August 13, 2003
Standards for Corporations and Human Rights
Geneva - The United Nations has taken an important step forward in developing
human rights standards for corporations, Human Rights Watch said today.
The U.N. Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights today
approved the "Draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations
and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights." The document sets
out the responsibilities of companies for human rights and labor rights, and
provides guidelines for companies operating in conflict zones. The Draft Norms
also prohibit bribery and activities that harm consumers, including polluting
"This is now the world's most comprehensive and authoritative standard on
corporate responsibility," said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and
Human Rights Program of Human Rights Watch. "These norms come to fill an
important gap in the protection of human rights world-wide."
Historically, voluntary standards and initiatives for companies have been
limited to specific industries, such as the Fair Labor Association for the
apparel and footwear industry or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human
Rights in the Extractive Industries.
The Norms are not a law or binding set of standards, but can be adopted by
governments or companies. Their analysis and commentary could provide the
conceptual basis of a binding instrument on corporate responsibility since the
Norms are an authoritative interpretation of the responsibilities of
corporations under international human rights law.
"Eventually, we'd like to see binding standards for corporations," said Ganesan.
"But this is a good first step."
The Norms also begin to close a loophole because they apply to all forms of
business and not only transnational corporations. Historically, voluntary
standards have been criticized because they only apply to transnational
corporations. Companies that adopt voluntary codes of conduct have complained
that they suffer a comparative disadvantage when their competitors do not adopt
such codes. The Norms, however, apply equally to all businesses.
"The Norms help to level the playing field for companies that want to do the
right thing for human rights," said Ganesan. "Now every company's obligations
are detailed and no company can say that it doesn't have responsibilities in the
area of human rights."
To read more on corporations and human rights issues, please see:
A fight for Viet flag
For immigrants, old banner is a rallying point
By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Staff, and Donovan Slack, Globe Correspondent
Globe) - It is not the first time the Boston City Council has ventured into
foreign policy. But this time, someone out there is actually taking notice.
Two weeks ago, the council unanimously passed a resolution to recognize the
"Heritage and Freedom Flag" as the official symbol of Boston's
Vietnamese-American community. That flag, with its yellow background and three
red horizontal stripes, is also the old South Vietnamese flag.
And that has upset officials of the Vietnamese government, which the United
States officially recognized, with full diplomatic relations, in 1995.
Officials of the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington came to Boston last week to
visit city councilors, to explain that the official Vietnamese flag is the one
associated with what used to be called North Vietnam, a yellow star on a field
of red. The Vietnamese officials argued that, if any Vietnamese flag is to be
recognized at City Hall, it should be that one, because Saigon fell in April
1975 and relations between their nation and the United States have been cordial
Flying the other flag is "disrespectful to the entire nation," said Bach Ngoc
Chien, press attache of the Embassy of Vietnam.
"A small minority of Vietnamese-Americans who claim themselves representatives
of the Vietnamese-American community living in Boston aim at sowing division,
rekindling the past hatred and painful pages of the history between our two
nations and among the Vietnamese themselves, running counter to the aspirations
and interests of the two peoples," he said. "This could potentially set an
undesirable precedent to other ethnic communities in Boston."
But the councilors, who so far this year have debated resolutions to condemn the
war in Iraq and to laud the Dixie Chicks for their opposition to the war, are
unmoved, now that one of their proclamations has sparked a diplomatic fracas.
Councilor Maureen E. Feeney of Dorchester, who sponsored the resolution, refused
to meet with the Vietnamese officials. "I felt no need to meet with the
communist representatives," she said. "We're not talking about Vietnam. We're
talking about Vietnamese-Americans, who have come to this country and do not
want their flag to be the flag of the regime that drove them out of their
But the embassy officials, including Vu Dang Dzung, deputy chief of mission, did
meet with Councilor Maura A. Hennigan of Jamaica Plain. But Hennigan made it
clear that she stood by her vote. She also invited community activists, who
challenged the Vietnamese officials on the nation's human rights record.
"If they feel they would like that flag to be the symbol of their community in
our neighborhood, it's important for us to support them in that," Hennigan said.
"The gentleman from the embassy said, `We don't agree,' and what I said to him
is, `What you feel in Washington, that is in Washington, and we here in Boston
support our community here.' "
The resolution was worded to limit its effect to the local Vietnamese community,
in an attempt to avoid diplomatic unpleasantness. The resolution states that the
council "supports the recognition of the Heritage and Freedom Flag as the
official symbol of the Boston Vietnamese-American community."
And confining the resolution to Boston's Vietnamese-American community keeps it
within City Council rules prohibiting motions that do not have "a direct bearing
on the business of the council," a rule which killed the Iraq and Dixie Chicks
resolutions earlier this year. About 100 Vietnamese-Americans, clutching the
older Vietnamese flags, crammed into the middle section of the council's gallery
to view the vote. When every councilor voted in favor of the resolution, they
sent up an enormous cheer. A recess was called so that order could be restored.
"The old flag represents us; the communist flag reminds us of a very painful
past," said Mary Truong, an activist in the Boston Vietnamese community.
The 2000 Census counted nearly 11,000 Vietnamese-Americans in Boston, the second
largest Asian population after Chinese-American residents.
"We received hundreds and hundreds of signatures and calls and e-mails asking us
to support this," Feeney said. "As one gentleman said to me, `We left Vietnam
with nothing but our flag.' They really feel like they need to claim this as
(c) Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.