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States and non-state actors, such as business organizations and NGOs, have varying preferences among regulatory options in business and human rights. Some actors prefer soft law governance while others advocate for legally binding solutions at the national and international levels. In this essay, I explore some of the factors that may explain why state and non-state actors hold these diverse preferences. I conclude that while some of these preferences may be attributable to the unique advantages of soft law or hard law, other preferences likely depend on the effects produced by the interaction of both types of law within the broader regulatory landscape.
This contribution, rather than focusing on the debates within the Business and Human Rights (BHR) domain itself, offers a comparison between soft law regulation in the BHR context, on the one hand, and in the jus in bello (JIB) and jus ad bellum (JAB) contexts, on the other. Specifically, this contribution looks at the recent experience in JIB and JAB wherein states and other actors have tried to address the indeterminacy of treaty law provisions through soft law proposals that advance a disputed interpretation of hard law, producing legal uncertainty and scholarly debate. I use as examples the 2009 Interpretive Guidance on Direct Participation in Hostilities and the 2012 Bethlehem Principles as a way to extract lessons for the codifying momentum underway in BHR.
In this essay, we examine empirically whether the revised draft of the business and human rights (BHR) treaty is a normative advance on the existing jungle of global instruments. Since the 1970s, almost one hundred global corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards have been adopted, half of them addressing human rights. See Figure 1 from our global CSR database, below. What is novel about the current treaty-drafting process within the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) is that it aims to develop a comprehensive standard that would hold states legally accountable for regulating business. The question is whether this is possible. Drawing on our work on the “commitment curve,” we begin theoretically and point out why one should hold modest expectations about the process and treat strong text with skepticism as much as celebration. Using an empirical methodology, we then compare the HRC's Revised Draft Legally Binding Instrument (Revised Draft LBI) with existing standards, and find that while the draft contains a healthy dose of incremental pragmatism, its significant advances require a degree of circumspection about its strengths and prospects.
Achieving respect for human rights by businesses requires not making the “right” choice between hard and soft law but establishing an architecture to sustain a constructive dialectic between the two. This essay argues that a business and human rights treaty modelled as a framework convention and centered initially on the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) offers such a structure while avoiding the shortcomings of treaty proposals advanced to date.