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1 Dec 2020

Anita Ramasastry, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Opening remarks by Chairperson of the UN Working Group at 1st UN Pacific Forum on Business and Human Rights

The Working Group’s ambition is to support regional races to the top among governments and business. We want to drive responsible business conduct that respects people and the planet. We have already established platforms for multi-stakeholder dialogue and peer learning in Latin America, Southeast Asia and South Asia, and last week we were part of the first regional forum for Eastern Europe and Central Asia led by UNDP.

As highlighted in the material for this Forum, flowing from a dedicated regional dialogue session at the annual UN Forum in Geneva last year – Pacific countries face a number of challenges connected to impacts of business, such as: disproportionate impacts of climate change, unsustainable tourism, exploitation of migrant workers, gender-based discrimination, unsustainable natural resources exploitation, corruption, and barriers for rights-holders in accessing remedy when harms occur. Pacific countries face particular capacity challenges to address the governance gaps that are at the root of these problems.

This is where business and human rights and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights play a critical role, as they highlight the respective duties and responsibilities of governments and business to safeguard people at risk of adverse impacts connected to business. In terms of government roles, they also highlight both “host” and “home” state duties...

Let me highlight key takeaways from the global Forum that relate to your discussions today

First, the UN Guiding Principles are a guidepost in times of crisis...

Second, our future is increasingly one of mandatory measures... And to States everywhere – we can’t wait forever in terms of levelling the playing field.

Third, the future is about protecting people and the planet as our fates are intertwined...

Fourth, we must return to a rights centered approach where rights holders and victims are the ones for whom we design policy...

I am wondering whether a Roadmap for the Pacific region is something that might be considered by States, business and civil society as a part of an agenda for action here.

Very few states in the wider Asia-Pacific have national action plans on business and human rights. I hope that the discussion here will pave the way for further and quick action from states to make policy commitments on business and human rights. I also hope that business will see the importance of sustainable markets needing to have the Guiding Principles as part of the recipe. And civil society including human rights defenders, and national human rights institutions are critical partners to both governments and business in understanding impacts of economic activities on people.