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Article

10 Dec 2020

Author:
Anita Ramasastry, Chair UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Keynote remarks by Chair of UN Working Group at webinar on "Implementing human rights due diligence in global supply chains"

Making human rights due diligence part of standard business practice is a key issue for our ongoing project focused on the next ten years of business and human rights...

Human rights due diligence was introduced as a core concept in the Guiding Principles. Since its debut, it has seen a wide uptake in standards for responsible business conduct. Notably ILO and OECD frameworks are closely aligned with the Guiding Principles, particularly around human rights due diligence as entry point for preventative management of negative impacts. It is now also at the centre of regulatory developments, of course, with increasing backing from business and investors.

Human rights due diligence provides the tool for companies to identify and address salient human rights risks in their own activities and value chains; whether we are talking about endemic impacts such as forced and child labour, or harassment of human rights defenders. We have also seen that it has been vital to address human rights impacts that have surfaced in 2020: workers risking their lives without adequate protection against the COVID-19 coronavirus, or racial discrimination that is deeply rooted in our societies and the economy.

Companies that have had human rights due diligence in place have been able to act proactively and creatively to address these challenges and issues.

The Working Group therefore considers that human rights due diligence is a key tool in the global efforts to build forward better in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It enables companies to focus their attention on the most severe human rights risks and identify actual or potential impacts to people as part of any response to the pandemic.

We see human rights due diligence as well as key to so-called future proofing business activities so that companies can address impacts to people and planet rapidly and proactively as they emerge...

Of course, the UN Guiding Principles set out the legal and policy implications for how to operationalize the State duty to protect through a so-called “smart mix” of measures that include legally binding measures, particularly where voluntary measures continue to leave significant gaps in human rights protections.

The Working Group is therefore encouraged by the current momentum toward mandatory human rights due diligence regimes across a growing number of jurisdictions, particularly in the EU...

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