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“The next decade of business and human rights: increasing the pace and scale of action to implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”

10th Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights
Opening Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
29 November 2021

Distinguished President of the Council,
Members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights,
Distinguished panellists,
Colleagues and friends,

It is my pleasure to greet all of you at this 10th United Nations annual Forum on Business and Human Rights.

Although we are again  meeting virtually, I am pleased we are still able to bring together diverse stakeholders from all regions for this annual dialogue. The question of how to leverage more responsible business conduct in support of a more sustainable future is more important than ever. And in essence, that is what our conversations at this Forum are about.

The Forum was established in 2011 to promote multi-stakeholder dialogue on trends, challenges, and good practices in implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

In 2011 the Council also unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles, establishing them as the authoritative global framework for the respective duties and responsibilities of States and businesses in managing the impacts of business activity on human rights.

This year we marked the 10th anniversary of the Guiding Principles. They have proved to be an essential common framework for all stakeholders to address business-related human rights abuses. They have helped to achieve real change. But considerable challenges remain with respect to ensuring better protection of human rights, and prevention of adverse impacts on people resulting from business activity.

Today, the role of business in relation to our major global challenges requires even closer scrutiny. The triple threat of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss constitutes the  greatest challenge to human rights in our era. Growing inequalities – reinforced by the COVID-19 crisis – and shrinking civic freedoms amplify the turmoil and undercut our resilience – our ability to effectively avoid disaster for our planet.

Responsible practices that respect people and our planet need to be at the core of everything business does – now and for future generations. Good intentions will not protect human rights, or the environment: we need decisive leadership and transformative action by States and by businesses. 

I warmly welcome the Working Group’s “Roadmap for the next decade of business and human rights”. Its clear, policy-oriented goals and actions, if adopted by States, businesses, the UN and others, can increase the pace and scale of the changes we need.

This urgent call for action was inspired by the drafter of the Guiding Principles, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General John Ruggie, who sadly passed away in September. I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Ruggie when I was President of Chile. I told him then that he would always be remembered for the high bar he set in addressing corporate abuses and upholding the human rights of all.

It is fitting that this Forum pays tribute to his work and legacy. Among his many achievements, he inspired the creation of this annual gathering– as a global platform to continue discussing challenges and ways forward.

I also want to acknowledge the many people who have suffered harassment, attacks, or have even lost their lives for speaking up against harmful business activities and in defence of human rights, workers and communities over the last year.

Although some business actors have raised their voices to prevent reprisals and publicly defend the work of human rights defenders, it is deplorable that such practices continue, undermining our struggle to achieve sustainable development and human rights for all.

I hope this Forum can be an opportunity to renew and strengthen our work for the effective implementation of the Guiding Principles everywhere.

Thank you.