Examining the Ruggie Report: Can Voluntary Guidelines Tame Global Capitalism?


In recent years many academics, social activists and NGOs have turned to international bodies in an attempt to hold corporations accountable for their harmful and illegal acts. Significant amongst these is the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on issues of human rights and transnational corporations. In 2008, following extensive research and consultation with states, corporations and civil society groups, the Special Representative released a series of guidelines outlining the responsibilities of states and corporations to respect human rights, and of both to ensure access to effective judicial and non-judicial remedies for victims. This paper argues that the UN guidelines fail to recognize or incorporate the empirically and historically demonstrated imperatives that guide transnational global capitalism. While global capitalism is complex and rife with contradictions, its raison d’etre is rooted in profit maximization. The paper sets out alternative provisions with, we argue, greater potential to subject global capital to the rule of law.

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  1. 1.

    This information was gathered from Ruggie’s reports, corporate social responsibility and media reports and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (www.business-humanrights.org).

  2. 2.

    See: http://www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/community_rights_respect.aspx.

  3. 3.

    See: http://www.global-business-initiative.org/SRSGpage/files/Guiding%20Principles%20Endorsement%20from%20Coke.pdf.

  4. 4.

    See: http://www.global-business-initiative.org/SRSGpage/files/GE%20letter%20to%20John%20Ruggie.pdf.

  5. 5.

    See: http://www.gecitizenship.com/our-commitment-areas/human-rights/.

  6. 6.

    See: http://www.chevron.com/globalissues/humanrights/.

  7. 7.

    See Chevron, About our human rights policy, online: http://www.chevron.com/documents/pdf/AboutOurHumanRightsPolicy.pdf.

  8. 8.

    The Working Group recognizes that work remains to improve upon the “limited” knowledge, and implementation, of the Guiding Principles.

  9. 9.

    As Ross (2000) notes, states of all shapes and sizes are guilty of human rights violations, placing them in a contradictory position when contemplating measures to confront international human rights violations. From this perspective, if states are unwilling and/or incapable of holding themselves accountable for human rights violations, why would they take decisive action to hold corporations to account for similar acts?

  10. 10.

    This situation is further complicated by the fact that international bodies such as the International Criminal Court appear disinterested in turning their attention towards strengthening state capacity to discipline rogue corporations (Mullins and Roth 2010).


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Bittle, S., Snider, L. Examining the Ruggie Report: Can Voluntary Guidelines Tame Global Capitalism?. Crit Crim 21, 177–192 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-013-9177-4

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  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Sexual Harassment
  • United Nations
  • Corporate Responsibility
  • Multinational Corporation