Earlier this year, the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) updated its “Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises,” a set of principles for transnational corporations (TNCs). For the first time, the “Guidelines” now explicitly include a reference to human rights. The OECD “Guidelines” reflect the “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” prepared by Harvard University professor John Ruggie and officially adopted in a unanimous resolution (co-sponsored by the United States) by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council on June 16, 2011. The resolution states that “transnational corporations and other business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights.” The OECD “Guidelines” state that TNCs must “respect the internationally recognized human rights of those affected by their activities.” Affording official U.N./OECD status to this notion is the latest step toward the ultimate goal of many human-rights activists: to make human-rights claims against businesses actionable in national and international courts. As Human Rights Watch has stated, “Non-binding initiatives like the Guidelines are important first steps towards achieving corporate compliance with international labor and human-rights standards.” If accepted, the “Guidelines” would allow anyone affected directly or indirectly by TNCs to challenge anything from production methods, to advertising and marketing, to workplace diversity, to health and safety standards, on vague human-rights grounds. Incredibly, large TNCs such as Ford, General Electric, McDonald’s, Sony, Nike, and Google seem — at least officially — to support this agenda.
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