Day two of the CBSR conference began with a pull-no-punches presentation by Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. His message is simple . . . voluntarism in addressing human rights issues doesn't work; you need legally binding minimun standards of behaviour. Neve's argument is that the world requires laws, oversight committees of experts and courts to bring those who violate human rights (including business executives) to justice. As for why business should support this point of view, Neve argues that regulation will provide the corporate world with "clarity, common expectations, predictability and participation".
I think there is greater merit in the model presented later in the morning by John Morrison of the Business Leadership Initiative on Human Rights and John Sherman III of National Grid, a corporate supporter of the initiative (as is Hewlett-Packard) headquartered in the UK but with operations in the US. The goal of BLIHR is to "explore the ways that human rights standards and principles can inform issues of corporate responsibility and corporate governance" and it intends to develop tools that will assist business in implementing the set of norms contained in the UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights (called in CSR circles 'The Norms' . . .thankfully).
In other words, there is a pathway to encouraging responsible business behaviour with respect to human rights that runs between voluntarism based on promises that may or may not be kept and regulation interpreted and managed by inflexible, ideologically driven bureaucrats . . . that pathway is to offer guidance in how to integrate human rights considerations into core business activities and decisions. The 'Norms' say what should be done: the BLIHR -- which is a business-led initiative -- will say how it can be done.