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Business, Human Rights, and the Promise of Polycentricity

Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises (SRSG) John Ruggie referred to the “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” Framework (PRR Framework) and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles) as a polycentric governance system. However, the exact meaning of this phrase has not been very carefully elucidated. This Article analyzes that description in the context of the deep and varied body of literature on polycentric governance and evaluates the PRR Framework in that light. In particular, this Article uses a case-study approach, analyzing the emerging polycentric governance system in the context of the sourcing of certain minerals from conflict-affected countries in the African Great Lakes region to explore these issues. The conflict minerals regulatory regime incorporates a notable number of the concerns and opportunities SRSG Ruggie highlighted and promoted in the PRR Framework and Guiding Principles. This Article then recommends further study of the concepts explored herein as applied to the business and human rights sector generally and conflict minerals regulation specifically. Ultimately, this Article argues that, given the relative paucity of binding international law regulating the human rights aspects of business and the unlikelihood of substantial multilateral progress in the near future, the success of the PRR Framework and Guiding Principles may well depend on whether the promise of their polycentric nature can be fully realized.

Image Source – Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Open Government Licence v1.0)


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