Live updates: UN Forum on Business & Human Rights 2019

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 2019 Forum is “Time to act: Governments as catalysts for business respect for human rights”.

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

16.34pm (Geneva) ---------------------

Our director Phil Bloomer is attending the session on "Addressing climate change: the business and human rights connection", where the panel is discussing what businesses should do to prevent climate harms and how states should support this goal.

Climate and rights should be the focus of next year's annual forum.

Brynn O'Brien, Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility

13.32pm (Geneva) ----------------------

We're in Room XXIV at the session on "Advancing the business and human rights agenda in the Pacific", where we're just launched our new portal on "Pacific Business & Human Rights". It aims to bring the broad range of local business and human rights challenges into sharper focus, and amplify local and community voices - check it out here!

Auiluma Lotoala from the community-based organization Tuvalu Association of Non-Government Organization (TANGO) spoke of the importance of capacity-building and awareness-raising at the level of the community, many of whom are unfamiliar with concepts such as the UNGPs.

There is a lack of understanding of responsibilities and a lack of awareness of human rights among businesses in the Pacific.

Leonard Chan, Pacific Business Resilience Network

Katharine Bryant from the Global Research, Walk Free Intiative shared recommendations based on her research:

1. Raising awareness of issues in the communities. Working with migrant workers.
2. In dealing with this issue, there is a greater need for regional cooperation.
3. Thinking of this in terms of SDGs, within that, there’s a sense that SDGs should be achieved by collaboration.

We normally don’t have sessions focusing on sub-regions. For the first time, there’s a session on the Pacific and the Middle East. I realized very quickly that if we want to deal with Asia-Pacific as one, we can’t really make progress. Pacific issues are not visible anywhere in terms of business and human rights.

Surya Deva, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Finally, Surya Deva shared ways forward the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights sees in this context: (a) Awareness raising (b) Building capacity - We want to connect UNGPs with climate change and SDGs. A siloed approach is not preferable because that focus attention on one issue. (c) Collaboration – Our ambition is a regional peer-learning event in the Pacific.

12.08pm (Geneva) -----------------------

Joan Carling of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development at the regional dialogue session on Asia on the question of what advice she would give to the Government of the Philippines:

Put rights holders at the centre, and that’s what’s needed to be done. Start with respecting our rights—respecting that we should receive part of the benefits. Make sure that there’s sustainability. 

11.14am (Geneva) -------------------------

Our Deputy Director Mauricio Lazala is attending the regional dialogue on lessons learned, challenges, innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean's project on responsible business conduct in Latin America was presented. The project is funded by the EU for 3 years in 9 countries in the region, with the focus being on priority areas for the ILO, OECD and OHCHR, and organizations can apply for small funds to implement different aspects of it.

Civil society and indigenous peoples from Latin America emphasised shortcomings with regional NAPs, and proposed the development of strong indicators to measure progress in the region.

10.02am (Geneva) ------------------------

It's third day of this year's UN Forum and our Civic Freedoms & Human Rights Defenders Project Manager Ana Zbona is at the session on "Ending violence and harrassment in the world of work session", where the recently adopted ILO Convention No. 190 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work as well as the gender framework developed by the Working Group were discussed. Manuela Tomei from the ILO said the new gender framework by the UNWG and the ILO Convention 190 rightly put the emphasis on labour inspection and judges as they have a responsibility to ensure law is applied.

Tuesday 26th November -----------------------

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

We attended the session on "National Human Rights Institutions and Access to Remedy: Lessons and the Way Forward", where the National Human Rights Council of Morocco reported on its engagement with the Parliament on public policy and laws related to responsible business conduct, as well as of its work with FIFA to develop a study assessment on the human rights situation in the country focusing on business and human rights.

The Danish Institute for Human Rights also reported that it is working with NHRIs from Uganda, Niger, Nigeria, and Kenya to examine the role of NHRIs in facilitating access to effective remedy in the context of business-related human rights abuses. The representative further shared that in Nigeria, the NHRI’s jurisdiction was challenged by businesses when they tried to address human rights impacts on the environment.

15.26pm (Geneva) -------------------------

Our session on "Prevention is better than cure: exploring best strategies by States to prevent attacks on human rights defenders" is currently underway, where Marianne Hagen, the State Secretary of Norway, just said the government has set a clear expectation for Norwegian businesses to comply with the UNGPs - and that the protection of HRDs is one of the key priorities.

Shawan Jabarin, from the organisation Al Haq - this year's awardee of the BHR award - said that respect for human rights by States and non-state actors is shown in laws, procedures, policies, and actions. 

We are facing threats on daily basis - but we will not step back.

Shawan Jabarin, Al Haq

Joel Frijhoff from Vattenfall emphasised the importance of getting a dialogue with governments going on preventing attacks on HRDs. For Vattenfall, he went on, HRDs are key stakeholders because of their knowledge of what is going on in the ground.

Anita Ramasastry, UN Working Group, reminded the audience that there is nexus between attacks on HRDs and business, and that the UNGPs provide a clear framework to address this.

  • For Pillar I, there must be a state dialogue which sets an expectation on the role that businesses must play with respect to HRDs and creates policies that carry out that expectation.
  • For Pillar II, where there are risks to defenders, human rights due diligence should look different. It requires thinking about the impact to defenders as part of due diligence. The UNGPs also emphasise the importance of consultations with HRDs – this means that consultations with defenders is one of the ways to prevent harms against defenders.
  • For Pillar III, States and companies should not use legal systems unavailable to HRDs. This means there should not be reprisals and there should be no criminalisation. More important is providing access to remedy that suits the needs of human rights defenders, one that anticipate the risks on human rights defenders.

We expect the government to take the side of the people. That’s important.

Veronica Cabe, Coal Free Bataan Movement

14.31pm (Geneva) ---------------------------

We attended the session "Update on the process to elaborate a legally binding instrument", where UN Working Group member Surya Deva reminded us that “alignment of the binding treaty with the UNGPs does not mean they must say they exact same thing. The binding treaty can go further by dealing with burden of proof and parent/subsidiary liability while still complimenting the UNGPs”.

Ruwan Dubasignhe from ITF emphasised how crucial mutual legal assistance is for an effective implementation of the treaty. This could be strengthened by a provision regulating states can only refuse this assistance in good faith, he added.

12.25pm (Geneva) -----------------------------

Our session on "Protecting and respecting human rights in the future of work" is underway in Room XXV, where we're discussing the state duty to protect workers in this new era of work, important gaps in legal definitions, and proposing recommendations.

The most relevant issue in labour law today is absolutely the misclassification of workers.

Jeffrey Vogt, Solidarity Center

Marlese von Broembsen from Wiego reminded the audience that 61% of the global workforce is informal, effectively leaving them without any of the protections guaranteed to traditional employees, and called for our notion of "worker" to transend older, traditional relationships. Ruwan Dubasinghe from ITF reinforced this, saying that we need to think outside the box when it comes to the employer-employee relationship and broaden protection. He also highlighted the issue of companies engaging in disinformation campaigns within their workforce to dissuade workers from trying to change their classification status. 

Marlese von Broembsen recommends thinking creatively and considering alternative models for collecting social security contributions. For example, India has an Unorganized Workers Social Security Act whereby all corporations have to pay into a social security fund for unorganized workers, without workers having to prove their employer-employee relationship.

When thinking about the future of work debates, Janine Berg from the ILO said we need to think about the future of economy:

  • What kind of economic development do we want?
  • What policies do we need to put in place to have the kind of economic development we want?
  • Do we have some policies in place to transition into green economy? 

09.29am (Geneva) ------------------------------

Good morning! We kicked things off at the second day of the UN Forum this morning at the session on "Aligning international investment policy and practice with the pillars of “Protect, Respect, Remedy” - what States should do", where our Asia Regional Manager Betty Yolanda heard from Andrea Shemberg (London School of Economics) on the need for states to recognise that managing human rights risks is important to protecting investment, and to improve transparency across state functions that deal with investment policy. She also emphasized that "investment policy must institute special measures when dealing with conflict and post conflict situations". 

The cross-border nature of FDI creates additional challenges for the affected communities to access remedy. This is a priority for states as there is an existing momentum regarding reform of international investment agreements and dispute settlement.

Andrea Shemberg, London School of Economics

Monday 25th November -----------------------

16.20pm (Geneva) ----------------------------------

Our Southeast Asia Researcher & Representative Krizel Patolot Malabanan was at the session on "Development finance and cooperation: The next frontier for business and human rights".

John Vercoe, Director of ESG and Impact, 8 Miles: "Due diligence should not be considered as costs, but as an opportunity to manage risks."

Tyler Gillard, Head of Sector Projects, OECD: "Stakeholders are your biggest assets. And the costs are even less. See local voices as an opportunity rather than a risk."

15.44pm (Geneva) -----------------------------------

Our Asia Regional Manager Betty Yolanda is attending the session on "Gender Guidance for the UNGPs - From Paper to Practice", where diverse stakeholders are collectively discussing ways to implement the gender guidance for the UNGPs developed by the UN Working Group.

A representative from the Responsible Mining Foundation emphasised the role unions can play in driving "change by incorporating gender related clauses in collective bargaining with companies."

In response to a question on how governments can ensure the rights of indigenous women, the Canadian government highlighted their guidelines on supporting Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), which discuss how to best support HRDs working on corporate accountability issues, including women and Indigenous HRDs.

On this last topic, community representatives from Colombia called for the guidance to take into account violence against indigenous people in the form of prosecution and criminalisation of human rights advocates.

The Guidance is an important step forward. States need to be more responsive and companies need to change their culture and integrate international human rights standards.

UNDP Asia-Pacific, Business and Human Rights Unit

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

Our session on mandatory measures for meeting the State duty to protect is underway, where we're taking a look at their role and effectiveness in advancing business respect for human rights. 

Our executive director, Phil Bloomer has been discussing the latest Corporate Human Benchmark results to stress the need for regulation. They show that a substantial majority of laggard companies are not doing enough in terms of human rights due diligence, with 50% of companies in high-risk sectors scoring "0" on every single human rights due diligence indicator.

Heidi Hautala, MEP, went on to say:

People are going to the streets because they feel companies are privileged... Linking this sentiment to mHRDD debate would be useful.

Phil reminds us of the increasing role lawyers, including bar associations, are playing in this debate, who are stepping up and speaking up on the need to rebalance the "smart mix" of implementation measures under the UNGPs.

13.06pm (Geneva) --------------------------------------

At the high-level plenary session on “Stepping up government leadership: from commitments to action” this morning, we heard from government representatives from different regions around the world. The representative from Thailand spoke of the importance of having high-level political will and strong cooperation and partnership among different stakeholders and at different levels during the NAP process; and a representative from Indonesia shared recent developments, including the completion of baseline studies in three sectors - palm oil, mining, and tourism.

11.02am (Geneva) ---------------------------------------

The opening plenary is underway in Room XX, where Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is giving the opening speech. 

The Office acknowledge the increased attacks and killings of HRDs – last year more than three HRDs were killed every week. People defending human rights related to business operations were particularly at risk.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Vice-President of the UN Human Rights Council spoke of the importance of this year's theme - a reminder for states to take decisive and concrete actions on business and human rights related issues.

10.00am (Geneva) --------------------------------------

The UN Forum on Business and Human Rights is kicking off this morning with powerful testimonies by human rights defenders from Armenia, Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines at the 'Voices From the Grounds' session! The speakers are raising issues around mining companies, abuses against indigenous peoples, and agribusiness encroaching on community lands without proper consultation.

Benjie Velasco from Partido Manggagawa, Philippines, spoke about the importance of worker agency and reminded the audience that labour rights are human rights. He called for companies to implement transparent processes for remediation and the reinstatement of unionists detained or fired for their activism. The audience also heard from Ani Khachatryan from the Armenian Environmental Front on the need to stop the criminalization of the protection of nature, as well as from Danilo Rueda from CIJP Colombia who invited companies to sign onto the Zero Tolerance Initiative and commit to addressing violence, intimidation and killings of indigenous people and other human rights defenders linked to global supply chains.