Absurdity squared at the United Nations

According to the Financial Times, the U.N. Human Rights Commission wants to expand its zone of operations: International companies could find their activities subject to investigation and censure by United Nations human rights officials under principles expected to be adopted on Wednesday in Geneva. The UN’s draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations asserts ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

According to the Financial Times, the U.N. Human Rights Commission wants to expand its zone of operations:

According to the Financial Times, the U.N. Human Rights Commission wants to expand its zone of operations:

International companies could find their activities subject to investigation and censure by United Nations human rights officials under principles expected to be adopted on Wednesday in Geneva. The UN’s draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations asserts that companies should be subject to the kind of enforcement procedures at the UN Commission for Human Rights previously applied only to nation states.

Another FT story provides some additional background. I have every confidence that the human rights commission — with a membership that includes the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe will be fully equipped to handle corporate abuses. [Isn’t your sarcasm misplaced? Surely some good must come of this?–ed.] On the contrary, my off-the-cuff instinct is that this proposal is an unmitigated disaster. First, it undercuts the pre-existing U.N. effort to improve worker conditions. Second, it distracts the (admittedly pretty useless) Human Rights Commission from the far-more-prevalent phenomenon of government abuses of human rights. Third, it opens the door for all kinds of U.N. mischief in regulating multinational corporations, when the demand for such regulation is vastly overstated and the supply of other international governmental organizations regulating MNC behavior is quite healthy. The draft statement includes the following point:

new international human rights issues and concerns are continually emerging and that transnational corporations and other business enterprises often are related to these issues and concerns, such that further standard-setting and implementation are required at this time and in the future

What’s to stop the International Criminal Court from becoming involved? Finally, the draft convention seems perfectly designed to permit NGOs to file as many complaints as humanly possible in order to require multinationals to respond. The reporting requirements (see section H of the agreement) on corporations are not insignificant. Congratulations to the U.N. for devising an arrangement that will undercut its stated goals while simultaneously convincing more Americans that the U.N. is not a serious institution. What a colossal blunder.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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