In 2005, the United Nations Human Rights Council requested the UN Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative on Business and Human Rights. The mandate was modest: to identify and clarify standards and best practices in the area of business and human rights; to clarify such concepts as ‘corporate complicity’ in human rights abuses committed by a related party, as well as the ‘corporate sphere of influence’; and to develop materials and methodologies for human rights impact assessments.2 Six years and some 50 international consultations and dozens of research reports later, the Council unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) developed by the Special Representative. This marked the first time the UN had issued official guidance to states and firms on their respective duties and responsibilities in relation to business and human rights. And it was the first time the UN ‘endorsed’ any normative text that had not been negotiated by governments themselves. That endorsement placed the UNGPs beyond pure voluntarism, into the domain of ‘soft law’.


Ruggie, John Gerard, Caroline Rees, and Rachel Davis. "Ten Years After: From UN Guiding Principles To Multi-Fiduciary Obligations." Business and Human Rights Journal (May 2021): 1-19.