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10th anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

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Video statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


16 June 2021

Ten years ago, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council.

That landmark vote established a new, authoritative framework for efforts to promote responsible business around the world, and manage the impact of corporate operationsbusiness activity on human rights.

They are sorely needed. Businesses – large and small – have been sustaining human lives and providing essential services for centuries. But as we have often witnessed, unprincipled and poorly regulated business can also lead to severe human rights abuses, and harm to people and planet.

The UN Guiding Principles were crafted following extensive research and engagement with a very wide range of actors, including businesses themselves, as well as victims and State officials.

These efforts delivered a pragmatic and effective framework for responsible business that respects people.

But regardless of how good they are on paper, applying the Guiding Principles has required people inside governments and businesses to commit to real change.

In the past decade, many companies have indeed committed to respecting human rights in their operations and business relationships – developing human rights due diligence and grievance procedures, as the Guiding Principles stipulate.

Increasingly, we are also seeing investors integrating human rights due diligence into their decision-making.

National action plans on business and human rights continue to be launched and updated, including across Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Especially in Europe, the Guiding Principles’ expectation that businesses should exercise human rights due diligence is becoming hard law. This is a welcome move toward the “smart mix of measures” we need.

I want to acknowledge the contributions of trade unions, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, civil society, and national human rights institutions in promoting effective implementation of the UN Guiding Principles by states and businesses.

But despite many examples of positive efforts and real progress, we need to be clear: a lot more work remains to be done to implement the Guiding Principles in every business sector and every country.

The COVID-19 crisis and its impact on workers, communities and human rights defenders has amplified the challenges. There is a danger that some progress may be pushed back.

Business respect for people’s rights and dignity is essential for a responsible recovery.

It is also key for achieving a green and sustainable economy.

We need all governments, and all businesses, to step up and take concrete action to meet their duties and their responsibilities in this key area.

The UN Human Rights Office fully supports this effort.

We work to protect human rights everywhere.

Over the past decade we have developed guidance to strengthen access to remedy for victims.

We have helped to fine-tune application of the UN Guiding Principles in the digital tech sector.

Many of the international human rights experts that my Office supports have also advanced more effective implementation of the Guiding Principles – among them, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

The Working Group’s stocktaking of the Guiding Principles’ first decade makes it clear that they are firmly established as a common platform for action and accountability.

We need to build on this platform and be clear and bold in our message to States and business.

Coinciding with the world's tremendous need to build forward better, this is the right time for decision-makers to demonstrate how they will help make the next decade of the Guiding Principles a decade of action.