About the mandate

As set out in resolution 17/4, the Working Group has a mandate to:

  • Promote the effective and comprehensive dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework;
  • Identify, exchange and promote good practices and lessons learned on the implementation of the Guiding Principles and to assess and make recommendations thereon and, in that context, to seek and receive information from all relevant sources, including Governments, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, national human rights institutions, civil society and rights-holders;
  • Provide support for efforts to promote capacity-building and the use of the Guiding Principles, as well as, upon request, to provide advice and recommendations regarding the development of domestic legislation and policies relating to business and human rights;
  • Conduct country visits and to respond promptly to invitations from States;
  • Continue to explore options and make recommendations at the national, regional and international levels for enhancing access to effective remedies available to those whose human rights are affected by corporate activities, including those in conflict areas;
  • Integrate a gender perspective throughout the work of the mandate and to give special attention to persons living in vulnerable situations, in particular children;
  • Work in close cooperation and coordination with other relevant special procedures of the Human Rights Council, relevant United Nations and other international bodies, the treaty bodies and regional human rights organizations;
  • Develop a regular dialogue and discuss possible areas of cooperation with Governments and all relevant actors, including relevant United Nations bodies, specialized agencies, funds and programmes, in particular the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Global Compact, the International Labour Organization, the World Bank and its International Finance Corporation, the United Nations Development Programme and the International Organization for Migration, as well as transnational corporations and other business enterprises, national human rights institutions, representatives of indigenous peoples, civil society organizations and other regional and subregional international organizations;
  • Guide the work of the Forum on Business and Human Rights; and to
  • Report annually to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

Moreover, in its resolution 35/7, the Council requested the Working Group to give due consideration to the implementation of the Guiding Principles in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Functioning and working methods

At its 10th session, the Working Group adopted revised working methods. These are annexed to the outcome document of the tenth session (A/HRC/WG.12/10/1) and are reproduced below.

1. Appointment of officers

At its ninth session, the Working Group decided to rotate the role of Chairperson-Rapporteur every six months, starting from 1 July 2015.

The Chairperson-Rapporteur may decide to delegate his/her tasks to other members of the Working Group, following consultation with all other members.

The Working Group further decided to appoint a Vice-Chairperson, to fulfil all duties of the Chairperson when the Chairperson is otherwise unavailable. The Vice-Chairperson will normally be that member of the Working Group who will become Chairperson upon the end of the mandate of the current Chairperson.

2. Field visits

The Human Rights Council in its resolutions 17/4 requested the Working Group to conduct country visits and encouraged Governments, relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, civil society actors, and the private sector to cooperate fully with the Working Group in fulfilling its mandate by, inter alia, responding favourably to requests for visits.

The Working Group places great importance on visiting countries and regions to assess the conditions of human rights and business on the ground and the level of implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Working Group therefore intends to carry out two official country missions per year with the consent, or at the invitation, of the States concerned.

Country visits will be conducted in the spirit of constructive dialogue with States and all relevant stakeholders at the national level, including regional and other sub-national levels of government, to promote the effective dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles; to identify, exchange and promote good practices and lessons learned on the effective implementation of the Guiding Principles; and to assess and make recommendations thereon. Reports from official country missions will be submitted to the Human Rights Council. Consideration will be given to regional balance in the choice of country missions.

Two members of the Working Group will participate in each country mission. The Chairperson-Rapporteur will decide, in consultation with all other members, which members participate in any particular mission. As per standard practice, the composition of the visiting delegation will be communicated to the Government concerned during the preparation of the visit.

The Working Group may also undertake field visits to business enterprises, multilateral organizations and agencies, sovereign wealth funds, stock exchanges, international non-governmental organizations, and other relevant actors.

Additional field visits may be conducted by one or more members of the Working Group. Depending on the scope of the visit, and following consultation with the concerned State, the Working Group may request approval to submit reports from such additional country visits to the Human Rights Council.

3. Field work

In addition to the official field visits, the Working Group aims to carry out its mandate in a manner that includes significant additional, relevant field work, frequently reaching out, consulting and engaging directly with individuals, communities, business enterprises and associations, Government actors, national human rights institutions and other stakeholders across all regions to inform its work and ensure that any findings and recommendations respond to practical and operational realities on the ground.

Individual Working Group members participate in outreach on the Guiding Principles across all regions as appropriate, for the implementation of the different work streams.

4. Multi-stakeholder, consultative and inclusive approach

The Working Group fully recognizes the value and importance of adopting a multi-stakeholder, consultative and inclusive approach to the implementation of its mandate.

Accordingly, the Working Group engages in regular dialogue and cooperation with States, human rights mechanisms, intergovernmental bodies, relevant United Nations entities, regional and national human rights institutions, representatives of affected communities, business enterprises, civil society organizations, representatives of indigenous peoples and any other relevant stakeholders. Moreover, throughout its work, the Working Group integrates a gender perspective and gives special attention to persons living in vulnerable situations.

The Working Group calls for input from all relevant stakeholders on general mandate-related issues and/or issues relating to work streams and activities on a regular basis. This is done in order to solicit information, documentation, good practice, challenges and lessons learned on the implementation of the Guiding Principles. Subject to the specific requirements of different work streams and the availability of adequate funding, the Working Group also considers other means of consultation with relevant stakeholders, including regional or expert consultations and through country missions.

In addition, the Working Group may seek and receive information from all relevant sources, and welcomes information related to its mandate. Information received from relevant stakeholders is used as appropriate by the Working Group to inform its work and strategy, to identify barriers to the effective implementation of the Guiding Principles and gaps in the protection of human rights in the context of business activities, and to inform recommendations made to States, business, and other actors, on the implementation of the Guiding Principles.

Submissions are therefore welcomed at all times by the Working Group, which may be sent to wg-business@ohchr.org. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged, though there may be delays at times due to high volumes of information received. All information reaches the Working Group and will be taken into consideration as appropriate by members of the Working Group, as per its working methods.

From time to time, the Working Group may also issue separate calls for inputs or submissions on specific subjects, and will publish such calls for inputs on this website as well as through appropriate channels.

The Forum on Business and Human Rights will also serve as a platform for involving and consulting all relevant stakeholders.

The Working Group is mindful of the work carried out by other treaty bodies and special procedure mandates, and will collaborate with these human rights mechanisms and take into consideration existing standards and initiatives developed by international and regional human rights mechanisms, as well as the available knowledge and tools produced to date by United Nations bodies (including the Global Compact), States, business and civil society on the subject of business and human rights.

The Guiding Principles refer to “internationally recognized human rights – understood, at a minimum as those expressed in the International Bill of Human Rights and the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.” In light of the close links with the mandate of the ILO, the Working Group and the ILO have decided on a working arrangement to formalize cooperation. In carrying out its functions in accordance with its mandate as an independent expert body, the Working Group will, where appropriate: (a) consult with the ILO on matters relating to the Guiding Principles that involve fundamental principles and rights at work and other issues within the competence of ILO; (b) take into account ILO comments and material relating to such issues in its reports and other activities; and (c) coordinate with the ILO, as relevant, on follow-up action on Working Group outputs.

5. Consideration of information received

The Working Group is mandated by resolution 17/4 of the Human Rights Council to seek and receive information from all relevant sources.

The Working Group welcomes information related to its mandate. Information received from relevant stakeholders will be used, as appropriate, by the Working Group to inform its work and strategy, to identify barriers to the effective implementation of the Guiding Principles and gaps in the protection of human rights in the context of business activities and to inform recommendations made to States, business and other actors, on the implementation of the Guiding Principles.

6. Communications procedure

Within the framework of its mandate, the Working Group also receive information on alleged human rights abuses and, where deemed appropriate, intervene directly with States, business enterprises and others on such allegations. Such intervention can relate to a human rights abuse which has already occurred, is ongoing, or which has a high risk of occurring. The process involves sending a letter to the concerned States and business enterprises to draw their attention to the facts of the allegations made and the applicable international human rights norms and standards, in particular the core concepts, obligations, responsibilities and expectations set out in the Guiding Principles.

Communications sent and replies received remain confidential until they are published in join communications reports submitted to each regular session of the Human Rights Council (in March, June and September). In certain situations, including those of grave concern, the Working Group may issue a public statement earlier.

In its mode of inquiry, the Working Group encourages States to request from companies information on human rights due diligence and stress the need to ensure access to effective remedy. Depending on the facts of the allegations made, the Working Group may address itself both to home and host States of the company allegedly involved in a human rights abuse. Where relevant, the Working Group will do such communications jointly with other special procedure mandates of the Human Rights Council.

The Human Rights Council, in its resolution 26/22, encouraged States and private businesses to cooperate fully with the Working Group including by responding to communications transmitted.

7. Providing guidance for national policies and action plans

In its resolution 26/22, the Human Rights Council noted the important role that national action plans and other such frameworks on business and human rights can play as a tool for promoting the implementation of the Guiding Principles, welcoming the efforts of the Working Group to develop guidance for the development and implementation of national action plans, and encouraging States and other stakeholders to engage with the Working Group in developing such Guidance.

The Working Group’s Guidance on National Action Plans was launched at the Third annual Forum on Business and Human Rights in December 2014. The guidance document will be updated and reviewed periodically to take into account feedback from users, and the Working Group invites States and all stakeholders to use the guidance document and to share with the Working Group and with other users lessons learned from national action plan processes.

The Working Group will seek to support the development of effective national action plans and other policies, through inclusive multi-stakeholder processes, to protect against adverse human rights impacts by business enterprises in conformity with the Guiding Principles.

8. Identifying good practice and global progress

The Human Rights Council, in its resolution 26/22, welcomed the efforts of the Working Group to build a database of national action plans and other relevant data on global progress in the implementation of the Guiding Principles, and in this regard encouraged States to submit information on their national action plans and other relevant initiatives, with annual reports on the implementation of such commitments, and invites all relevant stakeholders to submit relevant information to the Working Group.

The Working Group will seek to identify, exchange and promote good practices and lessons learned on the implementation of the Guiding Principles and to identify and collect data on global progress.

9. Enhancing access to effective remedies

The Working Group will explore options and make recommendations for enhancing access to effective remedies. In particular, it will include as an item on the agenda of annual and regional forums the issue of access to remedy, judicial and non-judicial, for victims of business-related human rights abuses. The Working Group will also collaborate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in exploring legal options and practical measures to improve access to remedy, as per Human Rights Council resolution 26/22.

10.The annual Forum on Business and Human Rights

In its resolutions 17/4 and 26/22, the Human Rights Council mandated the Working Group to guide the Forum on Business and Human Rights, aimed at discussing trends and challenges in the implementation of the Guiding Principles and promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues linked to business and human rights. The Forum is held on an annual basis for three days, with one meeting day dedicated to the sharing of new tools and experiences.

11. Regional Forums on Business and Human Rights

In its resolution 26/22, the Human Rights Council welcomed the Working Group’s convening of regional forums to discuss challenges and lessons learned from implementation of the Guiding Principles with States and other stakeholders in a regional context. Subject to available funding, the Working Group will continue to convene regional forums, to bring discussion to the regions and to use those discussions to feed back into the annual Forums.

12. Reporting

The Working Group submits annual reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, as per Council resolutions 17/4 and 26/22.

Resolutions and decisions on business and human rights

Body, Session Year Title Symbol number and link to document
HRC 44th session2020Business and human rights: the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and improving accountability and access to remedy

A/HRC/RES/44/15

HRC 38th session2018Business and human rights: improving accountability and access to remedy

A/HRC/RES/38/13

HRC 35th session2017Business and human rights: mandate of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

A/HRC/RES/35/7

HRC 32nd session2016Business and human rights: improving accountability and access to remedy

A/HRC/RES/32/10

HRC 26th session2014Human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

A/HRC/RES/26/22

HRC 26th session2014Elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights

A/HRC/RES/26/9

HRC 21st session2012Contribution of the United Nations system as a whole to the advancement of the business and human rights agenda and the dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

A/HRC/RES/21/5

HRC 17th session2011Human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

A/HRC/RES/17/4

HRC 8th session2008Mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

A/HRC/RES/8/7

HRC 5th session2007Institution-building of the United Nations Human Rights Council

A/HRC/RES/5/1

CHR 61st session2005Human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

E/CN.4/RES/2005/69

CHR 60th session2004Responsibilities of transnational corporations and related business enterprises with regard to human rights

E/CN.4/DEC/2004/116

SUBCOM 55th session2003Responsibilities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights

E/CN.4/Sub.2/RES/2003/16

SC 4732nd meeting2003Resolution 1472 (2003)

S/RES/1472 (2003)

SC 4694th meeting2003Resolution 1459 (2003)

S/RES/1459 (2003)

SC 4654th meeting2002Resolution 1446 (2002)

S/RES/1446 (2002)


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Working Group on Business and Human Rights
Palais des Nations, 8-14, Avenue de la Paix. 1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 917 9159
E-mail: wg-business@ohchr.org

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