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7th Session of the Open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights

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

25 October 2021

Distinguished Chair,

Members of the Working Group,

Excellencies, Colleagues,

It is a pleasure to open the seventh session of the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with respect to Human Rights.

As you will be embarking on a reading of the third draft legally binding instrument, I would like to emphasize some important trends in the business and human rights space which are directly connected to your work.

One growing trend connected to your work is the hardening of laws regarding business' impact on society and the planet.

We are witnessing an increased transformation of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights as enshrined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights into legal duties, which require corporations to "identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their adverse human rights impacts."

Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence initiatives, legislations and movement across different countries have been flourishing, with some countries having already adopted legislation. More are in the process of doing so, including several EU Member States. The EU itself has a plan to introduce a new regime for EU-wide "mandatory supply chain due diligence".

My Office has been closely following and welcoming these legislative developments, which are part of a smart mix of measures that State adopt to effectively foster business respect for human rights.

In that regard, I would like to draw your attention to several papers that my Office has published detailing the different considerations that should go into mandatory human rights due diligence regimes.

In my office's substantive submission to the intergovernmental working group this year, we highlight recommendations from these papers that are relevant to the third revised draft.

Another growing trend, which is quite alarming, is the rising threat to human rights posed by the triple planetary crisis: climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.

Beyond strengthening the respect and protection of human and environmental rights, there is an urgent need, to ensure access to justice and remedy for victims of abuses.

Decisions such as the historic ruling of a Dutch Court ordering Shell to reduce is global net carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 send a clear signal to the oil and gas industry: continuing business-as-usual production of fossil fuels amidst the climate emergency is incompatible with corporate duties to respect human rights.

I note that the third revised draft has the potential of furthering the notions of due diligence under human rights and environmental law.

While bearing distinct obligations and responsibilities , both States and business have a common purpose, a shared interest in making business respect for human rights a reality.

As the global pandemic has reminded us all, the role of business is critical to build more inclusive and resilient economies. In order to do so, it must operate in a way that doesn't harm people.

In the face of current challenges, the private sector can make its best contribution by ensuring respect for human rights and for the planet in its own operations and business relationships.

Let me reiterate a view that I have expressed many times: the treaty process represents an opportunity to increase business respect for human rights, paving the way for more principled, responsible and accountable business operations.

I urge you all to engage constructively in this process. Do not let this opportunity go by; if progress is too slow, we risk disillusionment and disengagement from this process.

I trust you will demonstrate your commitment to enhancing the protection of human rights in the context of business activities, and, most importantly, to enhancing accountability and access to effective remedies for those harmed by business-related activities.

In that spirit, I wish you all success with your deliberations and negotiation this week.