Opening remarks by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

24 October 2022 Geneva-AT 8th session of the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Business and Human Rights 

Key Messages

Global context

  • Multiple crises worldwide and people experiencing significant upheaval (water, energy and food insecurity; financial instability and soaring inflation; conflict; triple planetary crisis and growing inequalities)
  • The Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” provides a blueprint for our responses.
    • It recognizes the role and impact of business on human rights, whether in terms of climate change or in conflict, as well as in current financial systems
    • Human rights can help us achieve the sustainable change we need
    • There is a need for more inclusive, networked and effective multilateralism: the private sector is a key piece of the architecture needed to rebuild trust and to tackle our most pressing global challenges (role in poverty alleviation; sustainable development)
  • The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights coming up next year is an opportunity to reconfirm its principles in light of current and future challenges, especially as we get closer to 2030.

Issues at stake

  • Members of local communities face multiple barriers to access justice in cases of human rights abuses by business, including:
    • Inaccessible or non-existent complaints mechanisms
    • Lack of clear laws requiring responsible business practices
    • They are also threatened if they complain or resist. And all too often we have seen human rights defenders, especially environmental human rights defenders, at particularly high risk of harm.
  • How can you establish legal liability if you don’t even have clear legal requirements? This leads to corporate impunity for abuses.
  • In some cases, business has taken advantage of times of crisis for their own gain, which, in an uncontrolled / unregulated environment, can aggravate human rights abuses.
  • Today’s meeting is a recognition – among States, civil society, business – that additional measures are required to improve government accountability for ensuring human rights are respected by business enterprises and improve access to effective remedies for those harmed by business-related activities
  • The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights acknowledge that in order to foster business respect for human rights, States need to consider a smart mix of measures – national, international, mandatory and voluntary.
  • The initiative discussed here today fits within that smart mix and is complementary to the implementation of the Guiding Principles.
  • We observe a current trend in the business and human rights field towards “hardening” of the legal framework to increase government accountability at the national level, with some countries having introduced (France, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands) or in the process of drafting mandatory human rights due diligence legislation. At regional level, the European Union is considering a Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence.

Call to action

  • Looking back over the 11 years since the Guiding Principles were adopted, despite a lot of progress, we must still do better to prevent adverse human rights impacts, with particular attention to the most marginalized, and to ensure access to remedy for harms that occur.
  • The contributions of States to this norm setting process are crucial and I encourage broader participation and constructive engagement by Member States as we move forward.
  • I recognize the pivotal efforts of civil society in spearheading this initiative and in getting us to this point. The meaningful involvement of grass-roots organizations that represent communities directly affected by abuses related to business activities, and their recommendations, are crucial for how to improve the situation on the ground.
  • Businesses, through business organizations, have to have a seat at the table as they have a legitimate role to play in this norm setting process, so long as it is exercised in a manner consistent with their responsibility to respect human rights.
  • There is a common goal here, as mandated by the Human Rights Council: to design a treaty to regulate activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises, in line with international human rights law.
  • I welcome any meaningful normative developments that can strengthen human rights protection in the context of business activities.
  • And in this process, I invite you to draw on all the information and expertise that has been shared with you over the past eight years to help you design a workable roadmap to move the process forward.
  • To that end, constructive engagement from States across all regions can help build consensus and common approaches.

View the video of the opening remarks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *