BUSINESS & HUMAN RIGHTS: Awareness & implementation the priority for new Guiding Principles

Summary: The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights held an interactive discussion with governments, NGOs and UN Agencies during the 20th session of the Human Rights Council.

On 21 June, the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises presented its annual report to the Human Rights Council and held a discussion with States, UN agencies and NGOs.

For a reminder of how the Working Group was established:

Report of the Working Group

Margaret Jungk, Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Working Group, presented her report and said last year the Human Rights Council had taken the historic decision to unanimously endorse the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, establishing for the first time an authoritative global standard to address the negative impacts business activities could have on human rights.

Awareness and implementation the priority

Ms Jungk said what was now required was for awareness of the Guiding Principles to be raised and for States and business enterprises to implement them.

Dialogue with civil society
Since its establishment, she said the Working Group had had on-going engagement with stakeholders during and in between sessions. The Group would encourage efforts to raise the capacity of the State, business and civil society to implement the Guiding Principles, by encouraging training and other capacity-building activities as well as systematic dialogue and engagement between all stakeholders. She also said the Working Group had been exploring, with Member States, the possibilities for country visits, so that it could ground its work in real-life complexities on the ground and speak directly and make constructive recommendations.

States' responses during dialogue

The United Kingdom said that business and human rights as an issue had arrived on the international scene but many actors did not know yet about the Guiding Principles. It was important to maintain integrity and balance of what the United Nations Special Representative achieved with that work. The United Kingdom was finalising its first strategy on business and human rights and looked forward to the forthcoming Wilton Park conference to refine ideas about how to reach the goals of transforming the principles into practice at the global level.

The European Union said the United Nations Framework and the related Guiding Principles were already influencing policy development in the European Union, and stated that implementation of both documents was a matter of utmost urgency.

The United States representative said that the task at hand of transforming the Guiding Principles from paper to practice would be an undertaking of global proportion and therefore the United States sought to collaborate with various stakeholders, including businesses, civil society and other governments. The United States aimed to support the Working Group by hosting implementation workshops and would grant $ 500,000 to an organization to design and implement projects that would advance the principles of the Guiding Principles. 

Egypt said that the Guiding Principles could provide a starting point, not precluding the previous work. The Working Group should continue with the identification of gaps which were not covered by the Guiding Principles and should pay attention to some neglected issues, such as the actions of the pharmaceutical industry acquiring local companies, which could have an impact on the production of generic drugs and so impede access to health.
NGOs' responses

Don't forget children!

UNICEF encouraged partners to focus on the interaction between children’s rights and businesses, which impacted those rights on the community level, in the marketplace and the workplace. The United Nations Children Fund had, together with the Global Compact and Save the Children, recently released the Children’s Rights and Business Principles and complemented them with a workbook titled ‘Children are Everyone’s Business’. By considering children’s rights in core business strategies and operations, businesses could demonstrate their responsibility towards children and could be a powerful force for change in support of children’s right.

Strengthen remedy mechanisms!

The International Commission of Jurists in a joint statement said that the participation of those actually affected by activities of business corporations had been minimal in the working of the Working Group. The Group should urge States to strengthen the availability of accessible, effective and impartial remedy mechanisms. Further, the independent experts of the Working Group should ensure that their statements and activities contributed and not hindered the potential development of further international standards.

Concluding remarks

Ms Jungk said the vast range of comments served as evidence of the size of the task before the Working Group, from capacity building of small and medium enterprises, indigenous peoples, and the voice of victims in relation to the right to health and tobacco industries, to mention some.

She further said it had confirmed the importance of how critical it was to get the strategy right from the very beginning and have everyone on board. There was a major jumping point facing the Working Group at this particular point in time, which was about putting all the previous work together and ensuring that there was no watering down of the Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human Rights.

What next?

On 4 and 5 December 2012, the first Forum on Business and Human Rights will take place under the guidance of the Working Group. This two-day forum will provide a unique global platform for stakeholders from all regions, experts, practitioners and rights holders, to engage in dialogue and discuss experiences, opportunities and challenges in the dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles.

The Forum's success will ultimately depend on contributions of all stakeholders to share practices and lessons learned, and to engage proactively and in a constructive way. Stakeholders should engage in dialogue at the national level ahead of the Forum and continue this engagement afterwards.


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