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United States Council for International Business, Roundtable with members of the Corporate Responsibility and Labor Affairs

"How Business Can Work with the UN to Advance Respect for Human Rights, Good Governance and Rule of Law in the US and Globally"

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

Washington DC, 11 April 2019

I welcome this opportunity to focus on how business can work together with the United Nations to advance respect for human rights, good governance and the rule of law.

Human rights are at the core of good governance and the rule of law. On the one hand, human rights principles provide a set of values to guide the work of governments and other actors, including business actors. On the other, without good governance, human rights are neither respected nor protected in a sustainable manner.

The implementation of human rights relies on a conducive and enabling environment. It also relies on the commitment and engagement of all actors in society, including the private sector. At the same time, business benefits from operating in countries with strong governance, effective institutions and the rule of law, all integral elements of human rights.

Businesses have an important role to play in upholding and promoting human rights – indeed, that role is becoming even more salient today, when some world leaders appear to be disengaging from their commitments to multilateral action. The way for business to meet its responsibility is to carry out human rights due diligence to manage, prevent and address human rights risks and negative impacts in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and human rights.

The primary purpose of human rights due diligence is to manage risks to people, not commercial or reputation risks. But good human rights due diligence also strengthens corporate risk management overall. Many of you are already deeply engaged in human rights issues and know that it is not only the right thing, it is also the smart thing to do. It allows business to meet growing expectations and pressure from consumers, employees, investors and regulators. It also makes sense more broadly, as it contributes toward creating an environment in which responsible business can thrive by strengthening good governance and the rule of law.

Respect for human rights is also an essential foundation for globalization, stable societies and sustainable development. A number of business-led organizations share this understanding.

For instance, last year, the B team - a global group of business leaders like you - found clear evidence that limits on civic freedoms may produce negative economic outcomes and that countries with higher degrees of respect for civic rights experience higher economic growth rates and higher levels of human development.

In the same spirit, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission recognized that treating workers with respect and paying them a decent wage would go a long way to building a more inclusive society and expanding consumer markets.

I am convinced that as business leaders, you can make a difference. All nations round the world need the help of business actors to fully realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – which is fundamentally a human rights agenda, based on leaving no-one behind.

The world needs your help. A clear example is the role that the private sector can play in the mitigation and prevention of climate change – which again, is fundamentally a human rights issue, since climate change and environmental disasters can have a direct impact on human rights.

We need your help in realizing economic, social and cultural rights: people’s universal, basic rights to food, decent housing, adequate health-care, clean water, education, social protection and so on.

We need your help in realizing civil and political rights: the right to participate in decisions, to speak freely, and to benefit without any form of discrimination from access to justice and accountable governing institutions across society.

But the most important contribution that you can make toward the realization of human rights – and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals – is simply to respect human rights in your own operations.

This is not just something you should do out of the goodness of your hearts. It is also, very clearly, and very directly, in your own best interests. Every company works best where there are well-functioning and representative institutions, a fully empowered workforce, and a context that is respectful of human equality and human dignity. And strong leadership is essential to advance corporate respect for human rights. Large companies can lead by example and help raise awareness in their industries and value chains. Business organizations such as USCIB also have a key role to play in this regard, both among big business and SMEs.

In your engagement with government – both at home and abroad – you can play an important role by signalling to business-oriented ministries and government actors that business is serious about respect for human rights and reinforce the message that respect for human rights is also good business and good for sustainable development.

Business and human rights is very important to my Office. We work directly with many businesses to help set up practical ways for them to meet their human rights responsibilities, as set out under the UN Guiding Principles.

Together with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, my Office also organizes the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva. This event seeks to facilitate peer learning and dialogue among business, States and civil society. I am sure that some of you were present, like more than 200 other business leaders that attended the Forum.

I am encouraged by the fact that many of you are already active in UN-led dialogue on corporate respect for human rights, through participation in the annual Forum and contributions to the report developed by the Working Group last year on corporate human rights due diligence. I encourage you to continue this constructive engagement and exchange.

In the context of the Accountability and Remedy project, my Office is presently conducting a broad and inclusive consultation on non-State-based grievance mechanisms to help companies establish more effective mechanisms for providing remedy to people harmed by business operations. I invite you all to share your experience on private grievance mechanisms and ensure that it also informs our work.

Finally, there is one point I would very much like you to take away from this discussion: as businesses, the most significant contribution you can make to the “people part” of sustainable development agenda is to embed respect for human rights in your own operations and value chains. Presently, there is a tendency for corporate philanthropy and companies “cherry-picking” the SDGs they would like or feel able to contribute to. Allow me to be clear here: this overshadows the needed focus on respect for human rights as key foundation for corporate engagement on the SDGs.

I invite you to embrace this essential perspective and to take it up in your policies, operations and value chains across the world. We look forward to supporting your efforts to build better societies.

Thank you.