ESRC Human Rights Banner

From Rhetoric to Practice: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Project start date: December 2013
Project end date: December 2016
Funding Awarded by the ESRC: £29, 804

Project outline

An increasingly globalised world has resulted in hundreds of thousands of business actors conducting business across national borders. In many well-documented instances, these business actors have violated recognised international human rights standards which traditionally have not applied to them as non-Stated actors. Weak, non-existent and fragmented legal frameworks have contributed to the regulatory gaps and in many cases it is the most vulnerable communities and members of society that suffer adverse human rights impacts. The establishment of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) therefore represent a milestone in the protection of human rights. Effective implementation of the UNGPs will be essential to ensure that business actors do not continue to violate human rights globally. Indeed, John Ruggie the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights has stated that effective implementation is the biggest challenge for the UNGPs and he is keen to ensure that they are not ‘left on the shelf.’

This seminar series consists of nine interdisciplinary seminars, over three years. The seminars will take a thematic approach to the key issues and problems identified with implementing the UNGPs. These themes were identified at the inaugural UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva, December 2012 . They are also reflected in the work plan of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and thus represent the most pressing topics that need to be addressed. The seminars build on established networks and will bring together experts in law, politics, international development, geography and international relations. Objectives

Project aims

• To bring together a diverse group of scholars, students, legal professionals, NGOs, officials from international and regional organisations, governments and industry representatives to establish a new international, interdisciplinary research network.

• To contribute to the empirical and theoretical enrichment of the field of business and human rights, through discussion, publication, and research collaboration.

• To organise nine one-day seminars with five institutional partners over three years.

• To produce reports summarising the outcomes of the individual seminars to submit to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and the UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights with a view to influencing policy. To draft a final report with policy recommendations will be submitted to the Working Group and Forum.

• To engage a wide audience in terms of number of participants, geographical location, career stage, and discipline through the use of pre-recorded video content of each seminar on a dedicated site hosted by the University of Sheffield School of Law.

• To explore the theoretical, methodological and practical issues around business and human rights and to contribute to the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

• To influence the policies of governments and international and regional organisations in implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights.

• To establish a mechanism to facilitate collaboration and cooperation between seminar participants and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

• To create an ongoing, self-sustaining network drawing on the contributions of the academic, non-governmental, industry and governmental members with a few to future collaborative research and funding bids.

• To involve established academics, early and new career academics, and postgraduate students as part of the core group of participants. They will be joined by participants from a variety of NGOs, National Human Rights Institutions, international and regional organisations, and industry. The specific attendees at a seminar will vary depending upon the topic of each seminar. Participants are drawn from law, politics, international development, geography and economics.

Recent Activities



Project Activity

Picture from the day

24 January 2014 The School of Law, University of Sheffield

Investigators plan the series

We welcomed our investigators to share their ideas for the project and make plans for the project future.

ESRC Human Rights Seminar1

16 June 2014 British Institute of International and Comparative Law

Due Diligence: From Rhetoric to Practice

Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

View the Programme here

View the slides from the day here

Follow the twitter story #duediligence

BICCL event

8 November 2014

University of Bristol Law School

Corporate Accountability and Access to remedies for Corporate Wrongs

Find out more about the day here

University of Bristol
20-21 May 2015 University of Nottingham

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), Post-Conflict Situations and Fragile States

View Dr Elke Krahmann presentation (PDF)

View Dr Rajiv Maher presentation (PDF)

View Kiarlijn Kuijpers presentation (PDF) 

University of Nottingham