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Sustainable development must put people not profits first, UN rights experts stress

GENEVA / PARIS (30 June 2017) - Governments and business leaders must put people – not profits – first as the world moves towards action on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, UN human rights experts have today told a major world conference in Paris.

Human rights must be embedded in policies and practice as countries begin to translate the ambitious global goals into concrete measures, the experts told the annual OECD Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct.

“A development path in which human rights are not respected and protected cannot be sustainable, and would render the notion of sustainable development meaningless,” said Anita Ramasastry, one of the five members of the UN Working Group on business and human rights.

The goals, agreed by world leaders as part of the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development, envisage partnerships between the private sector and governments as part of efforts to solve the world’s development challenges.

However, unless these business contributions are based on accountability and respect for human rights, the private sector risks undermining rather than supporting sustainable development, the UN experts stressed.

“For example, if a green energy project leads to displacement of an indigenous community without their consent, proper consultations and redress, the term ‘sustainable development’ rings hollow,” said Dante Pesce, another member of the UN expert group speaking at the conference.

When business activities respect people’s rights, the potential positive contribution to realizing development for all can be tremendous, the group underlined.

“Businesses can play a positive role simply by being responsible,” Mr. Pesce said. “For example, on the goal of achieving gender equality, if a company finds that its employment practices discriminate against women, and then takes effective steps to end this human rights abuse, this will make a real and significant contribution to sustainable development by advancing women’s role in economic life.”

Ms. Ramasastry added: “States are in the driver’s seat for setting development priorities in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. If they are working in partnership with the private sector, they must ensure that the firms involved are taking steps to respect human rights across their operations.

“The most powerful way for businesses to accelerate development is to embed respect for human rights across the whole of their operations and value chains.”

The UN Working Group presented a set of key recommendations designed to inform a series of international meetings this summer that have sustainable development on the agenda, including the current OECD global forum in Paris, the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7-8 July and the UN High-Level Political Forum in New York on 10-19 July. The role of business in sustainable development will also be on the agenda of the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva on 27-29 November.

The UN experts stressed that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide a clear roadmap for protecting and respecting human rights in the context of business. 


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 (current Chairperson), Mr. Surya Deva (current vice chair), Mr. Dante Pesce, Ms. AnitaRamasastry and Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga.

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.

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

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