During the past few decades, with limited success, the United Nations Secretariat, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN human rights treaty committees, activists, non-governmental agencies, and foundations have encouraged national governments to protect and promote human rights. However, it has become clear that national governments no longer have the resources to fund the realization of economic rights, such as the right to housing, the right to education, the right to work, the right to social security, the right to a clean and safe environment, and the right to health. As a result, the UN human rights system and its supporters are now expecting transnational corporations to "respect" human rights, which, depending on one's perspective, can mean anything from obeying national laws protecting the civil and political rights of citizens to the limitless funding of a broad range of ambiguous economic, social, and cultural rights. This section covers the UN's growing "business and human rights" agenda, which works in the context of a complex adaptive matrix of human rights governance networks.
In 1976, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”) first adopted its Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, a set of recommendations seeking to establish standards of responsible conduct for businesses operating across national borders, including in the areas of employment, human rights, and the environment. The Guidelines require that all adhering countries create a National Contact Point (“NCP”) to handle matters relating to the Guidelines, including investigating complaints of violations of the Guidelines by businesses. In a similar vein, the UN Global Compact is an initiative that seeks the commitment of businesses to a set of ten principles on issues, including human rights, employment, and the environment. This focus area contains developments relating to both of these projects, as the OECD and the UN Global Compact encourage businesses to respect civil and political rights and fulfill ambiguous and costly economic and social rights.