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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Sixth Annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

Address to the Business Forum

29 November 2017

Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

29 November 2017

Distinguished Chair and members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights,
Distinguished participants,
Colleagues, friends,

I am delighted to join you for this closing session of the 6th Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights. It is inspiring to see that so many people from all parts of the world have chosen to spend three days working on the challenges of ensuring protection and respect for rights in a business context.

I congratulate you all on your collective efforts over these past few days. The programme for the Forum is testament to the broad range of issues covered by the Business and Human Rights agenda, and of the inter-connectedness between this agenda and global priorities such as the Sustainable Development Goals. It also demonstrates the scope of the legal, policy and practical measures required to achieve the aims set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We need all relevant actors – States, business, civil society, trade unions and others – to be involved in finding solutions to these challenges.

Why? Because in a landscape of turmoil and instability, in which the legitimacy of multinational institutions is increasingly being challenged and nations are increasingly polarised, it is only by upholding the basic human rights and principles which will keep our societies safe.

Respect for human dignity and equality; the impartial rule of law; participation in decision-making; shared resources and access to services for all members of society – these are the keys to peaceful societies and sustained prosperity.

Conversely, human rights violations lead to grievance, conflict, economic disparity and social division. Human experience is simply unyielding on this point. Societies in which people's rights are denied are inherently more unstable, because they are not anchored in the consent and participation of the people

In a few days' time, we will launch a year-long commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that distillation of the deepest lessons humanity has gathered from history. They are often painful and bitter: the UDHR was written and adopted by men and women who were scarred by repeated paroxysms of war and who were determined to seek an end to cycles of violence.

This mighty struggle to push back against the belligerent forces of fanaticism, tyranny, discrimination and oppression is just as relevant today as it was 70 years ago. Human rights principles are under duress in every region. Fanaticism is again on the rise. Discrimination and hatred are resurgent in many societies. Authoritarian régimes are curtailing the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of their people. We seem to be edging back to those calamitous policies,that lure of belligerent fanaticism, which can so easily hurtle us into disaster.

In fact, when the history of our generation is written, this period we are living through today may well be seen as a turning point – a crucial moment in which we could still stand up, within free societies, and speak up for the principles of justice which keep the world safe from conflict and destruction.

Because there is still time to act,each of us can grasp the lessons embedded in the Universal Declaration and work to ensure they are respected in the societies where we operate.

We can uphold the right of every member of society to participate in decision-making, and to access basic goods and services such as healthcare, education and a secure and decent livelihood.

We can stand up for human rights and push back against the toxic tide of hatred and xenophobia.

As business leaders, you know that responsible business cannot thrive in failing societies, where tension spikes and communities bristle with grievances and mutual contempt. Strong civil societies, due process, equality and justice: these are what enable real economic empowerment.

By maintaining business practices that are free from human rights abuses across your supply chains, you know that you can both uphold your own corporate reputation and contribute powerfully to greater stability and a better business environment everywhere you operate.

By taking action to combat discrimination, inequality, xenophobia, violence and hate, you can help to build societies that are more inclusive, cohesive and strong.

By moving forward in the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; by taking steps to uphold the rights of workers and communities affected by your operations; and by standing up for people whose rights are at risk, you can enrich societies – financially, and in their deeper values.

Governments need to step up and ensure deeper and more concerted action to meet their duties to protect people and address harms when business activities fall below human rights standards. But the task of ensuring respect for human rights is too important to be left to governments alone. In this time of rising concerns, we count on you to take up the human rights agenda, and help us keep the world safe.

Thank you