Live updates: UN Forum on Business & Human Rights 2018

The UN Forum is the world's largest annual gathering on business and human rights with more than 2,000 participants from government, business, community groups and civil society, law firms, investor organisations, UN bodies, national human rights institutions, trade unions, academia and the media. The central theme of the 2018 Forum is “Business respect for human rights – building on what works”.

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Live Updates

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This page will be updated regularly with the latest updates from our team at the Forum.

Wednesday 28th November -----------------------

17.10pm (Geneva) --------------------------------

Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), on closing the 7th UN Forum on Business & Human Rights:

"If we don't have freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, we don't have those critical underpinnings for human rights due diligence to be effective."

Sharan Burrow, ITUC

María Cristina Figueroa Bouriyu, the chair of the Indigenous Caucus from Colombia reads the Caucus declaration, calling for governments to recognize indigenous peoples' rights including free, prior & informed consent, land rights, culture and self-determination, and calling on companies to undertake rigorous human rights due diligence, including respecting the right to free, prior & informed consent.

Indigenous communities at call for respect for intl standards, incl. ILO c.169 and the , full participation in impact assessments and NAPs, and protection for HRDs - a call for govts, IFIs, companies, and all other stakeholders to get down to work.

ISHR (@ISHRglobal), November 28, 2018

The floor was then given to Danilo Chammas, a lawyer at Justiça nos Trilhos. The Brazilian organisation was the first-ever recipient of the Business & Human Rights Award. Chammas drew attention to the gap between what is said in Geneva and what is happening on the ground, where human rights defenders continue to face intimidation, threats, persecutions, surveillance. He went on to remind everyone that human rights defenders and companies have a shared interest in an environment that respects rule of law and freedom of assembly. Watch the live stream here.

15.25pm (Geneva) --------------------------------

The BHRRC team is currently attending the session "Toward meaningful corporate human rights reporting?", where our Deputy Director Marti Flacks is moderating the panel discussion. Among others, the panelists discussed that reporting is gradually getting better although major flaws remain; as well as the absence of reporting on labor rights, on adverse impacts, and on specificities (vs general statements), performance (vs policies).

It was also highlighted that there is value in the internal company process of putting together a reporting narrative, as it generates conversations that otherwise would not happen, including with senior management. The key challenge is then how we improve those conversations.

Yann Weiss from Nestle drew attention to the issue that remains of how to drive improvements on the ground.

Corporate Reporting has driven improvements at HQ level, but not on the ground.

Rio Tinto and Nestle shared reporting challenges and tips, including using the UNGP Reporting Framework, Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, KnowTheChain and the Modern Slavery Registry to inform their reporting:

12.47pm (Geneva) ---------------------------------

We were at the session on "How investors can drive more and better human rights due diligence?". It was highlighted how transparency surrounding due diligence processes is fundamental for investors to know and understand how companies are performing.

"One of the key challenges is to understand and explain to colleagues the difference between materiality and saliency - as investors have historically been driven by financial performance, but also need to look at it from investor responsibility side."

Danielle Essink-Zuiderwijk, Robeco 

Paloma Munoz from the Investor Alliance on Human Rights emphasized the importance of investors engaging directly with human rights defenders. Ben Cokelet from PODER highlighted community-driven human rights impact assessments as a tool communities can use to initiate this engagement.

10.21am (Geneva) ---------------------------------

The session on "Trends and challenges in promoting business respect for human rights in Asia" is currently underway in Room XVII. Professor Surya Deva from the UN Working Group kicked things off by talking about the five vital C's in this context - change, collaboration, collective action, communities, coherence.

Bobbie Sta Maria, our Labour Rights and Asia Director is speaking at the session, and reminds us about the importance of civic space:

"94% of people in Asia live in countries with closed, repressed, or obstracted civil space. This is why we don't take this space for granted, and this is why we demand this space for us."

Read some of our key highlights here:

  • Engagement by countries that are not usually visible in these spaces: Pakistan said they would like to collaborate with UNDP on BHR issues; the Vietnamese Ministry of Justice Director-General said they will implement the UNGPs in Vietnam too;
  • Continued use of CSR language (instead of human rights), and growing preference for the term “responsible business conduct”;
  • Most governments emphasized the need for training and learning on BHR;
  • Some references to inclusive stakeholder engagement, but not resounding;
  • VP for China Chamber of Commerce of Metal, Minerals and Chemicals (CCCMC) emphasized China’s “global economic development role” 

09.35am (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

We started our third day at the UN Forum on Business & Human Rights with our session on 'Elements of effective human rights due diligence regulation: lessons from legal developments'. Panel representatives from Frank Bold, Sanofi, Conectas Human Rights and BHRRC discussed how companies are implementing human rights due diligence regulations.

BHRRC's Modern Slavery Registry Project Manager Patricia Carrier stressed that only a few leading companies are using reporting requirements to identify risks in their supply chains, and that many companies claim to have no or low risks but do not support this with due diligence processes.

. "The has assessed the quality of reports submitted for the last three years according to the UK , finding an overall low level of compliance"

Alliance for Corporate Transparency Project (@EUCorpReporting) November 28, 2017

Tuesday 27th November -----------------------

17.42pm (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

Our deputy director Marti Flacks attended the session on trends and challenges in promoting business respect for human rights in Africa - a discussion on what’s working and not working in the African context. Read her key takeaways here:

Many panelists felt that information about BHR and the UNGPs remains inadequate across the continent, including among governments that wrongly see them as an impediment rather than an incentive to foreign direct investment. Participants called for more advocacy and education around this issue within the continent. They also made a strong call to listen to key stakeholders, especially impacted communities, and not to simply transfer policies and practices adopted elsewhere to the continent. Many participants felt the African Union can take a stronger stand on BHR, implementing policies they have already adopted, although many BHR issues such as wages and freedom of association are regulated at the national level. Attacks on civic freedoms and human rights defenders is a key concern – restrictions on freedom of expression and association lead to arrests by those opposing development projects, often due to complicity between governments and companies. Still participants were not pessimistic – they laid down a challenge to increase participation and coordination among groups working on these issues, and to increase education and information about BHR available to a wide variety of stakeholders.

Notable comments from audience members:

 “When companies come to Africa, they leave their good behavior at home.”

“Can’t have invaders in the name of investors.”

“People want cheap, but they forget the impact that cheap has on people’s human rights.”

14.15pm (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

We're at the panel session organised by OECD Watch, Amnesty International, SOMO, Clean Clothes Campaign, Sherpa, PODER, Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), and Global Witness on "Due Diligence and Remedy: Is one possible without the other?", exploring the relationship between due diligence and remedy. Sandra Cossart, Sherpa's executive director, highlighted the need for companies to shift their focus from human rights risks as risks to stakeholders and not just to companies for progress to be made.

Here are some of our key takeaways: 

Examples from Columbia, Bangladesh, Tanzania show how hard it is for victims to obtain remedy - a collective struggle often over decades, with slow progress, and often only limited step by step remediation.

The panel agreed that policy solutions such as mandatory human rights due diligence are needed, which could help alleviate the struggle of victims. The French loi de vigilance is key in starting to reverse the burden of proof from victims to companies. Increasingly, soft laws such as the OCED due diligence guidance make reference to remedy: “Where an enterprise is causing or contributing to an adverse impact on RBC issues, it should ALWAYS stop the activities that are causing or contributing to the impact and provide for or cooperate in their REMEDIATION.”

Other promising developments include:

  • National Contact Points starting to look into the role of auditors
  • the EU into strengthening due diligence requirements for investors

12.02pm (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

Our session on "Safeguarding human rights defenders: new efforts and tackling growing threats" is currently underway. Bennett Freeman is there, talking about companies' responsibility to help and aid human rights defenders, as well as the report he authored for Business & Human Rights Resource Centre - a guidance for companies to support civic freedoms and human rights defenders. Read the report "Shared Space Under Pressure" here.

Bennett Freeman presents the report 'Shared space under pressure' (), co-published by and - great insights on why business should be compelled to support and /

- Lorenzo Urbinati (@LorUrb) November 27, 2018

11.20am (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

 Our Labour Rights & Asia Director Bobbie Sta. Maria attended a dialogue on the development of the Thai National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, hosted by the Community Resource Centre, EarthRights International and ETO Watch. The main asks from communities and NGOs are: public participation in NAP process, protection of human rights defenders and whistleblowers, as well as extra-territorial obligation for outbound investments.

The Ministry of Justice also provided a number of updates on consultations and government meetings, as well as information on next steps which include business consultations, posting the revised draft online and giving stakeholders the opportunity to comment on the draft before submitting the new version to the government.

Thai Human Rights Commissioners backed civil society appeals to the Ministry of Justice and emphasized need to protect civil society organisations. They also commended Thai civil society groups for working with allies in neighboring countries to ensure responsible conduct by Thai companies abroad.

Representatives from the Ministry of Justice took note of the recommendations and assured the groups that they will be considered.

09.37am (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

This morning, the UN Forum opened with a discussion on the importance of prevention and remedy in human rights due diligence and discussed a mix of drivers of change including legislation, investors, and political support.   

Speakers agreed on the need for global coherence.

Coherence is not only needed in policy, but also in the guidance to implement them.

- Lena Wendland, UN OHCHR

Due diligence has been normalized, an accepted entry point, but the how remains unsufficiently clear.

– Dante Pesce, UNWG

Convergence and coherence at the global level is so important. Common language is important so we are all working together.

– Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, OECD Watch

Despite apparent agreement that global coherence around due diligence policies is needed, the mandatory versus voluntary debate continued.

Due diligence doesn’t have to be mandatory to work.

– Viviane Schavi, Intl. Chamber of Commerce

If we want companies to implement due diligence, governments need to translate these standards into law – key to levelling the playing field.

– Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, OECD Watch

UNGPs provide “smart mix” between mandatory and voluntary.

– Lene Wendland, UN OHCHR

Tyler Gillard from the OECD Responsible Business Conduct Unit discussed the need for management systems, effective stakeholder engagement, and communications to support the implementation of human rights due diligence policies, as well as highlighting the importance of market incentives. He also shared the examples of Indian gold smelters are now calling for government to adopt legislation as they see themselves as less competitive when compared to actors from other markets due to stock market requirements to demonstrate due diligence.

Prevention is the most important aspect of due diligence; and remedy is an unmissable part.  

– Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, OECD Watch

Monday 26th November -----------------------

16.55pm (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

In our current session on disruptive technologies, organised by BHRRC and ICAR, we're exploring the question of what automation means for human rights due diligence.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is marked by technological advance of unprecedented scale, the impact of which is set to be most acutely felt in poorer countries. at with .

- BusinessHumanRights (@BHRRC) November 26, 2018

Padmini Ranganthan from SAP Ariba asked how we can ensure that automation translates not only into profits for companies but can also be distributed to workers.

Read our summary of the session:

Electronics companies and NGOs discussed risks and opportunities related to artificial intelligence. Speakers noted that existing human rights frameworks can be used to address risks related to AI, but need to adapt to the complexity, speed, and uncertainty of AI. Very few people understand AI and there is very little transparency on the different stages of creating AI. The use of AI in the criminal justice system demonstrated the limitations of AI - companies need to think individually, as an industry, and in MSIs about unintended consequences of algorithms. And machines need to continue to learn from humans and machines to improve. Companies can integrate human rights due diligence at the product design phase if the right tone is set from the top. Accountability during the product design phase as well as on an ongoing basis is key. Further discussion is needed on consent for the use of data from third parties, consumers, and supply chain workers. Civil society can also play a role to track data more consistently and support identification of risks.

16.22pm (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

Our Senior Researcher, Eniko Horvath, has been discussing the human rights responsibilities of businesses with respect to climate change, mitigation and adaptation.

Professor Surya Deva, from the UN Working Group, says firms should contemplate the issue during due diligence and remedy, but that ultimately we need to change our lifestyles.

What responsibilities apply to businesses with respect to climate change? says firms should contemplate the issue during and Remedy, but ultimately we need to change our lifestyles. is about all of us.

- BusinessHumanRights (@BHRRC) November 26, 2018

Nnimmo Bassey, from Health of Mother Earth Foundation, on the question of what business can do to tackle climate change and improve their processes, said that companies need more incentives and called for more law enforcement. 

Lucille Paru, an activist from Papua New Guinea, spoke about the severe impacts climate change is having on small countries and communities.  

"Businesses need to take us into account."

Lucille Paru

Guillermo Pickering from Grupo Aguas Andinas spoke about how they included the voice of affected communities in their human rights due diligence processes. 

Roberto Cadiz, from the National Human Rights Commission of the Philippines, highlighted the role of investors, urging them to "seriously look into the climate change policies of the companies they are planning to invest in." This includes full disclosure of the climate change impacts of their business activities, disclosing their emissions, climate risks, and independent verifications and auditing.

13:55pm (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

Felicitas Weber, BHRRC's KnowTheChain Project Lead, is attending the session on labour rights and human rights due diligence. This session provided concrete examples of tri-partite action ranging from governments, unions, and companies, including representatives from the German government, the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), the tobacco company Japan Tobacco International and the International Organisation of Employers (IOE). Noting that unions often know supply chains better than companies, ITF shared how it worked with the maritime industry producing a global agreement, a bargaining forum, and 150 inspectors that enforce the agreement in areas such as health and safety and working conditions. ITF also worked with Unilever to help the company create a due diligence model to identify violations of rights of truck drivers in Eastern Europe.

"It is good to engage in multi-stakeholder initiatives, but to to make a real difference we need to change the policies in countries."

Roberto Suarez Santos, Secretary General of the IOE

12:00pm (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

The Opening Plenary is underway in the Assembly Hall, where conversations are taking place with key stakeholders from business and civil society who are sharing their perspectives on embedding respect for human rights and stories of holding businesses to account. Watch along with the live stream, below.

10:19am (Geneva) --------------------------------- 

The UN Forum on Business and Human Rights kicked off this morning with powerful messages from human rights defenders impacted by businesses at the Voices from the Ground session. 

Saeeda Kathoum reminded the audience the tragic fire at Ali Enterprises fire in Pakistan claiming over 250 lives and called for companies to take responsibility for their mistakes and ensure non-repetition beyond providing compensation. The audience heard from former Guatemalan child labourer Olman Waldermar Mendoza on the importance of programmes to support child labourers to access education, from Emmanuel Umpula on successes in revising the mining code in DRC to include access to information on projects, and from Sadhana Meena from India on the importance of provision for protection of communities impacted by businesses under law.

Finally, Surya Deva from the UN Working Group on business & human rights reminded the audience that despite progress in implementing the UN Guiding Principles, the cases show the challenges going forward.