Milestone moment for UN principles on business and human rights, but abuses persist

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Although more companies are committing to respect human rights, gaps and challenges remain, UN experts said on Wednesday in assessing a decade of standards for business that take the wellbeing of people and the planet into consideration. 

The 10th anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights represents a milestone, they added, and an opportunity for countries and corporations to gear up for a new decade of action. 

Framework for demanding accountability 

The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has issued a stocktaking report on progress made since the Guiding Principles were endorsed unanimously by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.   

Recent legislation in Europe has called for making respect for human rights and the environment a mandatory requirement for business, members said, while 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,” they added. 

Abuses persist 

However, workers and communities, including indigenous people, continue to suffer business-related abuses, which are occurring across all sectors and in all regions.   

Prospects for protection or remedy are few, according to the UN experts, and activists who speak out are met with 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”, they said. 

“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.” 

As countries emerge from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the experts stated that recovery also provides an opportunity for further progress. 

Independent voices 

The members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights are Dante Pesce, chairperson; Surya Deva, vice-chairperson; Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai, and Anita Ramasastry. 

They were appointed by the Human Rights Council, which will consider their stocktaking report this month during its latest session. 

The five experts are neither UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization.

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