New York, 27 October 2015
Mr. Chair, Excellences, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to present to the General Assembly today the report of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights. The report sheds light on the importance of measuring the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Why did the Working Group on Business and Human Rights choose to focus on measurement, and why does measurement matter?
The year 2011 marked a turning point in the field of business and human rights. That year the Member States of the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (A/HRC/17/31). The Principles also received overwhelming support from civil society organizations and the global business community. The Guiding Principles were designed to clarify the roles and responsibilities of companies and States in addressing business-related harm, functioning like a blueprint to guide efforts by governments and companies to improve their practices.
The Working Group on Business and Human Rights was set up to support the uptake and implementation of the Guiding Principles. Over four years after their endorsement, what can we see in terms of implementation?
We do have some evidence that progress is being made. More than two dozens States have adopted, or are in the process of developing, National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights. National Human Rights Institutions are increasingly taking up business and human rights issues. Global standards and initiatives relating to responsible business, including the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 26000 standard, have incorporated the Guiding Principles. Regional organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS), the African Union, ASEAN, the Council of Europe and the European Union have all made declarations supporting the Guiding Principles.
This is happening outside the government and institutional sphere as well. An increasing number of companies are adopting policies and human rights due diligence processes in line with the Guiding Principles. Business associations are giving detailed guidance to their members. The UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, under the stewardship of the Working Group, has become one of the largest annual events at the UN, attracting around 2,000 government, business and civil society participants each year. These are all signs that we are moving away from general commitments to concrete implementation.
And yet, despite the proliferation of efforts to implement the Guiding Principles, we lack systematic, comprehensive data on where we stand, on the progress we’ve made, but also on the gaps in that progress.
Without effective measurement of the Guiding Principles, effective implementation is impossible. As the old business adage says, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Without reliable information on where and how companies are impacting human rights, and what States and companies are doing to prevent and mitigate the harms, we cannot work to ensure progress in the right direction.
Measurement also incentivises institutions to action. It allows us to determine whether commitments made by governments and companies to implement the Guiding Principles are truly being met.
Measurement can also give clear direction -a clear set of goals posts- to help steer actors to the necessary steps.
These are the reasons why measuring Guiding Principles implementation is a strategic priority for my Working Group, and why we dedicated the report before you to this issue. I will now turn to our main findings in assessing the state of play in this regard.
The state of play – existing initiatives measuring business and human rights
Let me stress at the outset that there is a wealth of potentially relevant data available. Existing measurement initiatives represent a range of methodologies, some with an explicit focus on the Guiding Principles: States, for instance, collect and publish data on the implementation of laws and policies that safeguard labour conditions, human rights and environmental standards; companies track the implementation of their sustainability and corporate social responsibility policies. NGOs and affected communities have their own tools to monitor and report on business impacts. There are also surveys (some of which were conducted by the Working Group), benchmarking and ranking initiatives to assess States and companies’ commitments and processes with respect to preventing and addressing corporate harm.
The report before you includes a more detailed assessment of a range of relevant initiatives, and how their data gives us crucial information on progress being made in implementing the Guiding Principles.
The assessment of existing initiatives, however, reveals a number of gaps where more data and information is needed.
First, despite the wealth of initiatives offering potentially relevant data, that data is generally not collated or presented in a way that enables a clear assessment of Guiding Principles implementation. For instance, we might have strong data about the effectiveness of courts in a country, but no information as to their specific treatment of cases related to business harm.
Second, when looking at it from the perspective of the three Pillars of the Guiding Principles (States / business / victims’ access to remedy) -- a much larger number of initiatives measure company respect for human rights compared to the other two pillars. While some initiatives do attempt to measure State implementation (Pillar 1), most of these efforts focus on the rule of law or general human rights conditions rather than specific measures to prevent and address corporate human rights harm.
We see even fewer measurement initiatives specific to victims’ access to remedy for business-related harm (Pillar 3). While information on access to remedy is available at national and international levels, we lack data on the number and nature of grievances against companies and the effectiveness of the bodies tasked with remediating those grievances.
We also have far more data on the commitments of States and companies than on the outcome of those commitments. We know, for example, the number of companies that have a human rights policy, but we don’t know to what extent these companies are implementing those policies, nor whether they are having the intended effect on the ground.
Lastly, we see some issues being measured more than others. While data on labour rights and environmental impacts is often readily available, we know much less about the rights of communities and the protection of human rights defenders working on business-related harm, for instance.
Strategic entry points to galvanize action on measurement
In response to the gaps identified in the Working Group’s report, we propose a number of strategic entry points to strengthen measurement of the implementation of the Guiding Principles.
First, we need to expand existing vehicles to increase data on State implementation of the Guiding Principles. National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights (NAPs) are one such vehicle. In the process of developing a NAP, governments need to collect information on the main human rights challenges arising from business operations, and on their own laws and processes to address them. This data collection process is essential to developing an action plan which truly addresses the key challenges in the country. It also has the added benefit of giving us data and knowledge at the global level on States’ actions, and possibilities to carry over good practice examples from one State to the next.
Another entry point with respect to States is the use of existing UN human rights mechanisms. Reporting to human rights treaty bodies or under the Universal Periodic Review provides an opportunity for governments to assess the implementation of the Guiding Principles, and for treaty bodies to monitor these efforts and identify good practices and gaps.
Second, we must encourage efforts to collect data on companies’ Guiding Principles implementation. Most existing initiatives to measure company performance don’t refer to human rights exclusively, but follow a broader framework for assessing the social impacts of companies. These include ‘environmental, social and governance’ (‘ESG’) initiatives by investors, as well as sustainable stock exchange indices, and ‘triple-bottom line’, or ‘people’, ‘planet’ and ‘profit’-based accounting practices.
While most of these efforts include some human rights criteria, they tend to focus on a narrow range of rights, for instance on workers’ and customers’ rights. So while these initiatives do offer a vehicle for increasing measurement of Guiding Principles implementation, they must be further developed and extended.
Third, at the global level, the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide significant opportunities for increased implementation and measurement of the Guiding Principles. The Working Group welcomes the role given to business as a key stakeholder in efforts to meet the SDGs. But this role must be matched with equally substantial responsibility. To put it bluntly, we don’t want companies building hospitals and health centres to help ensure access to healthcare, while at the same time undermining their workers’ health with unsafe labour conditions or the surrounding communities’ health with unsafe emissions. In our view, the Guiding Principles must be the ‘first, do no harm’ dictum which lies at the heart of the SDGs. And this must include the measurement effort and the setting up of indicators at global and national level that accompany SDGs’ implementation.
A fourth, and crucial, entry point is to work towards global convergence and agreement on how we measure the implementation of the Guiding Principles. Not only do we lack the data to measure Guiding Principles implementation, but we also lack the definitions and frameworks for doing so. To work toward developing these frameworks, we need to unpack the Guiding Principles into measurable elements, and come to a consensus on how to determine which areas are showing progress and which are falling behind. The Working Group encourages further efforts to foster and extend this process of convergence.
The risks of measurement
My final point is about the risks of measurement and the need for an inclusive process to address them. While measurement is often perceived as a neutral technical exercise, it is infused with value choices at its core. Measuring any complex phenomenon necessarily highlights some areas while de-emphasizing others. As we argue for the need to measure Guiding Principles implementation, we also argue that we must measure what is meaningful to know, not what is easiest to measure.
This is why any measurement effort must spring from an inclusive process, ensuring an appropriate mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches. Any process of measurement should be made with the participation of actors across stakeholder, geographical and political divides, and should in particular strive to include communities who are directly affected by business operations. It is only by doing so that this measurement effort can spark a ‘race to the top’ in the areas where we need it most.
Conclusion and recommendations
We end our report with concrete recommendations to all actors who have a role to play in the improved measurement of Guiding Principles implementation. This comprises States, civil society organisations and companies, of course, but also business associations, investors, academics, National Human Rights Institutions, and the UN human rights system.
The Working Group is committed to galvanizing action on the measurement of Guiding Principles implementation. The UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, which will take place in Geneva from 16-18 November, will provide a great opportunity for this. Its main theme this year is ‘Tracking implementation on progress’ and it will gather together in Geneva over 2000 stakeholders from government, business and civil society. Our interactive dialogue today provides a further opportunity for the distinguished delegates gathered here to present views on these issues, which will inform our work in the future.
I thank you for your attention and look forward to hearing your views.