December 17, 2012

UN Conference on Business and Human Rights (MGA)

Mary Purcell, MIA Assistant Director Global Action and Aine O Connor, MIA Representative at the United Nations attended a conference entitled Forum on Business and Human Rights organised by the Human Rights Council from 4-5th December.

The Forum was organised to examine how the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (to protect individuals, communities and indigenous peoples from human rights abuses) endorsed by the Human Rights Council in 2011 were being implemented. The forum was mandated to look at the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework and “to promote dialogue and cooperation on issues linked to business and human rights, including challenges faced in particular sectors, operational environments or in relation to specific rights or groups, as well as to identify good practices”.

On the first day 4th December, the forum was organised into three parallel sessions with panel introductions followed by open discussion. The first session looked at the role of Government, the role of Business and the role of Global Governance Frameworks in implementing the Guiding Principles. The European Commission’s new corporate responsibility policy and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises as well as some individual state initiatives are examples of how the Guiding Principles are becoming a key consideration amongst state and intergovernmental organisations.

The second session looked at the challenges and opportunities for taking the Guiding Principles to new audiences and the role of Business and civil society in this. Parallel to this session was one looking at the role of Public Finance in advancing this agenda.

The final session of the first day looked at how access to judicial and non judicial remedy were identified as core pillars in implementing the Guiding Principles. Case studies of how both were used and the problems faced especially for poor and marginalised groups against the power and resources of the Multinational companies were presented.

On the 5th morning there was an early morning session on lessons learned from the first country mission to Mongolia presented by Margaret JUNGK, a member of the working group on Human Rights and Business. A draft Country Mission template was presented which will be used to ensure there is meaningful engagement with all relevant stakeholders on the Guiding Principles.

The Forum then broke into three parallel sessions looking at Challenges in Implementation of the Guiding Principles for the state, business, civil society, SMEs, Indigenous Peoples and the UN system. The session on the state looked at the responsibility of governments in using regulation or other policy options to encourage business to respect human rights. The session on business looked at the responsibility of corporations to implement corporate responsibility to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles. The challenges to civil society in working with government and companies or in highlighting human rights abuses by companies were examined in the session on civil society. The challenge to government and companies in respecting the rights of indigenous in relation to any proposed developments and the need to consult with indigenous group in ways that are culturally appropriate and sensitive to their characteristics and context was outlined. Finally the role of the UN in promoting the Guiding Principles was explained.

The forum wrapped up with a session looking at the way forward and the opportunities and priorities for action by business, Labour Movements, Indigenous Peoples organisations and legal organisations.

The Forum was educative in providing MIA with information on how we could use the Guiding Principles to advance our advocacy strategy. It also enabled us to network and make contacts that will be helpful to MIA in promoting the Guiding Principles.

Messages to: Mary Purcell – Assistant Director Mercy Global Action

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