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UN Finds "Little Appreciation" for Human Rights Among US Businesses

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A United Nations expert group is warning that too many gaps remain in implementing new safeguards among businesses based in the United States, both in terms of their domestic and international operations, to ensure the protection of human rights of workers and communities affected by those operations.

Two members of the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights wrapped up a 10-day fact-finding mission to the United States this week, at the end of which they released initial observations. Ultimately, these will be expanded upon and finalised for presentation to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2014.

"With a few exceptions, most companies still struggle to understand the implications of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights," Puvan Selvanathan, the current head of the Working Group and one of the two members on the U.S. trip, said at the end of the mission "Those that do have policies in place, in turn, face the challenge of turning such policies into effective practices."

Selvanathan and his colleague, Michael Addo, focused on gauging U.S. adherence to and regulatory changes following the 2011 adoption of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles offer the first international standards aimed at ameliorating the negative rights impacts of global business.

Although the United States is a signatory to the Guiding Principles, Washington has not yet come up with a national plan for their implantation, a gap highlighted by the Working Group and long emphasised by civil society.

"We were pleased that the Working Group engaged with civil society organisations, including human rights, environmental, labour and indigenous groups," Amol Mehra, director of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), a Washington-based coalition, told IPS.

"We believe that the U.S. government has much farther to go in fulfilling its duty to protect human rights under the Guiding Principles   and we also note the Working Group's call to the U.S. government to develop a National Action Plan for implementation of the Guiding Principles."

Both Mehra and the Working Group also noted the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Shell. That case, decided just weeks ago, will now "significantly limit access to judicial remedy for victims of corporate-related human rights abuse," Mehra said.   
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