UN In Brazil :: Business as usual

In a visit to Brazil, UN delegation criticizes government and companies for lack of action on the protection of human rights

In a visit to Brazil, UN delegation criticizes government and companies for lack of action on the protection of human rights In a visit to Brazil, UN delegation criticizes government and companies for lack of action on the protection of human rights

Business as usual. This was the conclusion of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights (“WG”) on the efforts of the State and companies in Brazil to protect human rights and redress abuses.

The criticism of the way the Brazilian government and business community address human rights was expressed in a statement released today, December 16, after a 10-day visit to several cities across the country. Conectas was present at the meetings with civil society in São Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Mariana. The WG also visited Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, Belém and Altamira.

According to the Group, Brazilian companies still view human rights as part of their own risk management and not as impacts that can affect other rights holders, such as local communities, consumers, workers and society as a whole.

The WG illustrated this concern with the case of the ruptured tailings dam operated by the mining company Samarco in Mariana, in the state of Minas Gerais. In a meeting with the people affected by the disaster, the WG criticized the lack of any contingency plan, the delays in the provision of information on the health risks posed by the contamination of the Rio Doce river basin and the resettlement process.

According to the WG, the Brazilian State has been remiss in advising companies about the actions they should take to comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and it has failed to create a legal framework and policies to guarantee that companies are held accountable for conduct that violates human rights.

On the matter of legislation that results in socio-environmental and human rights setbacks, the Group openly criticized legislative initiatives such as the bill to fast-track the environmental licensing process (Senate Bill 456/2015), the attempt to transfer responsibility for the demarcation of indigenous lands to Congress (Constitutional Amendment 215) and the bill on labor outsourcing (Bill 4330/2004).

On large-scale infrastructure and development projects, the WG criticized the implementation of mitigation measures without prior consultation with the affected communities. In these cases, the WG noted that in practice the government grants licenses for large projects and then provides little oversight or regulation of the companies.

The mission to Brazil included on-site visits to projects with records of serious human rights violations by companies, such as the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro and the town of Mariana, the site of the destruction caused by the ruptured dam containing the iron ore waste of Samarco, which is controlled by the Brazilian company Vale and the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton. Visits to these sites of human rights violations was one of the main demands made by 21 civil society organizations in a letter sent to the WG prior to its arrival in Brazil.

The WG also noted that state-owned companies and others in which the State has a shareholding interest have not developed strategies to ensure compliance with the government’s human rights commitments. One state-owned company in particular was mentioned: the BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank). The Group said the BNDES should more explicit in its requirement that the projects it finances include safeguards against adverse human rights impacts.

In November 2015, Conectas and other organizations released the report “Socio-Environmental Policy of the BNDES: Present and Future”, which contains articles analyzing the practical application of the bank’s Socio-Environmental Policy in projects such as the Belo Monte dam and recommendations for its improvement.

At the 4th Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, held in November at the UN regional headquarters in Geneva, Conectas participated in a panel on development financing and human rights, and presented the need for more transparency in the information produced by the BNDES on the prior assessment of socio-environmental impacts, with a focus on international investments.

About the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Created in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, the WG is formed by five independent experts from different regions of the world. Its primary goal is to disseminate and implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles), and also to discuss good practices and provide support for capacity-building efforts on the subject, among other activities. Accordingly, the group engages in dialogue with various actors, namely representatives of government, civil society and companies, and gathers information.

The WG can carry out visits to countries in order to assess compliance, by States and companies, with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which were unanimously approved by the Human Rights Council in 2011. In addition to Brazil, the WG has already completed visits to the United States, Ghana, Azerbaijan and Mongolia. In its mission to Brazil, the WG was represented by it Russian member Pavel Sulyandziga and its Chilean member Dante Pesce. Over the course of the visit, they were also accompanied by two representatives of the Secretariat of the Group, Ulrik Hasten and Natasha Andrews.

Each year, the UN Working Group stages the Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights at the Palace of Nations, the regional headquarters of the UN in Geneva. In 2015, the event gathered more than two thousand representatives from governments, companies and civil society organizations. At this year’s event, Conectas presented the results of a preliminary survey on effective remedies in the Brazilian financial sector, based on the socio-environmental policies of the 20 largest banks in the country.

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