UN Experts, Civil Society Welcome FIFA’s New Complaint Mechanism

Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

On May 29, 2018, the international governing body for soccer, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), launched a complaint mechanism for human rights defenders and journalists ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, garnering praise from United Nations experts and civil society members. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism; OHCHR Press Release; CPJ Press Release; HRW: Daily Brief] The new complaint mechanism will accept complaints from human rights defenders and media representatives who allege that their rights have been infringed while engaging in work related to FIFA’s activities, which span around the globe. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism] FIFA intends to address complaints through engagement with third parties, including State officials, using FIFA’s influence to prevent, mitigate, or remedy rights violations when they occur. See FIFA, Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives (2018). The creation of this mechanism followed calls from civil society for FIFA to establish a process to address complaints from media and human rights defenders. [HRW: Press Freedom] The United Nations Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises called the mechanism “a very positive move.” [OHCHR Press Release] Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Ruggie Principles), businesses such as FIFA have the responsibility to respect human rights, avoid complicity in human rights violations, and ensure that victims of human rights violations as the result of their business activities are adequately remedied. See Human Rights Council, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/17/31, 21 March 2011, at 13, princ. 11.

The FIFA Complaint Mechanism

FIFA’s new complaint mechanism has jurisdiction to review submissions of human rights defenders and media representatives who believe that their rights have been infringed when working in relation to FIFA. See FIFA, Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives, para. 14; FIFA, Fair Play – Joining Together to Protect Our Organisation Against Risks. FIFA interprets “human rights defenders” as any person who “individually or with others, acts to promote human rights, and draws attention to violations or abuses by any actor, including governments, business, individuals, groups and non-State actors.” See FIFA, Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives, fn. 1. Additionally, FIFA takes a broad interpretation of “media representative,” which it defines to include journalists as well as any other individual, working either independently or with a media outlet, who covers a matter of interest to the public. See id. at fn. 2.

In addition to human rights defenders and media representatives, the mechanism also has jurisdiction over submissions from FIFA employees, individuals bound by the FIFA Code of Ethics, and others aware of misconduct related to FIFA activities, but this jurisdiction is limited. For those complaints not brought by a human rights defender or journalist, FIFA will consider allegations that it has jurisdiction over, not allegations over which local entities, such as associations or confederations, have jurisdiction. For those submissions, the mechanism’s jurisdiction extends only to misconduct that “(1) relates to match manipulation; (2) occurs in or affects more than one confederation, so that it cannot adequately be addressed by a single confederation; or (3) would ordinarily be addressed by a confederation or association, but, under the particular facts at issue, has not been or is unlikely to be dealt with appropriately at that level.”  See FIFA, Fair Play – Joining Together to Protect Our Organisation Against Risks.

The complaint mechanism accepts submissions 24 hours a day via its online platform. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism] Additionally, affected persons or their representatives may submit complaints anonymously and submissions are encrypted, to help minimize the risk of potential retaliation. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism] See FIFA, Fair Play – Joining Together to Protect Our Organisation Against Risks; FIFA, Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives, para. 15.

FIFA plans to address and remedy complaints by implementing a combination of: engagement with the relevant stakeholders and those affected; engagement with third parties, including State officials, engaged in the abuse; leverage of FIFA’s influence to prevent, mitigate, or remedy the impact; cooperation with other organizations whose mandate is to protect journalists or human rights defenders; and speaking out in defense of journalists or human rights defenders when it is in the best interest of the complainant. See FIFA, Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives, para. 15.

FIFA created the new complaint mechanism as part of a broader attempt to positively improve the organization’s human rights impact. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism] In 2015, FIFA secured John Ruggie, a leading expert on business and human rights and author of the Ruggie Principles, to develop a report and recommendations for how FIFA might promote respect for human rights within the organization’s global operations. [Harvard Kennedy School] FIFA responded to the publication of the report by adopting a human rights policy affirming the organization’s commitment to respect for human rights. [FIFA: Policy] Ruggie’s recommendations included that FIFA ensure access to a remedy for human rights harms associated with FIFA and that FIFA use its leverage to address human rights risk. John Ruggie, For the Game, For the World (2016), 33, 35.

UN Experts’ Statements

Following FIFA’s announcement about the mechanism, the experts on the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders made several statements in support of the mechanism. The experts noted that the FIFA statement “provides a solid foundation for action” as it aims to adhere to the Ruggie Principles and outlines clear policies and expectations. As sports events “are not immune from the wider crackdown on human rights defenders,” the experts called on other sporting bodies to copy FIFA’s example. Sporting events, the experts’ press release stated, often result in rights abuses, such as forced evictions, discrimination, unlawful limitations on protests, and various labor rights violations. [OHCHR Press Release]

The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

The Ruggie Principles were adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 and establish the current global standard for monitoring, preventing, and remedying the human rights impacts of business activities. The Ruggie Principles are founded on a three pronged “protect, respect, and remedy” framework that focuses on the State’s duty to protect human rights, the responsibility of corporate actors to respect human rights, and the need for access to remedy for victims of human rights violations. See OHCHR, Business and Human Rights.

The Ruggie Principles specifically address the possibility of business-created complaint mechanisms. Principle 29 states that to respect human rights standards, business enterprises should establish or participate in non-State complaint mechanisms, directly accessible by individuals or communities who may be impacted by the businesses’ operations. See UN Human Rights Council, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, at 31, princ. 29. The principles also establish that any such non-State complaint mechanism must be legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, rights-compatible, a source of continual learning, and based on engagement and dialogue. See id. at 33, princ. 31.

The Ruggie Principles were the culmination of a broader international trend to recognize the impact of transnational corporations on human rights. See OHCHR, Business and Human Rights. Because most international human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, impose obligations on States, the increasing role of corporations in performing what are traditionally State functions revealed the need for guidance on the relationship between business and human rights. [IJRC] See OHCHR, Business and Human Rights. To fill this gap in protection, the Ruggie Principles were created to clarify the standards for corporate responsibility with respect to human rights. See OHCHR, Business and Human Rights.

Additional Information

For more information on business and human rights, the work of the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, or the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

To stay up-to-date on international human rights law news, visit IJRC’s News Room or subscribe to the IJRC Daily.

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