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Brazil must move forward on business and human rights – UN expert group

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GENEVA (17 June 2016) – Brazil must move forward on business and human rights, and avoid the risk of sliding backwards, the Working Group on Business and Human Rights said today as it presented to the Human Rights Council the report* on its December 2015 official visit to the country.

“Brazil has a solid legal system and institutions to protect against business-related human rights abuse, and we urge the country to build on advances and better protect human rights in practice,” said human rights expert Dante Pesce, who currently heads the UN expert group.

“The participation of Brazil’s vibrant civil society and courageous human rights defenders is also essential,” he stressed. “As such, we are extremely concerned about the huge risks facing some activists who raise their voices against business-related human rights abuse, and saddened by the high number of deaths of human rights defenders.”

During its visit, the Working Group heard testimonies from communities who had been adversely affected by business operations, including the Belo Monte hydropower plant, construction projects related to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and the Fundão tailings dam rupture in Mariana, Minas Gerais. 

The Working Group learned about efforts to address and mitigate human rights impacts of business operations, such as the promotion of responsible human rights conduct by State-owned enterprises

At the same time, it also noted initiatives going in the opposite direction, such as the recent suspension of the ‘dirty list’ which effectively named and shamed companies caught using slave labour in their supply chains, and legislative initiatives that would weaken the legal definition of slave labour, lessen social and environmental safeguards in infrastructure licensing processes, and negatively affect the demarcation of indigenous land.

The expert group called for action to address concerns about undue corporate influence on regulatory and policymaking processes, including in relation to improper corporate lobbying and political financing. “This deserves careful attention not only because of corruption but because it can easily undermine human rights protections by, for example, weakening laws and policies and limiting accountability for abuses by business,” said Mr. Pesce. “Brazil has the tools to deal with these issues”, he continued, recalling the Brazilian Supreme Court’s recent ruling banning companies from making donations to future electoral campaigns.

Welcoming the commitment expressed by the Government of Brazil to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Working Group encourages Brazil to develop a national action plan on business and human rights.

“The process of developing such a plan should help identify areas of particular risk, decide which laws, regulations, policies and areas of oversight should be prioritized and strengthened, and determine ways to improve the access to remedy for victims of adverse business-related human rights impacts”, Mr. Pesce concluded.

(*) Read the Working Group’s full report: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/32/45/Add.1

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 current members are: Mr. Michael Addo, Mr. Surya Deva, Mr. Dante Pesce (current Chairperson), and Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga (current vice chair). The appointment of the fifth member of the Working Group will be made by the Human Rights Council in June 2016. Learn more, log on to: www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent human rights monitoring mechanisms. The Working Groups report to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly.  Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. The experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.     

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

UN Human Rights, country page – Brazil: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/LACRegion/Pages/BRIndex.aspx

For additional information and media requests please contact the Working Group Secretariat: +41 22 917 9323 / wg-business@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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