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UN and AU commit to advance business and human rights agenda in Africa

ADDIS ABABA/GENEVA (18 September 2014) - The first African Forum on Business and Human Rights concluded today with a strong call for action to make business a force for improving human rights in Africa. At the meeting, senior officials and experts underlined that the African Union and the United Nations will join forces to support responsible business practices in line with fundamental human rights standards.

“Amid rapid economic growth and new investments in land and natural resources, there is an increasing awareness of why human rights must be brought into business strategies and operations,” said Michael K. Addo, chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

”Not only is this the only way to ensure the interest and welfare of the people of Africa, it is also good business and critical for the sustainability of investments,” added Abdalla Hamdok, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

The African Regional Forum, held from 16 to 18 September in Addis Ababa, brought together 200 representatives of governments, business, civil society, and national human rights institutions to debate the defining challenges of Africa today.

At the core of discussions were the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the global authoritative standard for preventing and addressing negative human rights impacts linked to business activity.

“All too often have human rights concerns fallen by the wayside in the race to attract foreign investment. We have to fundamentally break with this logic and ensure that business and respect for human rights go hand-in-hand,” said AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Aisha Abdullahi.

“The UN Guiding Principles provide a globally agreed global standard on how to make business and human rights work together. What is needed now is to translate these standards into concrete action plans and implementation tools tailored to the realities of African countries”, she added.

The Regional Forum was convened by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, with the support of the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Participants from across Africa called for responsible business practices that respect human rights, provide adequate safeguards to protect against business-related rights abuses, and ensure victims can seek redress.

National action plans were identified as an important tool to advance the business and human rights agenda. Such plans should be developed though inclusive consultative processes, bringing on board all stakeholders, to identify problems and finding solutions.

At the Regional Forum, the AU Commission and the UN Working Group committed to work jointly to advance the business and human rights agenda. Specific steps include the development of practical tools adapted to the realities in African countries to implement the UN Guiding Principles.

The African Forum will feed into the next global UN Forum on Business and Human Rights – the world’s largest dialogue on business and human rights – to be held in Geneva from 1 to 3 December 2014.

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The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. Its five members are: Michael Addo (current Chairperson-Rapporteur), Ms. Margaret Jungk (Vice Chair), Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga, Ms. Alexandra Guáqueta and Mr. Puvan Selvanathan. The Working Group is independent from any government or organization. It reports to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly. Log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx

Learn more about the African Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Forum/Pages/AfricaRegionalForum.aspx

Learn more about the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, to be held in Geneva from 1 to 3 December 2014: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Forum/Pages/ForumonBusinessandHumanRights.aspx

Check the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/Tools.aspx

For additional information and media requests, please contact:
Ulrik Halsteen or John Grova: +41 79 109 6873 (during the Forum), +41 22 917 9323 (after the Forum) / wg-business@ohchr.org

For the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission, please contact Dr. Salah S. Hammad via: HammadS@africa-union.org or visit: www.au.int

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Liz Throssell – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9466 / ethrossell@ohchr.org)