3rd UN Forum on Business and Human Rights
Civil society demonstrates the limitations of the Guiding Principles
Present in large numbers at the 3rd Annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, civil society representatives raised several questions about the shortcomings of the Guiding Principles, the guidelines that since 2011 have regulated the obligations of States and companies on the subject of human rights.
To monitor the implementation of these principles, the UN set up the Working Group (WG) on Business and Human Rights. The WG organizes the Forum and has been criticized by civil society, which wants the group to work more decisively and address the shortcomings of the principles.
“The main deficiency of the Guiding Principles are the effective remedies for violations, which led the Human Rights Council to expressly request from the WG the inclusion of this topic on the Forum’s program,” said Juana Kweitel, program director at Conectas. “If the WG makes progress, identifying best practices and advising States to guarantee the provision of effective remedies to minimize suffering and make reparations to the victims of abuses, then the Forum will be a relevant setting. Otherwise, it will be just another showcase for companies to advertise their brands,” she added.
The meeting took place in Geneva from December 1-3 and was attended by nearly 1,500 people, with a large number of participants from the business community, governments and civil society organizations. For the third consecutive year, the most notable absence was the victims of violations.
The discussions at this year’s forum focused on four topics:
1. Principles and guidelines for the preparation of National Action Plans for States to implement the Guiding Principles;
2. Barriers and possible solutions for access to effective judicial and non-judicial remedies for the victims of human rights abuses by companies;
3. The relationship between the Guiding Principles and the financial system;
4. The challenges for the incorporation of “responsibility to respect” (Pillar II) by companies.
Conectas at the 2014 Forum
Conectas participated in two panels. In the first, on effective remedies, the organization presented to the Forum the challenges facing Brazil to improve two non-judicial conflict resolution mechanisms: the “Adjustment of Conduct Agreements” and the Ombuds Office of the BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank).
Based on its own research from 2013 and 2014, Conectas reported the lack of compliance by companies with the obligations established in the Adjustment of Conduct Agreements signed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to halt or remedy human rights violations. It also shared the recommendations submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office.
Concerning the Ombuds Office of the BNDES, the organization shared the proposals prepared by civil society to improve the effectiveness of this office.
Conectas also participated in a panel on the integration of the Guiding Principles into the different UN human rights protection mechanisms, such as the special procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The organization suggested that the implementation of the Guiding Principles by States be included among the items assessed by the UPR.
In the same panel, Conectas criticized the work of the WG, particularly for its treatment of complaints of human rights abuses. The WG has prided itself on “constructive dialogue” and on obtaining consensus between the different groups. According to civil society, however, these working methods are better suited to avoiding embarrassment for companies than to enabling a frank dialogue on the human rights abuses they cause and the most appropriate ways to tackle and remedy them.
Perspectives for the future
The continued importance of the Forum will undoubtedly depend on a shared vision of the relevance of the Guiding Principles for clarifying the obligations of States and the steps to be taken by companies to ensure respect for human rights.
A change of posture is needed on the part of the Working Group. In order to rise to these challenges, the WG needs to make progress identifying practices that guarantee effective remedies and reparations for victims.
In the closing panel, the provocative question posed by the president of the Forum, Mo Ibra’him, to the ambassador of Ecuador (the State that led the negotiations to approve the resolution on the legally binding international instrument), on the measures adopted by the country domestically to ensure the accountability of companies, was a stark reminder to all those present that States still fail to take concrete action to prevent and remedy abuses and to take their international human rights obligations seriously.
Watch the participation of the lawyer at Conectas Caio Borges from the minute 35:50: