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The Latest Corporate Social Responsibility News - Ruggie Pushes Corporate Human Rights Improvement, Harkin-Engel Pushes End to Child Labor in Cocoa

Submitted by: CSRwire Weekly News Alert

Categories: Sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility

Posted: Jun 17, 2008 – 11:59 PM EST


Jun. 17 /CSRwire/ - Earlier this month, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights and Business John Ruggie presented his third report to the Human Rights Council. In a significant development, the report sets forth a framework for states protecting against human rights abuses, companies respecting human rights, and victims accessing remedies. It also praises best practice, such as mandated sustainability reporting in South Africa and most recently Sweden, as well as spotlighting gaps, such as a lack of coordinated grievance mechanisms for voluntary initiatives such as the Equator Principles covering financiers of resource extraction projects and the like.

Perhaps more significant are the responses to the report coming from all quarters, including business, investors, and activists. The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) welcomed the report, particularly for outlining six inter-related attributes (legitimate; accessible; predictable; equitable; rights-compatible; and transparent) of effective grievance mechanisms companies can apply.

A group of socially responsible investors also hailed the report for promoting greater transparency on corporate human rights performance. The social investors also noted that an "affirmative approach to human rights" could benefit "risk-conscious corporations" by reducing the need for shareholder activism. For example, Newmont Mining improved its human rights and environmental practices and so recommended voting in favor of a 2007 shareholder resolution seeking such action that received 95.3 percent support, according to a report supplementing Ruggie's mandate.

One issue addressed in the report, child labor, is the subject of increasing attention of late. Congressmen Tom Harkin and Eliot Engel applauded recent progress on the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which was established in 2001 to address child labor in the West African cocoa supply chain. After setbacks outlined by International Labor Rights Forum director Bama Athreya in a recent edition of Corporate Watchdog Radio, the Protocol is headed back in a positive direction, according to its namesakes.

For example, the International Cocoa Verification Board (ICVB) has chosen two agencies to verify the validity of certification surveys of child labor and adult forced labor in Ghana and the Ivory Coast: Norway-based Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies and South Africa-based Khulisa Management Services. While verification is just a step in a larger process, the hope is to eventually document improvement in the status of child and adult labor practices.

Finally, this week the World Cocoa Foundation honored two West African women working toward just this goal. Akosua Frema Osei-Opare of Ghana and Amouan Acquah Assouan of Cote D'Ivoire have pushed their respective governments to tackle the worst forms of child labor.

This article was written by CSRwire contributor Bill Baue.

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