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Statement by Mr. Ivan Šimonović, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, at the Roundtable on the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, Kyiv, 12 December 2014

Roundtable on the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights

13 December 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to open this event organized by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, presenting the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the Ukrainian language.

Making the Guiding Principles available in languages other than the six official United Nations languages is a key in disseminating them worldwide and increasing their effectiveness in the national context. I congratulate the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for taking this important step and would like to express appreciation to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergiy Kyslytsia, in particular, for his leadership in this area.

In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council took an important step when it endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. For the first time, a common global standard of achievement for tackling the adverse impacts linked to business activity was agreed at a global level. Countries from all parts of the world, both developed and developing countries, joined this important consensus. 

The Guiding Principles require representatives of Government, Business and civil society to work together. It is a tripartite structure that it required to ensure that human rights are protected.

The process of developing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights was led by the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Professor John Ruggie and was actively supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since the endorsement of the Guiding Principles by the Human Rights Council in 2011, OHCHR has supported their implementation by both States and business enterprises through outreach, training and capacity building. We are also working with civil society organizations, trade unions and national human rights institutions to enhance their capacity to use the UN Guiding Principles.

The Guiding Principles deal with three main areas:
First, they clarify what states should be doing when it comes to protecting against human rights abuses by third parties, including business. Specifically, this requires states to prevent, investigate, punish and provide redress for such abuse through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication. Recommendations to states also include improving policy coherence, to ensure that business focused policies and laws are consistent with the state’s international human rights obligations.

Second, they clarify for companies what has now become a global expectation: that companies respect human rights. In international human rights language respecting rights has a very specific meaning: it means do not infringe on the rights of others. There is thus an expectation that companies respect rights; do no harm and address potential negative impacts that can occur, when rights are violated.

Third, they emphasize the importance of ensuring access to a remedy– that when people are harmed by business activities, there is both adequate accountability and effective redress, through judicial as well as non-judicial mechanisms.

Thanks to the different efforts of all relevant stakeholders, there has been significant endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles, although progress in implementation remains to be continuously strengthened. Elements of the Guiding Principles are now found in the policies of international bodies, public and private, including the OECD, the International Standards Organization, the UN Global Compact, and public and private project lending institutions. They are referred to in regional initiatives, including the Council of Europe, whose Committee of Ministers has issued a declaration in support of the Guiding Principles. The Council of Europe is also currently elaborating a non-binding instrument on business and human rights to address implementation gaps, in particular on access to a remedy.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me now say a few words about the importance of the Guiding Principles in the context of Ukraine.
As we all know, corruption was one of the major root causes of the Maidan protests. Ukrainians all over the country demanded transparency and better management of the country’s resources, perceiving corruption as a major impediment to the development of the country’s economy.

In many cases, corruption involves both business enterprises and government entities, and undermines both the State duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses and the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, as stipulated in the UN Guiding Principles.

For example, when a business enterprise is able to circumvent environmental and social standards through illicit payments to oversight agencies this can have serious consequences for example on the enjoyment of the right to health and the right of workers.

Combining various efforts to combat corruption is therefore an important consequence to efforts to effectively implement the UN Guiding Principles.

 In that respect, I welcome the reforms that are under way here in Ukraine, to combat corruption, including the recent anti-corruption legislation adopted and the creation of bodies that are specialised to coordinate policies aimed at implementing anti-corruption legislation.

I was personally involved in similar activities in my own country when I was the Minister of Justice of Croatia. We also had a legacy of communism and conflict and problems of widespread corruption. However, now we are members of the EU.  It is difficult to overcome obstacles in the fight against corruption, and it takes commitment, good organisation and broad social support as well as time. But it is doable. Doing business while respecting the rule of law and human rights, is an important step in the right direction.

If implemented properly, by all States, the Guiding Principles can play an important role in protecting human rights. Businesses will become more responsible and Governments will become more accountable.

The Working Group on business and human rights has called on states to develop national action plans for the implementation of the Guiding Principles, and has issued draft guidance for states on procedural and substantive issues to address in such plans. The Council of Europe in its declaration in support of the Guiding Principles has also called on its members to develop national action plans. A number of states around the world are now in the process of their national action plan development. I believe there is much room to include some of the important standards from the Guiding Principles in Ukraine’s National Human Rights Action Plan which is under preparation.

I hope that this event will lead to further attention within the Ukrainian Government on how it can implement the Guiding Principles together with civil society. I wish you a very fruitful discussion on this important issue, and would like to emphasise that OHCHR stands ready to provide advice and assistance to the Ukrainian Government in this and other human rights related matters.

Thank you.