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Opening remarks by the Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

3 December 2013

Honourable Chair,
Mr. President,
Excellencies,
Distinguished fellow Working Group members,
Distinguished delegates and participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be representing the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises at the second annual Forum on Business and Human Rights.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to Mr. Makarim Wibisono, and thank him for undertaking the role of chair of the second annual Forum.
I would also like to extend a warm welcome to the distinguished participants of the opening high-level session and to the representatives of Member States, representatives of the UN system and mechanisms, international and regional organizations, national human rights institutions, trade unions, business associations and enterprises and non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders, affected stakeholders, academics and other experts.

In its role as guide to the Forum on Business and Human Rights, the Working Group has, with the support of OHCHR, gathered expectations and ideas from stakeholders for the topics and modalities of the second Forum.

The Working Group sought in particular to reflect lessons learned and feedback from participants of the 2012 Forum, while being conscious that different stakeholder groups may have diverging expectations. We have, therefore, created more opportunities for interaction among stakeholder and professional communities, while devoting pre Forum side sessions to peer learning and coordination within stakeholder groups. The Working Group received more than 70 rich and thoughtful submissions from an entire range of relevant stakeholders in response to a call for inputs. It sought to incorporate as many suggestions as possible, while noting that the limited time available for the Forum did not allow it to accommodate all requests. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the key principles which have guided the Working Group in preparing for this year’s annual Forum.

First, the Working Group believes that the key to tackling the challenges inherent in the field of business and human rights is ensuring that emphasis is placed on all three Pillars of the Guiding Principles (Protect, Respect, Remedy), on prevention, mitigation and remedy; and advancing their implementation as one goal. The agenda of the Forum reflects this important premise, ensuring that most panels incorporate a dimension of each Pillar; and that, as far as possible, panels include speakers from States, business enterprises, and civil society.

Second, the Working Group continues to advocate and practice the multi-stakeholder dialogue approach and principled pragmatism which enabled the international community to move forward, at last, in the creation of a much needed global standard on a key aspect of corporate conduct, its impact on people. The agenda of the Forum reflects this approach, as many of the panels address principled pragmatism questions, such as supply chain discussions around how many tiers down the supply chain can/should a business go; complementing the dissuasive power of court rulings with market incentives or disincentives to maximise prevention; and harnessing people’s empowerment and strategic NGO action to achieve corporate culture change and increase access to remedy.

Third, the Working Group also decided to engage with stakeholders at the regional level, in particular States, regional financial institutions and development banks; human rights commissions; regional business associations, civil society and affected stakeholders, and regional multistakeholder initiatives, to reach new audiences and seek perspectives and lessons learned with regard to the challenges and opportunities of implementing the Guiding Principles on the ground. The Working Group decided that the regional focus would also become one of the themes of the 2013 Forum. The first regional forum on business and human rights for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), organized by the Working Group in collaboration with UNDP and the Government of Colombia, was held on 28-30 August 2013 in Colombia. Out of approximately 415 registered persons from seventeen countries across the LAC region (in addition to participants from outside of the region), 41% were from civil society organizations, 28% from business, 12% from governments and 19% from UN agencies, other State-based and non-State international organizations, national human rights institutions, unions, and multi-stakeholder initiatives. The Working Group will continue to seek support to hold a similar regional Forum in Africa in 2014.

Fourth, in the view of the Working Group, the Guiding Principles, when applied in practice, must take on board the local and regional, and sectoral context to be effective. The agenda of the Forum reflects this approach. We believe it is time to envision scaling up efforts to widen the number of business enterprises and States implementing the Guiding Principles through structured accountability models, whether by regulation, industry sector pacts, the new generation of multi-stakeholder initiatives or other means. The establishment of a capacity building fund would enable all stakeholders to move forward on the basis of solid technical knowledge available to all, and responding to the dynamisms that has characterised the field so far.

Fifth, the Working Group continues to believe that impunity especially in cases of egregious human rights violations involving business enterprises must be addressed. All stakeholders, especially those who aspire to lead in this field, have an opportunity to demonstrate their good will and deliver justice to victims.

Sixth, and as per its mandate to give special attention to persons living in vulnerable situations, the Working Group decided that the Forum should highlight the impact of business operations on the specific groups, in particular indigenous peoples, children, and migrant workers.

Finally, the Working Group firmly believes that the challenges of business and human rights cannot be solved by one stakeholder working alone. Coordinated and effective responses are required, through all stakeholders aligning their efforts to implement the Guiding Principles. This multi-stakeholder approach should be strategic, systemic instead of fragmented, inclusive, strive to continuously demonstrate legitimacy, credibility and sustainability. In this regard, the Working Group believes that the role of business in the post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals needs to be anchored in the Guiding Principles.

This Forum represents the space that the Human Rights Council has devoted to this crucial discussion and approach. We thank you for being here in the spirit of our shared mission: to ensure that the dignity, freedoms and needs of all are kept at the centre of all our global activities, be they political, economic, or social.

With regard to participation, the Working Group has aimed to ensure that there is broad and balanced participation of stakeholders in the Forum, including of States, business, civil society, indigenous peoples, affected individuals and groups and other key stakeholders in the field of business and human rights. This year, the Forum Secretariat received some financial resources to support the attendance of a limited number of selected stakeholders from under-represented regions and countries. The Working Group wishes to express its sincere thanks to the Governments of Norway and Switzerland which provided the funds to support the participation of these stakeholders. The Working Group is also deeply grateful to the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Geneva for the support with organising travel and accommodation for these stakeholders.

I take this opportunity to express the Working Group’s gratitude to all the supporters who have contributed to enabling the organisation of the Forum, in particular the Government of Norway and the other Governments of the core group of sponsors of the business and human rights mandate, namely Argentina, Ghana, India and Russia. We are also very grateful to all the sponsors of the welcome coffees and the multistakeholder reception for Forum participants to be held this evening. These contributions will, it is hoped, enable the Forum to meet the high expectations of stakeholders.

The Working Group is looking forward to following the deliberations over the next two days, and we wish you a successful meeting and discussions.

Thank you very much for your attention.