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Opening statement by the Chair of the Second Annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights

3 December 2013

Thank you Mr. President for your kind introduction,

Excellencies,
Distinguished Working Group members,
Distinguished delegates and participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to chair the second annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights. I am reminded of the session of the then UN Commission on Human Rights which I chaired in 2005, which led to the appointment of the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie. The outcome of this session was a resolution that requested the Special Representative to identify and clarify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability for transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights.
The Second Annual Forum represents a significant advancement since 2005. The UN Guiding Principles, a significant contribution which subsequently came from the session’s resolution, were unanimously endorsed in 2011, and we have the opportunity to discuss their implementation at this multi-stakeholder event.

To begin, I would like to encourage you all to look around the room this morning, to glance through the Programme, and to consider the remarkable diversity, commitment and dedication of all those present here today representing States, businesses, civil society, indigenous peoples, international organizations, and other stakeholders. It is your collective presence that makes this Forum not just a reality, but an opportunity. Indeed, implementation of the UN Guiding Principles will not be possible unless a collective effort, and involves decision-makers and those in leadership positions across all sectors and in all walks of life.

The number of registered participants this year was extraordinary, more than 1700. 11 percent are from State delegations, around a third are from a diverse range of civil society and indigenous peoples’ organizations, 9 percent are from academia, 17 percent are from business, law firms and advisory services firms, 4 percent are from national human rights institutions, 1 percent are from trade union networks, and 6 percent come from the UN system and other international organizations. All regions and more than 115 countries are represented among the registrants.

Yesterday, participants took part in trainings on the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and met to share lessons and perspectives on implementation of the Guiding Principles within different regions and among peers. There were also two dynamic sessions in which participants presented their innovate tools for guidance and capacity building, and national cases, research and good practice. Despite the enormous challenges in implementation, the Forum’s discussions are evidence that we are on our way. But this work must be comprehensive, not piece-meal. Only with the equal implementation across the three pillars, will we be successful.

Over the next two days, these preparations will contribute to our collective discussion on preventing and addressing the human rights impact of business activities as well as identifying good practices. During this discussion, we may not all agree all of the time, or even much of the time. That is to be expected with such a great range of stakeholders and we ask that you engage with an open-mind and with respect for the rules of procedure that have been circulated in advance, and are available for your reference in the room today.

These rules are designed to ensure we seize the opportunity of this Forum to build upon our common understanding of business and human rights, to initiate future dialogues, and to promote multi-stakeholder cooperation for the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles.

I wish to inform you that, with the exception of the opening and closing plenary sessions, each of the Forum’s 20 panels will be introduced and overseen by moderators in accordance with the same basic format. Panellists, commentators and intervening participants will be held to strictly enforced time limits and no power points or other visual presentations will be permitted. Panellists will have 7 minutes for introductory remarks, commentators will have 5 minutes, and all those intervening from the floor during discussions will have 2 minutes.

To ensure that participants from different stakeholder groups have an opportunity to speak, there will be a designated microphone for each of three categories. Participants should use the microphone designated for their stakeholder group as follows:

  1. States, national human rights institutions, UN entities, inter-governmental and regional organizations;
  2. Business enterprises, professional associations and networks, law firms, and consultants;
  3. Civil society organizations, trade union representatives, indigenous peoples’ organizations, affected stakeholders, academics, multi stakeholder initiatives and others.

As clarified in the rules of procedure, States and other attendants all participate on an equal footing. We hope that this approach will serve to enhance the quality of the multi-stakeholder dialogue, per the mandate of the Forum as outlined by the Human Rights Council.

The moderator will exercise discretion in the management of floor interventions to enable broad participation and ensure a balanced debate. We ask that all participants clearly state their name and organizational affiliation before beginning. Speaker lists will be available at the back of the meeting rooms and should be completed by all speakers after they have made their interventions.

It is in the interest of all of us that we seek to achieve not only frank and respectful dialogue, but also dynamic and substantively focused discussions. Participants are therefore kindly asked to avoid reading from prepared written statements, documents or published text, I would also like to remind all participants that you have the opportunity to submit written contributions to the Forum Secretariat by email for posting on the Forum website.

These speaking arrangements have been designed to facilitate the maximum dialogue among all stakeholders. In my capacity as Chairperson, I would humbly ask all participants to view these arrangements as part of the the unique character of this Forum. After all, one of the goals of the Forum, per the Council resolution that created it, is to foster multi-stakeholder dialogue around the business and human rights agenda and the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles, and it is in this spirit of respect and tolerance that we hope to proceed.

I would like to close by thanking all those here today, taking note especially the efforts of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Working Group in making the Forum a success. I would also like to note with appreciation the partners and donors who have provided substantive, organizational and financial support and recognize the participants who have come from far and wide to lend their important voices to this ongoing discussion.

I would especially like to thank the Governments of Norway and Switzerland, and the Geneva office of Frederich Ebert Stiftung, the Permanent Missions that made contributions to the welcome coffee for participants as well as the multi stakeholder group that is sponsoring tonight’s reception.

I wish you all a successful and productive Forum and thank you for your attention.