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State-owned enterprises must lead by example on business and human rights – New UN report

Business & Rights

17 June 2016

GENEVA (17 June 2016) – Governments seem to forget that they are economic actors in their own right, said a United Nations expert group today, while urging States “to lead by example on business and human rights, starting with those enterprises closest to them - State-owned enterprises.”

“Governments are currently sending an incoherent message to businesses,” said human rights expert Dante Pesce, who chairs the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, during the presentation of the group’s latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council.

“On the one hand, they ask private businesses to respect human rights, and increasingly set out such expectations in law and policy,” Mr. Pesce noted. “On the other hand – barring notable exceptions – they show no great desire to use the means at their disposal to ensure that those enterprises they own or control respect human rights.”

Many States the world over manage large portfolios on State-owned enterprises (SOEs), which have risen as significant actors in the global economy, active at home and abroad in diverse sectors such as energy, utilities, infrastructure, transports, telecommunications, and banking. The proportion of SOEs among Fortune Global 500 companies has grown from 9.8% in 2005 to 22.8% in 2014, with US$389.3 billion of profit and US$28.4 trillion in assets.

The performance of SOEs on issues of governance and human rights is mixed, with reported cases of corruption and lack of transparency, and harm caused to workers and communities throughout SOEs’ operations. “Yet these human rights impacts - and the duties of States to protect against them - remain largely ignored,” Mr. Pesce explained.

In its report, the Working Group clarifies how States should behave in their role as company owners and suggests measures that they should take to ensure SOEs fully respect human rights.

“It is high time for States to show concrete leadership, and require the enterprises they own or control to be role models on human rights,” the expert stressed. “Doing so is part of States’ international legal obligations, and it will only reinforce the legitimacy of States’ expectations towards private businesses.”

The Working Group will also lead discussions on SOEs at the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, which takes place at the UN headquarters in Geneva (Palais des Nations) from 14 to 16 November 2016 (

(*) Check the Working Group’s report at:

The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. Its current members are: Mr. Michael Addo, Mr. Surya Deva, Mr. Dante Pesce (current Chairperson), and Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga (current vice chair). The appointment of the fifth member of the Working Group will be made by the Human Rights Council in June 2016. Learn more, log on to:

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent human rights monitoring mechanisms. The Working Groups report to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly.  Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. The experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.     

Read the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights:

For additional information and media requests please contact the Working Group Secretariat: +41 22 917 9323 / [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])   

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