Business and human rights matter more than ever, expert tells UN council

Human Rights Council in Geneva

2 June 2009 – There has never been a more critical time to address business and human rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council was told today as it began its 11th session in Geneva with a discussion on how to make companies rights-friendly.

“Human rights are most at risk in times of crisis, and economic crises pose a particular risk to economic and social rights,” John Ruggie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Business and Human Rights, said as he presented his 2009 report to the Council.

“Business and human rights matters more than ever because progress on this front directly contributes to the transition we all seek toward more inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

“The solutions for the economic crisis and for business and human rights point in the same direction: governments adopting policies that induce more responsible corporate behaviour, and companies adopting strategies that reflect the inescapable fact that their own long-term prospects are tightly coupled with society’s well-being,” he stated.

The 47-member Council had previously backed the framework devised by Mr. Ruggie to better manage the human rights challenges posed by transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Mr. Ruggie pointed out that the “protect, respect and remedy” framework rests on three complementary pillars: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which in essence means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others; and greater access by victims to effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial.

The Council had also asked Mr. Ruggie to provide “practical recommendations” and “concrete guidance” to governments, businesses and other social actors on the framework’s implementation.

The Special Representative emphasized the importance for companies to exercise “human rights due diligence,” whereby they can prevent and mitigate adverse human rights impacts through having a human rights policy in place to assess their activities.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) contributes to the business and human rights agenda through its support to the Special Representative and partnership work with the UN Global Compact, a voluntary initiative to promote corporate citizenship which currently involves over 5,000 companies across 130 countries.

“The partnership between some of the world’s largest corporations, OHCHR and the UN Global Compact sends a powerful signal that human rights is indeed a business issue and that business itself should be directly involved in finding solutions to the challenge of integrating human rights into its core activities and policies,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

At its current session, which will run through 18 June, the Council will consider, among others, the protection of human rights of civilians in armed conflict, and the draft guiding principles on extreme poverty and human rights.

The Council will also discuss the report of the High Commissioner on the resolution to dispatch an urgent, independent international fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law against the Palestinian people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.

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