GENEVA / TBILISI (12 April 2019) – The Government of Georgia and businesses in the country must take urgent, robust action to address critical business and human rights challenges, say a group of UN human rights experts.
“We were alarmed at how a decade of deregulation aimed at attracting foreign investment has become a carte blanche for irresponsible business practices,” said Surya Deva, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, presenting a statement at the end of a 10-day visit to the country.
“The dramatic situation of workplace deaths and injuries as well as severe environmental pollution by mining is a sad reflection of this situation. Last year alone, 59 deaths and 199 injuries were reported, though the real number is likely to be much higher, as before 2018 employers were neither required to report accidents to the labour inspectors nor insure their workers.”
The Working Group welcomed initial steps by the Government to rein in irresponsible business practices, after a decade with no labour inspections and weak regulation and oversight of development projects, including in the hydropower and mining sectors.
“We welcome the new Environmental Impact Assessment Code, which aims to identify and mitigate adverse impacts on society, and the new Labour Safety Law. These are important steps to improve the protection of human rights in the context of business activities,” said Elżbieta Karska, Vice-Chairperson of the expert group.
“The experience of Georgia shows the need for a mix of incentives and regulations to promote a business culture that respects human rights,” she said.
The experts also welcomed new efforts by the Government to raise awareness about the responsibility of business to respect human rights, as envisaged in the 2018-2020 Human Rights Action Plan and commitments set out in the Georgia-EU Association Agreement.
In their initial findings, they comment on the multiple forms of discrimination faced by women, the exclusion experienced by persons with disabilities in economic life, and challenges faced by victims seeking to hold businesses accountable for human rights abuses. The experts also highlighted the need for States to uphold human rights in Free Industrial Zones and in the operations of State-owned enterprises.
The Working Group’s final report, including its findings and key recommendations, will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2020.
The Working Group is 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 fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 (resolution 17/4), provide the authoritative global standard for action to safeguard human rights in a business context, clarifying what is expected by governments and companies to prevent and address impacts on human rights arising from business activity.
For additional information and media requests please contact the Working Group Secretariat: In Georgia (during the dates of the visit): (+995 599 570 786 / [email protected]) In Geneva: (+41 22 928 8863 / [email protected])
For media inquiries related to other UN experts: Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])