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Debbie O'Leary
IU School of Law-Bloomington

Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2008

IU law professor: U.N. report on business and human rights opens the door to improved protections

July 10, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A recent United Nations report makes significant progress toward more effectively addressing human rights abuses by corporations and business entities, says an Indiana University law professor whose research focuses on global governance and human rights.

"I feel more optimism at this moment on the problem of businesses and human rights than I've ever felt," said Christiana Ochoa, associate professor of law at the IU School of Law--Bloomington.

The report on business and human rights was submitted last month by John Ruggie, a Harvard University professor of international affairs who served a three-year term as U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Christiana Ochoa

Titled, "Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights," it focuses on the duty of states to protect against human rights abuses, including those by businesses; the responsibility of corporations to respect human rights and perform "due diligence" about the impact of their actions; and the need for improved access to remedies through courts, arbitration and other approaches.

"Together with its attendant documents, the Report constitutes a comprehensive understanding of the business-human rights problem and identifies a comprehensive and reasonable path forward," Ochoa says in an analysis of the report for the American Society of International Law publication Insights.

She writes that the report's objectives are three-fold:

  • It sets forth a framework based on the core principles in its title: protect, respect and remedy.
  • It seeks to provide an "authoritative focal point" to facilitate efforts by stakeholders pursuing common goals regarding business and human rights.
  • It provides a useful map showing where and how business affects human rights.

Ochoa said international law experts have been working for decades to develop ways to address the "governance gaps" that have allowed business actions to result in human rights violations -- for example, the 1984 Bhopal, India, gas-leak disaster, the use of child labor on a rubber plantation in Liberia, West Africa, and the widespread use of "stabilization clauses" that exempt transnational corporations from regulation. An earlier U.N. initiative that focused on enumerating rights for protection "moved the conversation forward" but died because of opposition, she said.

But Ruggie's approach, she said, seems to have at least modest support from advocacy groups, which are eager to see the problems addressed, and from corporations, which are looking for ways to protect themselves from legal liability and from damage in the court of public opinion.

Ochoa said it is encouraging that Ruggie's United Nations appointment has been extended for another three years to enable him to work on promoting and starting to implement the framework, including his call for strengthening the system of remedies for human rights violations.

"I do think that what happens in the next three years, as the mandate looks for ways to operationalize its report, is going to be crucial. This is particularly true in respect to providing adequate remedies for violations," she said.

To read Ochoa's analysis for the American Society of International Law, see Ochoa can be reached at 812-856-1516 or For assistance, please contact Debbie O'Leary at the IU School of Law--Bloomington, 812-855-2426 or or Steve Hinnefeld at IU University Communications, 812-856-3488 or