The corporate responsibility to respect human rights has been subject of increased focus, particularly in connection with investments in low-income countries and emerging economies. Resolution A/HRC/21/L14 stresses the need for a coordinated strategic approach on the business and human rights agenda (BHR). The aim is to ensure integration of the BHR agenda into all relevant aspects of the work of the UN system. The Resolution was adopted by consensus with almost 50 co-sponsor states. The list of co-sponsors reflects the cross-regional consensus on the Resolution. The relatively uncomplicated negotiation was led by Norway, in close collaboration with Russia, India, Argentina and Ghana.
The Resolution recognizes the work done by the Global Compact for the business sector and “the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights”. The Guiding Principles stipulates how states and businesses should deal with situations where the business involves human rights violations. The recently adopted Resolution is an important development of the historic decision
The Resolution and the 21st Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC)
The purpose of the Resolution is to ensure that the proposals in the report of the UN Secretary-General on "Contribution of the United Nations system as a whole to the advancement of the business and human rights agenda and the dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights", gets more attention and are taken into account in UN programs and institutions as well as in the HRC.
The important role of the UNHCHR plays in this field is emphasized in the Resolution, which requests the issuance of a report in 2014 and the establishment of a panel in the HRC in 2013 to keep the topic on the agenda of both the HRC and the UN. Moreover, the Resolution proposes the UN to conduct an analysis of the possibilities of establishing a fund for capacity-building in the field.
Several states were particularly active in the negotiation process, and the Resolution received a number of expressions of support in the HRC prior to its adoption. The USA highlighted the importance of protecting individuals from misconduct by States and transnational corporations. Likewise, Ecuador associated itself with the consensus on the Resolution, and stated that the UN should continue to develop international binding standards on international companies.
Walking the talk: How can the United Nations fuel the implementation of the BHR agenda?
In connection with the promotion of the BHR agenda, the core group organized a fruitful side event 12 September 2012. The side-event was chaired by Minister Counsellor Mrs. Harriet Berg, and the panel consisted of the HCHR Pillay, John Morrison (Institute for Human Rights and Business), Kari Tapiola (International Labour Organization), Gerald Pachoud (United Nations Peace-building Support Office), Reidar Kvam (International Finance Corporation/World Bank Group) and Lene Wendland (OHCHR).
Both states and NGOs participated actively in the discussion, reflecting different interests and concerns, following the presentations by the panelists. Whereas NGOs stressed the need to engage civil society and allocate resources to local initiatives, states expressed concern about the suggestion for the establishment of a global fund. Nevertheless, all participants seemed to agree on the essential purpose of the BHR agenda; the need to address the high risk of compromising human rights to economic interests, and to work together to develop a coherent framework to combat this human rights violations in this field.
Further steps on business and human rights
The first forum for BHR will take place 4-5 December 2012 in Geneva. The decision to establish the forum was taken in June 2011 with HRC Resolution 17/4. The Forum is a follow-up of the work Professor John Ruggie conducted as UN Special Representative, and is intended to be the major annual meeting point between civil society, business and government to discuss challenges and solutions related to human rights and business.