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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Berlin Dialogue on Business and Human Rights

18 May 2021

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

18 May 2021

Distinguished Ministers

My dear Guy Ryder,

Excellencies, Friends

I am grateful for the invitation to address this important gathering, and I congratulate Germany on its leadership on the issue of Business and Human Rights – both nationally and during its EU Presidency last year.

It has been a decade since the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, making it the authoritative global framework in a key area of human activity.

Trade and commerce contribute enormously to freedom from want; to individuals' skill development and economic opportunities; to the delivery of important services; and to shaping future innovations for peoples and societies.

But these positive contributions can only be fully realised if business activities are not also causing harm.

The Guiding Principles are a pragmatic and effective framework for preventing and mitigating the risk that business practises will hurt people, and harm us all.

I am proud of the work done by our UN Human Rights Office over the past decade to promote implementation of this milestone human rights framework.

We have developed practical, evidence-based guidance, based on extensive research and engagement with stakeholders from across the world, to help victims to access effective remedy for harm.

Our recent B-Tech project applies the lens of the UN Guiding Principles to digital technologies.

We increasingly support practical implementation by individual companies and governments at the country level – for example through business peer-learning workshops, and by providing support and guidance that is tailored to local realities.

We have also helped to create an Annual Forum that has become the largest global gathering on business and human rights.

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

Other Special Procedures, as well as several Treaty Bodies have also employed the Guiding Principles to analyse business related aspects of their mandates.

The open-ended intergovernmental working group that is currently drafting a legally binding instrument on business and human rights seems very likely to encompass key elements of the Guiding Principles.

And Governments across the world have done vital work to promote implementation.

Initially, many States focused on developing National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights. Several of these plans are now being updated, particularly in Europe, while new national processes continue to be launched, including in Asia and Latin America.

More recently – and especially in Europe, including Germany – mandatory standards are being developed for human rights due diligence rules. I strongly welcome these efforts as a key component of the "smart mix of measures" the UN Guiding Principles call for.

In addition, it's important to note that many companies have taken important action to meet their human rights responsibilities under the Guiding Principles with preventive due diligence, and accountability for errors and flaws.

Recently, we have seen major efforts by some companies to mitigate the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their workers and communities. I also welcome business efforts to safeguard human rights defenders, and to advocate the protection of human rights defenders and peaceful protestors.

And it is vital to acknowledge the contributions of civil society, trade unions and national human rights institutions in promoting effective implementation of the Guiding Principles by both states and business.

But despite these many examples of positive efforts, we need to be clear: a great deal of work remains to be done to protect people from business-related human rights harms.

Many more governments and many more companies need to step up – or even begin – their efforts

The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights is currently charting a Roadmap for the next decade of action, to focus our efforts to implement the Guiding Principles more widely and deeply.

In facing both climate change and challenges related to the pandemic – including fractured communities, broken economic sectors, a new reliance on digital tools and the deepening shadow of commercial and State surveillance – I am confident that the Guiding Principles will be a strong compass to assist policy-makers and companies to advance human rights.