“There has been significant progress over the first decade, as witnessed by a growing number of companies committing to respect human rights and a recent surge of legislation in Europe making respect for human rights and the environment a mandatory requirement for businesses. While outcomes on the ground can never come fast enough, the speed by which the standards introduced by the Guiding Principles have moved from this international text to government and business policies is quite unprecedented.
More companies are committing to human rights and more governments in all regions are developing national action plans. While still slow, these important developments demonstrate emerging awareness around the human rights responsibilities of business that did not exist a decade earlier. The Guiding Principles have also provided unions, affected communities and civil society with a framework for demanding accountability for business-related harm to people and the planet.
However, major gaps and challenges remain. Business-related abuses persist across all sectors and regions, leaving workers and communities, including indigenous peoples, at risk and with little prospect of protection or remedy for the harm caused. When harms happen, significant barriers for rights holders to achieve access to remedy and hold those responsible to account remain a significant challenge. Human rights defenders who resist and speak out against business-related abuses continue to face stigmatization, threats and deadly attacks.
Business respect for people and the planet is essential yet often remains absent. At worst, lack of respect can undermine a sustainable future for all. The Guiding Principles provide the roadmap for States and businesses to achieve such a future. But they need to intensify their efforts. All States must make implementation of the Guiding Principles a top governance and policy priority. All businesses – including small and medium-sized enterprises – need to make respect for human rights part of their corporate culture.
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our world, but the pandemic also offers a unique opportunity to build back better. Together with the current wave of new laws requiring corporate human rights due diligence and with more investors waking up to environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, there are opportunities for progress amid the many global crises.
While not a silver bullet, the Guiding Principles offer a tool to avoid reverting to business as usual, and to forge a better normal that prioritizes respect for people and the environment. Business respect for human rights is key to ensure an inclusive recovery and build a more resilient society. It should be at the core of regulatory developments. All actors must play their role, including those that can exercise influence and leverage to promote responsible business conduct, such as the investor community where human rights risk management needs to become mainstream practice.
On the 10th anniversary, we are honoured to be joined by a number of government and UN leaders (video statements available here) sharing their reflections on the Guiding Principles – UN Secretary General António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, UN Global Compact Executive Director Sanda Ojiambo, Head of the OECD Centre for Responsible Business Conduct Allan Jorgensen, and Guiding Principles author John Ruggie – as well as leaders from unions, indigenous peoples, civil society and business.
This 10th anniversary is the perfect moment for States and businesses to recommit to the Guiding Principles and set clear implementation goals for the coming years. An important opportunity to do so is during the 47th session of the Human Rights Council this month when the Working Group will present its evaluation of the first 10 years of implementation of the Guiding Principles (the “stocktaking report”). In December this year the Working Group will launch a roadmap for implementation over the next decade.
We call on States and businesses to step up and all stakeholders to take part in the movement to make the next 10 years a decade of action on the Guiding Principles.”
Special Rapporteurs and 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 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.