World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2018: Spotlight on business & human rights

World Economic Forum

Over 2500 leaders from business, government, international organizations, civil society and academia have come together in Davos for the World Economic Forum (23-26 January 2018). Under the theme "Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World" the aim is to set an agenda for greater multistakeholder collaboration as a way of addressing current political, economic and societal challenges. 

In this context, CEO and corporate activism, including for the protection of civic freedoms and human rights defenders, is gaining support and prominence. At this year's Forum, 'Standing up for Social Progress' plenary event, will discuss the business case for CEO and corporate activism.

To follow what's happening at WEF 2018, live feed on the Forum is available here.

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26 January 2018

UN rights chief stresses leading role of businesses in ending LGBTI discrimination

Author: UN News Centre

With major companies joining the growing list of early adopters of United Nations standards to promote equality for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people, the UN human rights chief on Friday highlighted the private sector's crucial leadership role in ensuring the dignity and equal opportunities of LGBTI employees in the workplace and beyond.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said that “companies that take action to end discrimination and support LGBTI communities can be a motor for change.”

The standards, developed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, draw on good practice from around the world, setting out actions that can be taken by employers...

They also encourage companies to stand up for the rights of LGBTI people in the countries where they operate – including through advocacy and support for local organizations.

Nineteen more companies have joined a growing list of early adopters, including Airbnb, Airbus, AXA, Barilla, Bloomberg L.P., Cisco Systems Inc., Gol, Hermes Investment Management, Lloyd's, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics - North America, Marriott International, MAS Holdings, Nasdaq, New York Life, Santander Group, Tesco, Trillium Asset Management, Unilever, Vert Asset Management, and Xerox.

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25 January 2018

WEF 2018 will highlight the importance of businesses in addressing threats to civic rights

Author: Annabel Lee Hogg, Governance and Transparency (UK)

"It’s Time for Business to Act on Threats to Civic Rights", January 2018

Business leaders... are set to gather in Davos at the World Economic Forum’s annual session... and create dialogue around the theme: “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.”...Increased restricted freedoms and government control help undermine economic and social stability. Globally, these threats to civic rights are growing with CIVICUS referring to the current climate as a Global Civic Space Emergency...The erosion of freedoms of speech, assembly, association and access to information is a concerning global trend...To reduce corruption, enable fair and open market structures and ensure governments act in the long-term interest of their constituents, we need space that allows citizens to discuss the implications of government actions and speak out when they see injustice...Businesses with a focus on long-term sustainability also have an inherent interest in maintaining open and free societies...[P]rivate sector champions can help shift perceptions of civil society groups as anti-patriotic or anti-economic growth...It’s time to invest in new relationships and pilot new forms of collaboration to tackle this important issue. It’s time to make business a countervailing force against those seeking to silence citizens.

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24 January 2018

UN experts: Davos should address global risks rooted in human rights abuse

Author: UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, YubaNet

As global leaders converge in Davos for the World Economic Forum, a group of United Nations experts called attention to the critical importance of human rights to the Forum’s objective of “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”...

The experts stressed how Government and business leaders meeting in Davos wield the power and influence to set the world on a more inclusive and sustainable path. They recalled how world leaders had pledged “to realize the human rights of all” and “to leave no one behind” as core aspirations of United Nation Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030, and called on business leaders to support this pledge...

“...Governments and businesses must act in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by taking steps to respect the rights of workers across supply chains and avoid that business operations cause or contribute to adverse human rights impacts”.

The experts welcomed that the 2018 World Economic Forum includes a session on the “Global Prospects for Human Rights”, on the occasion of this year’s 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the same time, they regretted that human rights were inadequately captured in the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2018...

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24 January 2018

World Economic Forum 2018 discusses rise in CEO activism

Author: Ashifi Gogo, Sproxil (USA)

"The new age of CEO activism", 16 Jan 2018

...The rising popularity of wedge issues in the West increasingly dominates global headlines, stirring emotions and prompting responses... Under those challenging and highly-fluid circumstances, some CEOs have emerged as conscious leaders. Ken Frazier, Merck Chairman and CEO, drew a firm line in protest when he resigned from President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council in objection to the president's response to the violence in Charlottesville. An avalanche of fellow council CEO resignations followed... Soon, prominent CEOs...will have additional help as PR firms grow their coaching toolkit, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article. CEO activism isn’t that new to social enterprises, which are often founded to promote a cause which can be divisive. Can social entrepreneurs’ experience help guide mainstream CEOs...? 1. Developing an authentic voice takes time and concerted effort...; 2. Focus and alignment...: Research shows CEOs fare better when...issues they promote bear a tangible connection to their business...; 3. Recruit and promote competent senior leadership who are also co-activists.Compared to closed-door lobbying, CEO activism provides a more transparent and participatory environment... Besides, with a majority of millennials expecting CEOs to take a stand on social issues and rewarding CEOs who do that well with sales boosts and lower staff churn, competitive CEOs may have no other choice. [Refers to Ariel Investments, Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, Starbucks]. 

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15 January 2018

Civil society urges business to take the lead in the fight against modern slavery

Author: Monique Villa CEO, Thomson Reuters Foundation

"Why business is the best partner in the fight against modern slavery", 15 Jan 2018

More than 40 million people are currently enslaved. Of this number, 70% are trapped in forced labour, working unpaid in factories..., hidden so far down the supply chains of multinational companies... It is hard to deny the moral imperative for businesses to take the lead in fighting this shameful global crime. But if the moral argument alone isn’t enough, board members, shareholders and investors alike might like to know that fighting slavery also offers attractive economic returns...

[C]hange is happening...

[S]lavery has found itself in the headlines and some of the biggest businesses in the world responded, pledging to work together to improve working conditions and monitor progress. Businesses care about consumer perception, and increased media scrutiny has led to public awareness...

The second factor clearly leading to progress is the introduction of new legislation. The UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 has developed a standard for corporates to adhere to...

In February 2017, the French Parliament adopted a similar law...

The Dutch government is currently considering legislation that would require companies to publicly report on whether child labour is present in their supply chains and the steps taken to eradicate it...

Most recently, in Australia, there is an ongoing consultation for the establishment of an anti-slavery bill. 

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