In Defence of the Sphere of Influence: Why the WGSR should Not Follow Professor Ruggie's Advice on Defining the Scope of Social Responsibility
ISO 26000; Sphere of Influence; John Ruggie; Social Responsibility; Business and Human Rights; International Organization for Standardization; United Nations Global Compact; ISO 14001
The Working Group on Social Responsibility (WGSR) of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will meet in Copenhagen from May 17 to 21, 2010 for what is likely to be its last meeting to work on ISO 26000, an international guide on social responsibility. One of the central challenges for the WGSR is to define the scope of an organization’s responsibility for human rights abuses committed by third parties. ISO 26000, approved by a large majority in a recent "Draft International Standard" ballot, answers this question largely in terms of an organization’s degree of control or influence over others’ conduct. This "leverage-based" approach is based on the concept of "sphere of influence", introduced into SR discourse by Professor John Ruggie as part of the United Nations Global Compact. Now, as the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Business and Human Rights, Professor Ruggie has warned the WGSR not to take this approach because it is inconsistent with the three-part "protect, respect, remedy" framework endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. This short paper argues that ISO 26000 should maintain its "sphere of influence" approach because it reflects broad societal expectations, is consistent with "due diligence," does not encourage inappropriate political interference or strategic gaming, is simple and intuitive, builds on existing ISO environmental management standards, avoids making a false distinction between supporting human rights and avoiding abuses, and is a necessary part of the solution to the business and human rights problem.
Stepan Wood, "In Defence of the Sphere of Influence: Why the WGSR should Not Follow Professor Ruggie's Advice on Defining the Scope of Social Responsibility" [forthcoming in 2010].