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Business and human rights: how can we reconcile them?

December 16, 2014

Globalisation has significantly changed the world we live in, presenting new and complex challenges for the protection of human rights. WILPF attended the United Nations Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, which took place in Geneva on 1-3 December.

The Forum brought together corporate sector chief executives, policy makers from governments, international institutions, experts and civil society activists to discuss progress and challenges in addressing business impacts on human rights.

The United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

 

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

© United States Mission in Geneva / Flickr

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide basic principles for both states and companies, to prevent business-related human rights abuses and to ensure effective remedies and justice. States have a duty to protect human rights, take appropriate steps to investigate abuses, prosecute those responsible for human rights violations, and provide appropriate compensation for victims. Companies, including transnational corporations, must be held accountable for their human rights abuses.

Until now, most companies’ engagement with human rights responsibilities has been through voluntary codes and initiatives; it is therefore necessary to create and implement an international legally binding framework in order to ensure that transnational companies’ activities do not negatively impact peoples’ rights.

Reality looks different – the example of indigenous peoples

During the Forum, activists and victims shared with us the daily challenges they experience. We attended several panel discussions about the problematic situations that indigenous peoples have to face. They are often deprived of their social, cultural and spiritual rights, thus threatening their entire existence. They are victims of grave injustice, ranging from forced displacements to acts of genocide, and barely have access to remedies.

Governments don’t meet their specific needs as addressed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and corporations are not willing to comply with the standards that are imposed on them.

What can we do?

Here at WILPF we believe that, first of all and most importantly, it is essential to educate victims of human rights violations about their rights. The right to remedy is a general principle of international law and should be made easily accessible for all.

Annual forum on business and human rights

© United States Mission in Geneva / Flickr

All UN Member States must uphold legally binding treaties; international legal obligations have to be met and women’s rights have to be included.

We understand how important it is to establish a dialogue between all parties concerned: governments, companies and people on the ground. As a minimum requirement, we call upon all companies to respect all human rights, regardless of the sector, country or context in which they operate.

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