A society based upon the rule of law is one in which all actors—including businesses, governments and individuals—are equally accountable to clear, fair and predictable laws.
For businesses, an operating environment that is governed by the rule of law provides the basis for commercial certainty and creates the foundation for long-term investment and growth, and sustainable development for all.
Business action relevant to the rule of law falls into two categories: respect and support.
“Respect” for universal principles, including human rights and anti-corruption, is the minimum standard for business behavior. It focuses on a business’s compliance and “doing no harm.” It calls attention to the need for businesses not to undermine the rule of law. It is concerned with robust management policies and procedures, mainstreaming principles into a business’s corporate functions, and throughout its value chain, so a business can know, show and address its impacts.
“Support” for the rule of law is a complement, not substitute for, “respect” for the rule of law—respect is the “must do” and support is the “optimal.” Support is voluntary action taken by businesses that goes beyond the responsibility to respect by making a positive contribution to help strengthen legal frameworks and promote more accountable institutions.
SUPPORT FOR THE RULE OF LAW
For the rule of law to become a global norm, more than just respect for the rule of law will be needed from all societal actors. For its part, beyond respecting the rule of law, businesses also have the opportunity to also engage in voluntary actions to support the rule of law by helping to build and strengthen the legal framework and promote more accountable institutions where they are currently or intend to operate.
Support for the rule of law can take a variety of interconnected forms, including:
Businesses can help strengthen the rule of law through their core business operations such as through the products and services they supply commercially that help close rule of law gaps, including those that assist with the process of law-making and implementation, access to information and the administration of and access to justice.
Strategic Social Investment & Philanthropy
Businesses can provide financial and in-kind support to governments, the United Nations and other international organizations, academic institutions, communities and nongovernment organizations to strengthen the rule of law. Such strategic support measures could include providing specialized expertise, volunteering, thought leadership, training or mentoring, or making in-kind contributions of products or services to help address gaps in the legal framework and institutions. Businesses can join existing efforts or initiate projects themselves.
Advocacy & Public Policy Engagement
Businesses can publicly acknowledge rule of law challenges—such as the existence of corruption—in their own operating environment and take action, independently or collectively, through advocacy and public policy engagement. This is where the business community, acting collectively or through other organizations, can play an important role. Collective action among various companies and organizations increases the effectiveness of rule of law advocacy, and may decrease the resource requirements for individual businesses that participate. Collective action from the responsible business community can be a powerful agent of change.
Partnerships & Collective Action
Businesses have the opportunity to engage in rule of law through a broad variety of partnerships and initiatives that pool expertise and resources with governments, international organizations and civil society. In addition to joining Global Compact Local Networks, bar associations and employer organizations are important settings for businesses to engage in collective action. Working through international organizations can also be a more suitable channel for businesses and host governments to interact, as some governments may be sensitive to engaging directly with businesses on rule of law issues.
Source: United Nations Global Compact, Business for the Rule of Law Framework (2015), 7-12.