Based on this framework, the later Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clarify that the State has a duty to protect against human rights abuses by corporations within their territory. The Social Justice-Team works across all three pillars and analyses its application in practice.

As described in the third pillar of the UN Guiding Principles, victims should be able to also use remedies outside courts. Based on earlier research in this area, the Social Justice-team recently published a book on the impact of non-judicial remedies. The book examines strengths and weaknesses of different mechanisms. The authors developed criteria of excellence for non-judicial grievance mechanisms. Find out more about the book here.

One form of non-judicial remedies are company-based grievance mechanisms. These are mechanisms established by corporations themselves. In the framework of a large EU-project on business and human rights challenges for cross-border litigation in the European Union, the Social Justice-Team analysed selected mechanisms of European companies. The book with all findings will come out soon, find out more about this comprehensive compilation of questions on litigation in matters of corporate human rights abuse here.

BIM’s findings in this area aptly shows that it is still under-researched, and they demonstrate the potential of non-judicial grievance mechanisms to provide an easy-to-access remedy for victims of corporate abuse. On the other hand, they cannot replace judicial means of redress, in particular regarding severe human rights violations and crimes. Here, the accountability gap apparent in several countries must be addressed by strengthening judicial avenues.

Judicial avenues are explored by the Social Justice-Team in a project on corporate liability for trafficking in human beings. The researchers found that only in four countries in Europe, cases of corporate criminal liability for trafficking in human beings have been detected. The project identifies legal avenues that can be used to claim compensation from corporations. Publications will follow later this year.

And finally, have a look at the latest issue of the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, in which Social Justice-Team Member Julia Planitzer discusses the impact of transparency in supply chains.