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2018 UN Global Compact CEO Roundtable

“Closing the inequality gap – human rights as a driver for successful business”
 
Statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

New-York, 24 September 2018
 
Excellencies,
Distinguished participants,
Colleagues, friends,

It’s my very great pleasure to be with you today as we explore this dynamic topic of business and human rights in the context of global inequalities.

Human rights matter for their own sake. They’re critical for individual wellbeing and must be upheld regardless of any other factors. But they can also drive successful businesses – and successful businesses in turn can boost human rights. It’s this mutually beneficial relationship that I want to focus on today, because it is to key to closing the inequality gap in our increasingly unequal world.

As business leaders, you’re dealing with global opportunities in an age of global challenges: rising inequalities, political instability, climate change, displacement, populism, discrimination, xenophobia, and many more. The denial of human rights lies at the root of many of these issues. The increasing trend towards inequality and instability is as bad for business as it is for people and their human rights.

Business, because of its trans-national nature, has a unique ability to work across boundaries for human rights and therefore to reverse the tide of many of these challenges.

Companies don’t only have a need to act, and a clear benefit from doing so: they have a framework, in the form of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. And they have a timetable, in the form of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

There is no more crucial way for businesses to contribute than to ensure respect for human rights throughout their supply chains, at every step of their business operations. Full implementation of the UN Guiding Principles will help drive positive change for millions of people, including the poorest and most marginalised in our societies.

When I was the Executive Director of UN Women, I often talked about the fight against discrimination being not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Today I tell you that this is also not just the “right” thing to do – it’s good business. Respecting human rights builds stable communities. It creates the conditions in which businesses themselves can thrive.

Responsible businesses, supported by the rule of law and clear and effectively enforced regulatory frameworks, can generate decent jobs, build equal opportunity, drive essential investment and technologies and innovation, and contribute to domestic revenues available for development. This is mutualism in action – a symbiotic relationship where both sides benefit.

We must count on the business community if we are to deliver the ground-breaking vision set out in the 2030 Agenda. This need for shared action between States, the international community, NGOs, individuals, communities AND businesses is as radical as the goals themselves.

Businesses don’t have to wait for national legislation or regulations to promote fair wages, workers’ rights, equal opportunities for women and minority groups, fairer pay ratios. They can choose to avoid tax avoidance. They can use their influence to encourage States to open up the civic space for public participation. They can speak out against child labour and ensure it has no place in their supply lines. They can contribute to realising every child’s right to go to school. They can tackle workplace bullying, ensure health and safety, permit collective bargaining.

We need business leaders like you. I’ve been listening to you and it has been great – we need champions who can really show that this is indeed a smart thing to do. We need business leaders with the courage and vision to put these practical, human rights-based steps into practice. From the smallest rural enterprise to the largest global corporation, every business has a responsibility to respect human rights. This means acting with due diligence to prevent and mitigate harm, and taking remedial action where harm has occurred.

We’re only too familiar with the negative face of business. We see too many examples where regulatory standards are weak or not enforced and where business activities do not respect human rights.

We must hold these businesses to account – but at the same time, we must champion and encourage those business that are honouring and respecting human rights. We must support those who promote the equal rights of all people, challenging inequalities and discrimination.

Our current challenges echo past ones. They should remind us of our history, and of how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emerged not only out of the horrors of global war, but also against the backdrop of global depression of the 1930s – when mass deprivation pushed many people to support extremist, xenophobic movements precipitating war.

We need to remember this history. We need the entire business community to stand up for human rights. Justice and human rights for all, without discrimination, are powerful antidotes to instability. I am so convinced that businesses have a unique and critical role to play in creating stability, for the benefit of us all.

I leave this meeting encouraged that so many of you have an important role to play in business and human rights. Thank you, and I look forward to hearing how your own businesses will take this exciting work forward.