UN Working Group on business & human rights presents reports & activity update to Human Rights Council

Author: UN Working Group on business & human rights, Published on: 13 June 2017

"Statement by the Working Group Chairperson to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council"

We present...four reports...to this session of the Council...The report that focuses on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) aims to serve as a starting point for discussions on how these enterprises can scale up implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights...The report...observes...that although small enterprises may have less capacity to exercise human rights due diligence, as compared to larger companies, simple steps can be taken...to respect human rights...the Guiding Principles set out the path to follow...[The report found] a low level of awareness by SMEs of the Guiding Principles...and [the] need for more accessible and user-friendly information and practical tools which are tailored to the realities faced by SMEs...A main challenge is that awareness of the Guiding Principles Government remains low among the government agencies that support SMEs, while most larger business enterprises are still at an early stage of their journey to implement the Guiding Principles. Processes to develop a national action plan on business and human rights offer an opportunity to raise awareness of the Guiding Principles, to clarify that they apply to all business enterprises, and to stress the importance of also bringing on board SMEs.

[The report on cross-border cooperation in law enforcement] examines how States have cooperated successfully in areas related to criminal law and human rights and...highlights areas...where States have deployed best practices to successfully investigate and prosecute cross border cases: trafficking in persons; environmental crimes, which included the unlawful movement and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; wildlife and forestry crimes, which includes illegal logging; and transnational bribery and corruption...The Working Group found that States should adopt an appropriate and enabling legal framework that not only prohibits misconduct by economic actors that infringe on human rights but also provides a basis for cooperation between States’ law enforcement agencies when violations occur in cross-border cases. 

A main observation [from our visit to Republic of Korea] is the need for larger companies to more effectively oversee their supply chains, and to avoid practices of outsourcing human rights risks...[and] a need for further guidance and support from the Government...We also observed broad challenges related to workplace safety, gender discrimination in the workplace, and the situation of migrant workers. 

A main observation [from our visit to Mexico] relates to inadequate prior consultation with affected communities in the design and implementation of large-scale projects, often affecting indigenous communities. The Working Group also identified a need to strengthen oversight and assessment of environmental and social impacts to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts of business activities on human rights...[Other] issues included widespread cases of intimidation and harassment against community leaders who speak out against specific business operation and projects...and the silence of businesses in response to such attacks,...the precarious situation of temporary contract workers and day labourer working on farms, child labour, and gender-based discrimination in employment.

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