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Intervention by ASG for Human Rights, Mr. Ivan Šimonović Special high-level meeting of ECOSOC with the Bretton Woods Institutions, World Trade Organization and UNCTAD


Mr. President/Chair, distinguished delegates, dear colleagues,

It is a pleasure to address you on this challenging and important topic. I want to focus my remarks on a neglected but – I will argue – central dimension of this topic. That is, the human rights dimension.

Human rights set minimum standards to encourage better decision-making and pro-poor outcomes –and can promote sustained, inclusive and equitable growth, investment and trade. How?

Look for instance at the rights to water and sanitation. They tell States what minimum standards everyone is entitled to – 50-100 liters/day, not free but affordable… - and tell them to prioritize spending in ensuring that all persons have access to this minimum, before spending on making further gains for those who already have. Still, worldwide, one in eight persons lack access to clean water. Still, women in developing countries walk an average distance of 6 km to access clean water. That is equivalent to all of us in this room having to walk all the way up to 120th street to fetch clean water. This simply means that their human right has not been adequately acknowledged. Human rights give us criteria for prioritizing.

A number of the institutions represented in this room have taken important steps to put “human rights policy coherence” into practice.

Policy coherence means supporting authorities that shape business practices – including those responsible for corporate law and securities regulation, investment, export credit and insurance, trade and labour – to be informed of and act in a manner compatible with the Governments’ human rights obligations.

Why are business and investment actors now more keen on human rights? The risks and large financial costs to business from ignoring human rights– reputational risks, legal risks, risk of disinvestment – are certainly powerful drivers. The desire, and obligation, not to undermine human rights elsewhere is obviously another.

But more importantly, human rights are also “good for business”: To again take water and sanitation as an example, the economic rates of return from investments in water and sanitation have been estimated at 9-21% per annum in Africa and 12-55% per annum in Asia. The economic growth dividends from these investments in certain Asian countries have been estimated at up to 7% GDP.

Mr President/Chair, colleagues,

The call for human rights is growing, from ordinary people in Tunis, in Cairo, in Madrid, in New York, and in cities and towns across the globe. We cannot allow the greatest burden of the financial crisis to continue to fall on the poorest and most marginalized communities and inhibit the realization of their human rights. It is high time to assess economic and development policy using the ethical lens of the human rights standards that Governments have agreed upon, and are legally bound by.

The response of the UN family on economic and social challenges – be it water and sanitation, debt crisis or unemployment - must be both credible and coherent, with human rights as our baseline and yardstick.

Thank you.