StatementsOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
High Commissioner addresses Finance in Common Summit
Building Bridges: Public Development Banks as Catalysts for Human Rights
06 September 2023
Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
4th Finance in Common Summit, Cartagena, Colombia
Thank you for the opportunity to address this Summit and for shining a light on human rights in this plenary session.
It is particularly apt, as we mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year.
I hope that human rights will be a regular agenda item for all future Summits.
The challenges to development have never seemed greater than they do now. Threats to our peace and security are reverberating around the globe. The food and cost of living crises continue to deepen, their effects most acutely felt by the world’s poor. And the triple planetary crisis is endangering our very existence.
In the face of such vast challenges, human rights must be our essential companion in the journey towards inclusive, sustainable development.
The Sustainable Development Goals embody an integrated vision of human rights and development. The aims of the 2030 Agenda are clear: to dismantle discrimination, to promote equality, and to build societies which are peaceful, prosperous and just.
Public development banks play an essential role in addressing today’s challenges and in helping achieve the SDGs.
Many of the banks represented here have taken concrete, valuable measures to incorporate human rights within their operational policies and projects.
Their social and environmental safeguard policies are increasingly integrating explicit, and specific, human rights requirements.
In some respects, this is not new. For example, labour rights and indigenous peoples’ rights have long been part of many banks’ safeguard policies.
But many banks are now going even further, ensuring that their clients implement clear requirements on stakeholder engagement, non-discrimination and protection against reprisals.
I welcome the fact that numerous banks, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the African Development Bank, now expressly require clients to address the project-related risks faced by LGBTIQ+ people.
The issue of “remedy” is also slowly gaining traction. Rights without remedy are empty aspirations. A growing number of banks are requiring that harms should be remedied, not merely compensated or off-set.
Despite this progress, across the board, the picture remains mixed.
The consequences of this are vast. It also raises many questions.
When human rights harms occur, who is responsible for addressing them? Despite progress we see on remedy, the circumstances in which banks themselves should contribute to it are rarely made clear.
The concept of ‘human rights due diligence’ is also not well-understood or widely implemented in practice, which increases the likelihood of human rights harms.
And when due diligence is implemented, it can be superficial in nature and exclude “downstream” impacts on users and consumers. The human rights risks related to rapid expansion of digital technology, for example, are rarely subject to contractually binding social and environmental requirements.
Even where operational policies reasonably adhere to the UN Guiding Principles and other international human rights standards, we do not always see the level of leadership, technical support and resources to implement stronger standards in practice. Internal incentives are not always aligned, and internal and external accountability are often weak.
The UN Guiding Principles are the leading global standards for human rights in the context of business activities. They are aligned closely with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and other emerging national and regional regulatory frameworks. Twelve years after their adoption, it is time that they be integrated in all development banks’ risk management and sustainability frameworks.
Today’s forum offers a timely opportunity to discuss our shared operational challenges, identify solutions, and build partnerships and bridges towards more effective approaches and better development and human rights outcomes.
I wish you all a productive session, and look forward to exploring prospects for our future collaboration.