When John Ruggie was describing his work with the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to reduce corporate-related human rights abuses, I couldn’t help thinking “do we really need another global network on this issue? Would it be better to think about possibilities of them working together more closely? Is this simply another case of ‘government’ wanting to “be in charge’, and resistant to joining others? Or are the current networks too tied to their own identities to look at the bigger change opportunity?”
The UNHRC takes its definition of Human Rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948. It presents a broad definition, including rights to education, to work, and to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.
Is this definition sufficiently relevant to the numerous existing global, multi-stakeholder networks that are working on human rights issues with a particular focus upon corporations? Also in the broad arena are:
In the labor rights arena, there are:
And then there’re other networks that could easily move into this arena, like Transparency International with its concerns about corporate corruption.
The question about current powerful options for reducing corporate-related human rights abuses is related to how the “issue domain” is analyzed in terms of its “development stage”. In this case, its development stage of the "issue domain" (human rights and corporations) rather than the individual networks. The networks began by focusing on distinct “pieces” of the emerging global puzzle…they’ve been experimenting with and developing particular strategies for over a decade (with the exception of the ILO, founded in 1919).
Maybe now is the moment for the networks to reassess their learnings and strategies, and to think how to really scale up for impact. That doesn’t necessarily mean a merger which in many ways is contrary to “network thinking”…it might be best to have relatively distinct strategies and networks, but with a collective understanding of how they relate and their “piece” of the puzzle. This is already happening to some extent with the GRI-Compact relationship.
In an organization world, the interests of organizations as institutions are dominant. In a world of multi-stakeholder global networks, the vision for a field is dominant and the question of "role" is central. What roles do we need played for the human rights-and-corporations domain to be healthy? Undoubtedly the lessons from networks to date would reveal these, and provide the basis for developing a more effective collective strategy. One way to get at this role question is through Value Network Analysis.
As the networks push for membership expansion, the NGOs and corporations in them are going to increasingly raise the questions about why there are so many and why they would want to participate in several networks. That question was the original drive behind the founding of the GRI with respect to triple bottom line reporting.
This suggests that perhaps the key intervention of the UNHRC is to create greater “coherence” and “alignment” of these numerous initiatives. It could convene them around the shared elements of their visions…and be a joiner and part of a greater movement, rather than the old-fashioned “lead and control” thinking that often makes government such a difficult partner.