The MNE Declaration and the Business and Human Rights agenda

When it comes to the business and human rights agenda, three leading instruments are recognized by the international community and referenced by policymakers: the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework (UNGPs), the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD MNE Guidelines).

These international instruments are aligned in their approach and complementary in their scope and application, including through their operational tools.

Where it concerns labour rights, the business and human rights agenda is founded on international labour standards and the ILO’s constitutional mandate as the UN standard-setting organization in the world of work. Labour rights are human rights as international labour standards provide frameworks for States to respect, protect and give effect to human rights at work and set out principles which guide businesses in respecting those rights in the civil and political as well as in the economic, social and cultural spheres.

Building on its international labour standards, the ILO adopted in 1977 the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy providing guidance to governments, social partners and enterprises on labour-related human rights in the broader context of decent work, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. This instrument was amended various times, most recently in 2017.

The United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework on business and human rights, endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2008, cites the ILO MNE Declaration among the soft law instruments that recognize the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. The UNGPs list as the internationally recognized human rights that business should respect, “as a minimum, those expressed in the International Bill of Human Rights and the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.” The MNE Declaration references the UNGPs in outlining the respective duties and responsibilities of States and enterprises on human rights and makes more explicit what these duties and responsibilities mean when it comes to protecting and respecting labour rights in business operations.

Following the Human Rights Council’s endorsement of the UNGPs in 2011, the “business and human rights” agenda has become more prominent. ILO contributes to this agenda in close partnership with the OHCHR and the Working Group on business and human rights (UNWG), As the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations notes in its 2022 General Report (para 136) “Respecting human rights and relevant international standards is also a corporate responsibility. ILO’s collaboration with the UNWG is based on the provisions of the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) which draws on relevant international labour standards and follows up on the Committee’s comments on the application of these standards in an implicit albeit important way.”

The ILO has built important partnerships on the business and human rights agenda. Examples of collaboration include: