11 June 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to present the report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises to the Human Rights Council.
You have before you the full texts of the Working Group’s main report and our five addendum reports. The addendum reports include our observations and recommendations from our 2013 country visits to the United States of America and Ghana. Another covers the main themes discussed during the first regional Forum on Business and Human Rights for Latin America and the Caribbean in August 2013. We also report on an Expert Workshop that we convened on “Business Impacts and Access to Non-judicial Remedy: Emerging Global Experience”, in Canada in April 2013. The last addendum report presents the findings of a 2013 questionnaire for corporations on the Guiding Principles.
In the time allotted to me on this occasion, I would, if I may, like to focus upon selected issues and themes that run through the different reports.
Firstly, allow me to say a few words about the two country visits. In 2013, we visited the United States of America and Ghana where we identified current initiatives, challenges, opportunities and good practices concerning our mandate. The Working Group is grateful to both Governments for their invitation and for their commitment to implement the Guiding Principles.
During the visit to the USA, the Working Group saw the efforts by many Government departments and agencies to address specific business-related human rights challenges. At the same time, we found significant gaps in regulation, oversight and enforcement in some areas, notably relating to labour rights. The Working Group has recommended to the Government that it develop a comprehensive national action plan to implement the Guiding Principles and we continue our dialogue on this. The Working Group also held meetings with representatives of business, civil society, trade unions and impacted individuals. We heard concerns, particularly on labour rights issues, but also saw innovative solutions to overcome business related human rights challenges in specific contexts. One such exciting initiative that the Working Group learned about is in Florida’s tomato industry that addresses labour rights issues in the supply chain through a partnership with farm workers, tomato growers and participating buyers. This project involving the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program is underpinned by legally-enforceable agreements that, over recent years, have helped to significantly improve labour conditions. We think that it can serve as a model elsewhere in the world.
During the visit to Ghana, the Working Group saw important advances in tackling some human rights impacts associated with business activities. We found that there was a need for further policy coherence through the integration of the Guiding Principles into national policies, and for the establishment of stronger mechanisms to conduct human rights impact assessments, including of investment agreements. The Working Group's country visit to Ghana helped spur implementation of the Guiding Principles. In this regard, we are pleased that the country's national human rights institution plans to hold a series of capacity-building workshops with relevant stakeholders this summer with a view to support the development of Ghana's national action plan.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I would, next, like to spell out some important ways in which the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are being applied since the Council unanimously endorsed them in 2011.
As the first global standard on business and human rights, the Guiding Principles have brought broad consensus on the need to identify, prevent, mitigate and remedy adverse human rights impacts by business enterprises. Three years on, they have been embedded in key international frameworks and entered the policy stream of States, business enterprises and civil society.
There has been a lot of policy development on implementation of the Guiding Principles. Recently, four countries (Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) have published national action plans to implement the Guiding Principles. Other States, including Colombia, Ghana, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland to mention a few, are at different stages of developing such plans. In addition, a number of Governments have adopted and began to implement strategies, short of national action plans, that take account of the Guiding Principles.
On the regional level, in April this year the European Parliament passed a directive requiring major businesses to report on human rights impact in their annual company reports. Also in April, the 47 States of the Council of Europe adopted a declaration to promote implementation of the Guiding Principles, which they recognized as the global baseline in this field. In early June, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States resolved to direct the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to advise States in their implementation efforts on business and human rights and to hold, in the first quarter of 2015, a multi-stakeholder meeting to exchange best practices.
In her contribution to the 2013 Annual Forum, the Commissioner for Political Affairs at the Africa Union affirmed the commitment of the Union to a regional strategy to implement the Guiding Principles. Meanwhile, the Working Group continues to work closely with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Working Group on Extractive Industries on ways of collaborating to achieve the objectives of the Guiding Principles.
Business enterprises have also taken on board the Guiding Principles. The global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues, IPIECA, for example, has a training toolkit for its members to raise awareness of core business human rights issues including on due diligence and operational-level grievance mechanisms. Likewise, in June 2013, 79 financial institutions in 35 countries adopted new provisions in the Equator Principles that require human rights due diligence in compliance with the Guiding Principles.
Civil society groups, especially NGOs, actively use the Guiding Principles in their advocacy work. For example, the Corporate Responsibility Coalition, which represents campaigning organisations such as Amnesty International UK, draws on the Guiding Principles to push for better business conduct and higher regulatory standards. Also, last year another NGO coalition group, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, wrote an open letter to US President Barack Obama calling for his government to implement the Guiding Principles.
Other stakeholders are using the Guiding Principles in their work. The Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD has developed a practical guide to help trade unions and NGOs implement the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, which we wish to recall were updated in 2011 to include a chapter on human rights based on the Guiding Principles. To date, trade unions have submitted 148 cases on issues such as employment, the environment and disclosure.
Individual national human rights institutions, and collectively through their International Coordinating Committee (ICC), have been active partners in the implementation and dissemination of the Guiding Principles. We especially acknowledge the practical training tools on business and human rights issues developed by the ICC for its members to promote implementation of the Guiding Principles.
What is more, the Guiding Principles are becoming a standard reference throughout the UN human rights system, including in the dialogue of other Special Procedure mandates of the Council with States and with business enterprises. Aspects of the Guiding Principles are also included in a number of UN guidelines such as the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, which were endorsed by the UN Committee on World Food Security in 2012.
The Working Group has a number of projects to spur further implementation of the Guiding Principles, including activities on access to effective remedy and national action plans, as well as the annual and regional Forums.
It is, for the Working Group, a matter of importance that States adopt a national action plan as a vehicle to implement the Guiding Principles. We strongly encourage all States to develop a national action plan because we believe they are especially valuable in the implementation of the Guiding Principles in the manner in which:
(a) They facilitate policy coherence within government by triggering co-ordination between different ministries and agencies; and how
(b) They offer a common format for implementation of the Guiding Principles that can help promote accountability, global alignment and a level playing field.
The Working Group has adopted a roadmap that outlines our main activities to support the development of national action plans. These include public and ad-hoc multi-stakeholder consultations, the creation of a dedicated webpage on national action plans, and we are preparing guidance for States to be launched in December.
The mandate that the Human Rights Council set for us in 2011 included the responsibility to guide an annual Forum on business and human rights. I am delighted to inform this house that the second Forum that took place in December 2013 was the largest global gathering for multi-stakeholder dialogue on business and human rights. Some 1,500 people from 100 countries participated in 20 official panel sessions and 25 side events. To complement this staggering event, we have initiated regional Forums with the first of these held in Latin America in 2013 and a second one planned for Africa in September this year. The Africa Forum will allow for further dissemination of the Guiding Principles and a better understanding of the issues faced by victims, companies and States across this large continent.
The next annual Forum, that takes place from 1 to 3 December 2014, will respond to calls for a stronger focus on the third pillar of the Guiding Principles – access to effective remedy. However, it will not be the first time that the Working Group has given this matter its attention. Access to effective remedy has been a pervasive feature of all the activities of the Working Group including through our multi-stakeholder events, country visits, and communications with States and business enterprises. We also support the process launched by the Office of the High Commissioner to examine the effectiveness of domestic judicial mechanisms in relation to business involvement in gross human rights abuses.
The Working Group recognises the many ongoing challenges to protect victims and ensure accountability, justice and redress in cases of business-related human rights abuses. We continue to give attention to the invitation in HRC resolution 17/4 (2011): “to continue to explore options and make recommendations … for enhancing access to effective remedies available to those whose human rights are affected by corporate activities, including those in conflict areas”.
This is the context in which the Working Group has engaged in ongoing discussions about proposals for a legally enforceable instrument on human rights and transnational corporations. In March, we participated in a workshop hosted by the Governments of Ecuador and South Africa to explore options on a new binding instrument. We believes that discussions on a possible new instrument should carefully consider whetherand howit would help overcome gaps in States’ implementation of their existing human rights obligations. Most importantly, care must be taken to avoid any new standard-setting process that reverses or undermines the progress achieved or slows down the momentum gained so far by the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework and the Guiding Principles.
Ladies and gentlemen
On behalf of the Working Group, I would like to conclude by making the following recommendations to ensure that we all continue to build on the momentum that was started by this august body:
First, the Working Group would like to encourage States to engage in our efforts to develop guidance on national action plans to implement the Guiding Principles, including by responding to the questionnaire that we distributed in April.
Second, States should, as a matter of priority, review access to remedy for victims of business-related adverse human rights impacts. They should also engage in the process envisaged in the OHCHR-commissioned study on corporate liability for gross human rights abuses;
Third, States, business enterprises and civil society organisations are encouraged to participate fully in the annual Forum on Business and Human Rights and other meetings and processes to support implementation of the Guiding Principles;
Fourth, business enterprises are invited to report and communicate their progress in implementing the Guiding Principles, including efforts to ensure access to effective grievance mechanisms; to participate in the development of national action plans; and to engage with the Working Group in its activities.
Finally, civil society organisations are encouraged to continue to make full use of existing international and regional human rights instruments and mechanisms to raise awareness of the Guiding Principles and business-related human rights issues and to continue to engage with the Working Group.
In closing, we would like to thank the many States from all regions of the world that support our efforts, including through responding to our requests for input and for country visits. In addition, we would like to thank the many organizations and individuals that work tirelessly to improve corporate conduct around the world.I thank you for your attention.