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Event to launch project “Business and human rights – towards a decade of global implementation”

Geneva, 7 July 2020

Minister Annen (Minister of State, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany)
Members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights,
Distinguished participants, Colleagues and friends,

I am delighted to join you for the launch of this important project convened by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, with the support of the Government of Germany.

I am pleased to see so many experienced and essential partners, including the ILO, UNDP, OECD and the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General, John Ruggie.

The lead up to the 10th anniversary of the Guiding Principles, in June next year, presents us with an opportunity to take stock of the progress made so far and to celebrate the achievements in their implementation. It also calls on us to reflect on persistent problems, emerging challenges and what remains to be done.

These are troubling times, when countries worldwide are confronting the devastating and overreaching effects of COVID-19.  

We have yet to see the full extent of the social and economic impact of the pandemic, but one thing has become abundantly clear. This is a human crisis and efforts to address it must be centred on human rights.

As the High Commissioner has said: COVID-19 is like a heat-seeking device that exposes, and is fuelled by, systemic failures to uphold human rights.

Indeed, the pandemic has highlighted deep and disturbing inequalities in every society.

It is simply not acceptable to go back to the way things were.

We must build back better.

We need a new social contract and new partners and alliances for development, based on the Sustainable Development Goals, and the call for strengthened institutions to underpin peaceful and inclusive societies.

And with that in mind, I welcome the important project launched today.  

The Guiding Principles can steer Governments and businesses into a sustainable and human rights-based social and economic recovery from the pandemic.  

Their unanimous endorsement by Member States in 2011 established a globally agreed standard for governments and business enterprises to embed respect for human rights in a business context.

Since then, the Guiding Principles have inspired policy developments and new approaches in different regions and by different actors.

However, much more is needed.

The key now is to build on these efforts to  place respect for human rights at the centre of how all business is done.

We need to focus first on the most vulnerable.

Implementing the Guiding Principles can improve responses to the ongoing pandemic and to other crises threatening our path towards sustainable development, including the climate emergency.

Business activities that harm people and planet need to be checked by strong frameworks for accountability and governance.

States must show leadership, through legislation and policies, to protect workers and communities, at home and abroad, through international human rights and labour standards.

Human rights defenders, speaking up against harm caused by business activity, also need to be protected. And when people’s rights are affected, there needs to be swift and appropriate remedy.

It is encouraging to see more and more companies recognizing their corporate responsibility to respect human rights. However, we still see unprincipled business practices, which continue to generate preventable human suffering.

Human rights due diligence that considers risks to the most vulnerable across the value chain needs to become standard business practice.

We need to rapidly move to broader implementation of the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles– "Protect, Respect, and Remedy".  

Business respect for human rights must be the norm, not the exception.

The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to contribute to this project and to the development of a roadmap for business and human rights in the next decade.

Thank you