8th Annual United Nations Global Forum on Business and Human Rights
19 December 2019
Caption: Mr Greg Vickery AO and Professor Sarah Joseph.
Mr Greg Vickery AO, Chair of the Law Council’s Business and Human Rights Committee (BHRC), attended the 8th Annual United Nations Global Forum on Business and Human Rights, which was held in Geneva between 25 and 27 November 2019.
The forum is designed to promote implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). This year’s theme was ‘Time to act: Governments as catalysts for business respect for human rights’. A packed three-day program included seventy sessions on diverse topics for attendees to choose from, with the following key takeaway messages.
- Governments have a role to play to promote the UNGPs to businesses, including through legislation, national action plans, and ensuring state-owned enterprises exemplify good corporate behaviour and due diligence.
- Businesses would like greater coherence between different legal and policy instruments, both international (e.g. the UNGPs, OECD Guidelines and UNSDGs) and national (e.g. the Modern Slavery Acts of Australia and the United Kingdom).
- There are interesting global examples of how ethical investment and divestment can be achieved without harming local economies (e.g. the state pension funds of Norway and Sweden).
- Businesses want governments to take action to promote respect for human rights, and governments benefit from meaningful consultations with businesses when developing legislation in this area.
- There was an interesting proposal to establish a formalised global mediation network. This would provide a cheaper and more convenient forum to handle human rights disputes. It could be included in the remit of the ANCPs established under the OECD Guidelines.
- Responsible businesses operating in conflict zones must abide by standards of International Humanitarian Law and provide special awareness training to staff.
- Recent studies in Europe suggest that sustainable product procurement is supported by big business as it creates a more level playing field. There are examples of good working models in Germany and Paraguay.
- An emerging issue is accountability and remedy in cases of adverse impacts from digital technologies. In many cases, existing laws could be utilised but are overlooked.
- Climate change is already affecting human rights. The sector must grapple with the intersections between business, human rights and climate change, as we will be seeing more violent climate related weather events over the coming years, affecting the right to life, the right to live peacefully and the forced movement of people from certain geographical areas. Many delegates thought that climate change should be the focus of the forum in 2020.
Two other members of the BHRC were in attendance: Professor Sarah Joseph, who was a panellist on the session about emerging human rights in the digital sector; and Ms Vanessa Zimmerman, who was one of the forum organisers. Congratulations to all involved and our thanks to Mr Vickery for reporting back to the Law Council.