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Outcomes of Civil Society Dialogue at UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

On Monday 2 December a Civil Society Dialogue took place on the occasion of the Second Annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. This event was hosted by the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Outcomes of Civil Society Dialogue at UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

UN Forum

Below you can find the main outcomes of this dialogue, as reported by Mariëtte van Huijstee (SOMO) at the opening plenary of the Second Annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, 3 December 2013:

  1. Good morning everyone, and thanks for this opportunity to report back on the main outcomes of our civil society dialogue yesterday.
  2. I was asked to comment on the top development in United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP) implementation. A commonly heard concern in our session was that states and businesses are doing far too little to implement the UNGPs and thereby fail to fulfill their respective duties and responsibilities to protect and respect human rights. Only one National Action Plan has been published so far, which includes far too little substance to create meaningful impact on the ground. The same holds for human rights due diligence implementation efforts by companies. Instead of a focus on avoiding risks of human rights violations, human rights due diligence too often involves a simply seeking to avoid risk to corporate reputation.
  3. Then I was asked to identify the top challenge to UNGP implementation. There are so many challenges that it is impossible to choose just one, let me mention 3:
    - Businesses profiting from weak governance zones and conflict affected areas, which implies that home states have a duty to step in and act
    - Continued impunity for human rights violations by business, lacking an international mechanism to hold companies to account. 
    - Lack of remedy mechanisms for victims of BR human rights abuse: continued barriers for judicial remedies in home states exist, while non-judicial mechanisms do not live up to their promises and may even work against human rights in some instances. Specifically, deep concern was raised over protection of human rights defenders, which are increasingly seen as enemies of development, whereas they should be seen as a key actor in implementation of the UNGPs
  4. Then I was asked to comment on the top way to advance the dissemination and implementation of the GPs. First of all, our session highlighted a number of expectations of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights: 1. The WG should focus on evaluating how effective actions by states and business have been in creating impact, and what still needs to be changed, 2. The WG should regard human rights defenders as a particularly vulnerable group and seek ways to monitor how governments protect human rights defenders.
  5. Furthermore, the need for an international binding instrument on the corporate obligation to respect human rights was widely recognized in our session. Many civil society representatives urge states, the WG and the OHCHR to start a process in this direction. Since this seems to be a longer term trajectory, a promising line of state action would be to strengthen national level regulation that create stronger obligations for corporations to respect human rights, including when they operate abroad. We may also look into the effective sanctioning mechanisms included in trade and investment agreements as a source of inspiration, as well as instruments that need to be matched or balanced by human rights instruments of equal strength.
  6. I want to finish off by reminding everyone once again that what we are really talking about here is protecting human rights – the rights enjoyed by all human beings. This means we must ensure that the perspectives and experiences of victims remain central to our work. This goes for the WG as you continue your mandate – make sure you are making time to listen to and prioritize victims. This goes for States as you proceed with developing your NAPs – make sure that victims are an integral part of this process. This goes for business – make sure human rights due diligence is about avoiding risks for people, not just your reputation. And we as civil society pledge to make human right and victims of rights abuses the focus of all we do.
  7. I hope this covers the most important outcomes of our session, thank you for your attention.