I recently attended the third conference on Business and Human Rights in Geneva which is based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (adopted in 2011 by the Human Rights Committee).
The guiding principles (also known as the Ruggie principles) are a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity.
It is based on three pillars: the State duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and the right of victims to access an effective remedy
International corporations and other business play an increasingly important role both globally, and also at the national and local levels.
On one hand, businesses can help advance human rights by offering access to decent work and higher living standards.
Business activity generates economic opportunities and services that are vital to human dignity and the enjoyment of human rights.
In short, economic growth and job creation, are key to unlocking human potential and reducing poverty.
On the other, businesses can also hinder human rights, through unsafe working conditions, migrant worker exploitation, and damage to community environments.
In addition there is also a growing worldwide recognition of the human rights aspects of sustainable development and the role business can and should play in addressing global challenges such as climate change, poverty and inequality.
It is now acknowledged that business has a responsibility to go beyond legal requirements, to move from ‘doing no harm’ to ‘doing good’.
Importantly businesses have a responsibility for human rights violations in their supply chains. Subcontracting work no longer means subcontracting responsibility for the human rights of workers.
The importance of businesses incorporating due diligence or a human rights and environmental impact lens not only when setting up, but also into their daily activities, was highlighted.
The serious environmental and social harm to indigenous people in South America by the international extractive industry was also profiled.
Direct impacts include deforestation for access roads, drilling platforms, and pipelines, and contamination from oil spills and wastewater discharges.
Indirect effects arise from the easy access to previously remote primary forest provided by new oil roads and pipeline routes, causing increased logging, hunting, and deforestation from human settlement.
‘Business and Human Rights’ is one of the five themes in the National Plan of Action that we are developing.
It is anticipated that a key action under this theme will be that New Zealand will develop its own Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.