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Help A New UN Body Make Sure Companies Respect Human Rights!

by on November 7, 2011
 

A new expert body at the United Nations, the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, is seeking proposals from governments, NGOs, trade unions and other institutions to help establish the group’s priorities and activities. The Deadline for submissions is December 8, 2011.

Have your say! Help a new UN body ensure respect for human rights by business

GENEVA (4 November 2011) – A new United Nations expert body* charged with the promotion of respect for human rights by business of all sizes, in all sectors, and in all countries, is inviting governments, companies, trade unions, international agencies, national human rights institutions and NGOs to share their thoughts to help it establish its work programme.

The UN Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises will take into account proposals by all relevant actors in advance of its first session (16-20 January 2012), during which its five independent experts will determine the Group’s key thematic priorities and activities. Let them know what you think at wg-business@ohchr.org. Deadline for submissions is 8 december 2011.

The new expert body started its activities this week focusing on a set of internationally accepted UN guidelines, which provide for the first time a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse human rights impacts linked to business activity. The UN Framework and Guiding Principles on business and human rights outline what States and business enterprises should do to ensure that human rights are respected by business, and to ensure access to effective remedies for those whose rights have been adversely affected by business activity.

Besides promoting and disseminating these Guiding Principles, the Working Group must ensure that they are effectively implemented by both governments and business, and that they result in improved outcomes for individuals and groups around the world whose rights have been affected by business activity. How best to achieve this complex task? Share your views at wg-business@ohchr.org.

The new expert body is charged by the Human Rights Council with identifying and promoting good practices and lessons learned on the implementation of the Guiding Principles, advise governments on the development of domestic legislation relating to business and human rights, building the capacity of all relevant actors to address business-related human rights impacts, and working to enhance access to effective remedies for those whose human rights have been affected by businesses. They will also conduct country visits and identify and promote good practices.

The Working Group will also guide the work of a new annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, which will provide an arena for the discussion of trends and challenges in implementing the UN Guiding Principles on human rights and business, including challenges faced in particular sectors, country contexts and in relation to specific human rights and business issues and rights-holding groups.

(*) Mr. Michael Addo (Ghana), Ms. Alexandra Guaqueta (Colombia / USA), Ms. Margaret Jungk (USA), Mr. Puvan Selvanathan (Malaysia) and Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga (Russian Federation). See below for each expert’s bio.

ENDS

The United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council on 17 June 2011, and its members appointed on 30 September 2011. The Working Group comprises five independent experts of balanced geographic representation. Collectively, these experts bring diverse skills and experience on the advancement of business respect for human rights across a wide range of countries, issues, and sectors.

Learn more about the Working Group’s mandate, log on: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx

Check the Guiding Principles on business and human rights: http://www.business-humanrights.org/media/documents/ruggie/ruggie-guiding-principles-21-mar-2011.pdf

Human Rights Council’s resolution establishing the Working Group:
http://daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/Get?Open&DS=A/HRC/RES/17/4&Lang=E

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Lene Wendland (Tel. +41 22 928 9299 / email: lwendland@ohchr.org) or write to wg-business@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

UN Human Rights, follow us on social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/unitednationshumanrights
Twitter: http://twitter.com/UNrightswire
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/UNOHCHR

MEMBERS OF THE WORKING GROUP:

Michael Addo (Ghana)
Michael Addo is a Senior Lecturer in international human rights law at the University of Exeter. He holds a PhD and LLM and is qualified as a lawyer and advocate at the Ghana Bar. He has authored and edited several books including one of the earliest collection of essays on Human Rights Standards amd the Responsibility of Transnational Corporations (Nijhoff 1998) as well as many other journal and conference publications in this field.

Alexandra Guaqueta (Colombia)
Alexandra Guaqueta holds a M.Phil./D.Phil. International Relations with expertise on global governance and is currently attached to the School of International Studies at Flinders University. Ms. Guaqueta’s has extensive academic and practical expertise particularly on the issue of business and human rights in conflict affected areas. She led the work in Cerrejon (Colombia) on piloting rights-compatible Grievance Mechanism guidelines.

Margaret Jungk (USA)
Margaret Jungk holds a PhD and Masters in International Relations and Political Science with a focus on human rights. She is the Founder and Director of the Human Rights & Business Department at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, which was the first dedicated unit on Human Rights and Business in a National Human Rights Institution worldwide. She has over a decade of experience advising multinational companies on mainstreaming human rights into business operations.

Puvan J Selvanathan (Malaysia)
Puvan Selvanathan advises multinational companies on global sustainability strategy, with a focus on the Palm Oil sector. He is an Architect by profession, holds an MBA and is now completing his DBA in Corporate Sustainability. He has been involved for over 10 years in developing the Malaysian business community’s understanding of ethics, good governance and corporate responsibility. In his current role he is engaged in establishing human rights principles in companies in the large-scale agricultural sector.

Pavel Sulyandziga (Russian Federation)
Pavel Sulyandziga holds a degree in economics and works on the issue of protection of indigenous rights in the context of business. He has worked in government agencies and community organizations. He was a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. He is currently a member of the Public Chamber of Russia (an elected statutory body of civil society of Russia), and chairs the Working Group on the development of remote areas of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation.

 
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  • Jay Taber
    November 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    While the states that comprise the UN membership with few exceptions are entirely subservient to transnational corporations, the UN itself — through its agencies like the IMF and World Bank — is a major institutional barrier to the implementation of human rights for all humanity, let alone indigenous peoples. That said, based on the evidence of the last two decades alone, a starting point for any forthright analysis of TNCs and their role in the international human rights regime would have to state up front that privatization is a crime against humanity. Anything less is an exercise in futility.

    Reply

    • November 8, 2011 at 11:21 am

      Sadly, I don’t think they would even blink at that one (as a general principle, it’s way too radical) – unless, what if it was in a human rights context?

      In any case, the UN is certainly a major barrier, especially with all the bureaucracy, not to mention the censorship and marginalization that takes place at so many of their key events. On the other hand, eventhough UN agencies have tonnes of different stuff going on, they’re not even really trying to support Indigenous Peoples. Most of their work never bears fruit and it’s usually very limited in scope. For instance, all their news agencies combined only report on about 1/10 of what’s actually happening in the world – and that’s just writing news, which anybody can do.

      And when it comes to putting pressure on governments, well, maybe one UN agency will issue one strongly worded statement, but that’s about it.

      They also make the same wasteful mistake that most NGOs make, as we’re seeing now with the Belo Monte Dam. Lots of groups are rightly crying out over that project, which is great – but what about the other 20 or so dams that are just as bad? The count’s even worse when it comes to mining. This new agency needs to think BIG

      And to reiterate your point, it will need to take risks. “More of the same” just won’t cut it. After all, we’re not just talking about justifying pay checks, here. Real Lives are on the line.


  • Jay Taber
    November 8, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I’m not saying human rights activists should not engage with the UN on human rights issues, I’m merely advising they begin from a position based on facts rather than fantasy. Our strength is founded on moral sanction, which is the reason the UN and its member states expend so much energy on programs and public relations related to that. When we set a human rights agenda grounded in the reality of the misery generated by TNCs and their globalization initiatives, we alter the discussion required to advance implementation of the human rights regime. While there is much to lament in the performance of UN agencies, it would likely be a lot worse were we not so engaged.

    Reply

  • Jay Taber
    November 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    If one examines the relationship between indigenous peoples and TNCs over the last 500 years, it has clearly changed. Part of the reason it has evolved from genocide justified by Papal Bulls to assimilation bolstered by free market theology is the resistance mobilized by aboriginal nations and their liberation oriented allies. TNCs and institutional bureaucrats at the UN and in its member states are not risk takers, they are risk avoiders; when human rights activists mount campaigns of civil disobedience, sabotage, or armed insurrection against TNCs, the corporate owners and state bureaucracies look for ways to appease or defeat them at minimal cost. Since TNCs were formed for the express purpose of taking other peoples’ property, any threats to that receive their undivided attention. As Nelson Mandela said, the slogan is attack.

    Reply

    • November 11, 2011 at 11:33 pm

      Again, Jay, thanks for commenting.

      I do think it’s right that we’re engaging the UN, don’t get me wrong. I just wish the institution was a little more accountable to us.

      But beyond my wishful thinking, you’re absolutely right, we have to work from a position based on facts. We have to be strategic about it too, I think, since the movement still so marginalized, divided and lacking in financial resources – and when there’s still so many so caught up in “the game” that they can’t see (let alone comprehend) what those facts are. It’s necessary work. And if we don’t do it, then we’ll end up getting pushed and pulled by those who refuse to do right by us, at our expense.


  • Jay Taber
    November 12, 2011 at 9:48 am

    If you look at the sum of UN programs rather than its pieces, a different picture emerges. As storytellers, it is our task to paint that picture through narratives that capture the totality of what is happening.

    While minor concessions are being made to placate indigenous peoples and their civil society friends, ethnic cleansing on a scale not seen since the first wave of invasions out of Europe is well underway.

    This final solution for the disposition of the world’s 5,000 remaining indigenous societies, in order to extract fossil fuels and minerals without regard for human rights, is the result of conflating greed and need. Neglecting environmental concerns as well, TNCs, states and the UN are engaged in an all out effort to clear the way for wholesale ravaging of the planet. If you doubt my assertions, take a look at the UN Millenium Development goals sometime.

    Development has to happen in order to meet the demands of a burgeoning world population, but how that happens depends on attitude. Taking into consideration the needs of all peoples, including indigenous nations, would temper the greed and focus on the need. Development without their consent leaves it to markets and institutions to decide our
    fate.

    Given this horrific scenario, the bewildering manipulations within the UN to exclude indigenous peoples from a seat at the table on all matters of substance makes sense. Silencing their voices is a prerequisite to their marginalization and, ultimately, their annihilation.

    Reply

  • Terri
    December 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Unfortunately the UN has been overtaken by those very trans-nationals in the form of Governments that support the exploitation of it’s people and resources at all costs. We cannot even get our respective Governments to be open and accountable, how is this group going to be any different than other groups over the last 50+ years who have been endeavouring to bring some kind of accountability and recourse for the everyday citizen, against trans-nationals who seem to own most Governments.

    Reply

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