UN Forum blog series

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Article
8 December 2017

Commentary: Business schools should incorporate human rights & social responsibility into curriculum

Author: Caroline Kaeb, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut & David J. Scheffer, Professor, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Business and Human Rights Journal

"Build It and They Will Come: The Formative Stages of Human Rights Education in Business Schools", 5 Dec 2017

…[T]he expectation continues to build for companies to take a stance on societal challenges…and to constructively offer a corporate contribution towards solving these challenges...Closely related to this issue… is whether university education has been able to adapt to the new demands on their business and management instruction in higher education worldwide…The PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education) Working Group on Business and Human Rights …[and the] Teaching Business and Human Rights Forum have conducted a survey among university instructors of business and human rights related course offerings worldwide…

...[B]usiness schools have large offerings on broader corporate responsibility and, in particular, sustainability-related topics…[However,] the particular topic of business and human rights is being covered primarily by law schools rather than business schools…This vividly illustrates that a normative human rights-based methodology to management challenges and business ethics dilemmas is not fully absorbed yet by business schools....

…[I]t is clear that business and human rights often still lack a true institutional home within business schools...[T]he PRME Business and Human Rights Working Group is encouraging major companies to sign the 2014 open letter by the UN Global Compact to convey to business schools deans the demand and need for management talent, which is educated on issues of human rights and social responsibility...[refers to Apple]

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Article
8 December 2017

Commentary: Malawi: Education & leadership opportunities are key to promoting rights of women tea farmers

Author: Sarah Roberts, Ethical Tea Partnership, Business and Human Rights Journal

"Women's Rights: Bridging the Gap in Malawi", 6 Dec 2017

… Approximately 65% of smallholder tea farmers [in Malawi] are women, with the scale tipped in favour of landownership by women due to the matrilineal inheritance system in the tea growing regions… While one might assume that landownership would lead to improved status in society, the reality is far more complex.

Gender equality is central to achieving the objectives of Malawi Tea 2020. Malawi Tea 2020 is a coalition of stakeholders from across the entire tea value chain which aims to create a competitive Malawian tea industry where workers earn a living wage and smallholders are thriving...

…The percentage of male and female workers on tea estates is closer to a 50-50 split, but management positions are predominantly held by men...[T]here is still a large gap to fill between the representation of men and women in senior management roles…

…Until equality of education is reached, both government and the private sector will struggle to fill senior roles with women. If girls don’t complete higher level education, it is almost impossible for them to achieve equal levels in employment…There are specific interventions…that can help address this disparity…[such as]…peer-to-peer learning program…and Village Savings and Loan groups…

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Article
5 December 2017

Analysis of success factors for remedy from the Dutch National Contact Point process regarding labor rights abuses by Heineken in the DRC

Author: OECD Watch

[Note: This piece was also published as part of the UN Forum blog series here.]

" Six secrets to success: Analysis of key success factors for remedy in the case of DRC workers vs. Heineken at the Dutch NCP ", 3 December 2017

During a panel discussion at the 6th annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights...representatives of OECD Watch, Heineken, the Dutch NCP, and victims from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) discussed the successful process towards remedy following business-related human rights abuses by Heineken.

With OECD Watch’s assistance, the case under discussion had been filed with the Dutch NCP in 2015 by 168 factory workers previously employed by Heineken’s Congolese subsidiary, Bralima, for violations of labor rights during 1999-2002, as a civil war raged in the eastern DRC. 

...[T]he NCP process led to a deal between the victims and Heineken that involved Heineken paying approximately US$2 million in compensation to the victims...Six key secrets to success emerged from the discussion...

... If the OECD Guidelines and NCPs are going to play any sort of meaningful role in the corporate accountability and business and human rights arena it is crucial that countries find that political will. OECD Watch’s new campaign is...demanding ​#EffectiveNCPsNow and reminding everyone that #RemedyIsTheReason.

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Article
1 December 2017

UN Forum on Business & Human Rights - Final thoughts

Author: Michael Quayle, Thomas Voland and Emily Holland, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

[Note: This piece was also published as part of the UN Forum blog series here.]

Over the course of three days, diverse panels offered a wide range of views on the key theme of the 2017 Forum:  remediation. Discussions centered on methods to establish effective access to remedy, identify existing gaps, and focus attention on critical areas. 

Private sector participants exhibited a willingness to engage not simply on issues and initiatives at a high-level but on real-life issues encountered, companies’ responses, and lessons learned... This reflects a broader trend towards more expansive corporate human rights disclosures, which has been inspired, at least in part, by increasing legal reporting requirements...

Attention also focused on new and anticipated National Action Plans (NAPs) on Business and Human Rights that help countries to satisfy their responsibility to protect against human rights abuses within their territories and/or jurisdictions by third parties, including businesses.

Day Three Recap...

Alternative dispute resolution and human rights...

OECD National Contact Point procedures...

Extractives sector grievance mechanisms...

Financial sector and modern slavery risk...

Investment-related human rights violations...

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Article
29 November 2017

UN Forum on Business & Human Rights - Day Two Recap

Author: Michael Quayle & Emily Holland, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

[Note: This piece was also published as part of the UN Forum blog series here.]

Courts are increasingly being asked to consider what the international law boundaries to human rights litigation are, and whether voluntary undertakings aligned to the UN Guiding Principles can give rise to a duty of care... [P]rosecution ultimately turns on political will... Lawyers [...] can be valuable partners in helping corporates understand the issues and formulate policy and strategy... Many speakers – including those from the business community – noted that embedding respect for human rights [...] is no longer a “nice-to-have” but increasingly a business priority... While exiting a problematic operational context or business relationship may communicate a company’s stance on human rights issues, or prevent serious human rights harm, guidance is increasingly giving the message that the full range of options need to be considered in light of the potential, negative effects on vulnerable populations... Judicial and non-judicial mechanisms can furnish uniquely different outcomes for protecting, respecting, and remedying human rights concerns... Grievance mechanisms must be carefully conceived and appropriate to local circumstances and the specific issues.

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Article
28 November 2017

Commentary: Aligning National Contact Point processes with the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights

Author: UN Working Group on Business & Human Rights, Business and Human Rights Journal

"The National Contact Point (NCP) System - Aligning NCP Processes with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights", 28 Nov 2017

[T]he Guiding Principles [...] call on States (in UNGP27) to “provide effective and appropriate non-judicial grievance mechanisms, alongside judicial mechanisms, as part of a comprehensive State-based system for the remedy of business-related human rights abuse.” Among different State-based non-judicial mechanisms in the business and human rights field, the National Contact Point (NCP) system of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises has received a great deal of attention... Some NCPs have struggled to be perceived as impartial and retain confidence of social partners and other stakeholders for many decades, as also shown in some UN Working Group country reports... A comprehensive improvement of the effectiveness of the NCP system would be a significant contribution toward strengthening implementation of the Guiding Principles across a number of countries. The Guiding Principles provide a useful and clear baseline for assessing NCPs and also a roadmap for reform. We look forward to continuing the dialogue on how – at the 2017 UN Forum and beyond.

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Article
28 November 2017

Commentary: France & UK: Exploring current patterns & future developments in corporate due diligence law

Author: Paul Bowden, Julie Chapuy, Jess Steele & Michael Quayle, Business and Human Rights Journal

"Business and Human Rights: Prevailing Trends and Future Developments", 28 Nov 2017

Adoption of national legislation in France scrutinizing corporate efforts through mandated disclosure regimes and requiring companies to establish and implement vigilance plans constituted a watershed moment in business and human rights law. In the UK, the [...] Government’s current focus appears to be promoting best practices in companies’ Modern Slavery Act disclosures. Here we explore current patterns and possible, future developments in both countries...

Developments in the imposition of corporate duties of due diligence in the field of human rights in the UK and in France are at different stages. France has unveiled a wide-ranging new duty of vigilance, albeit with questions around its enforcement in the absence of a civil fine mechanism. The UK has, by contrast, focused on fine-tuning its published guidance on the interpretation of established legislation which, while it requires companies to make statements regarding their human rights due diligence, does not require companies to carry out that due diligence. What is clear is the continuing interest of legislatures and governments in encouraging companies to think more carefully about their impact on human rights, not only directly but also through their subsidiaries, affiliates and supply chains.

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Article
27 November 2017

Commentary: Access to remedy should also address impacts of non-violative corporate acts

Author: David Birchall, Business and Human Rights Journal

"Access to Remedy and Corporate Human Rights Impacts", 27 Nov 2017

...Access to remedy is a rapidly improving, though still fundamentally weak, area of business of human rights (BHR) regulation. This post highlights the rights impacts of non-violative corporate acts, an area for which both remedy and regulation is frequently lacking...The [UN] Working Group contrasts access to remedy...and access to justice...The former consists generally of violations constituting overt wrongdoing, the latter refers to structural injustices such as global poverty and famine, for which no single actor is reasonably culpable.

...Between the violation and structural issues lie non-violative corporate acts with repercussive rights impacts. Herein, we can trace a particular harm to a specific corporate act, yet the act itself was not a human rights violation. Particularly common are corporate acts which risk serious regressions under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)...Such issues are generally not considered human rights violations. They are permitted, market-driven decisions, which may only present human rights issues when performed en masse...

...[I]f the [BHR] movement seeks to humanize business in a holistic sense, we may need to go beyond relational violations, and look more closely at the full range of human rights impacts presented by corporations. [refers to Google]

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Article
27 November 2017

Commentary: Arbitration as a method of resolving disputes around human rights abuses by businesses

Author: Alison Berthet, Business and Human Rights Journal

“Arbitration: a new forum for business and human rights disputes?”, 20 Nov 2017

 …In line with this shifting focus by the international community on [access to remedy,] the third pillar of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), a working group of international law specialists published [“International Arbitration of Business and Human Rights Disputes,”] a proposal to use arbitration to resolve disputes that arise out of human rights abuses involving businesses (BHR disputes)…[T]he Working Group followed up with the publication of a “Questions & Answers” paper addressing key issues raised by consulted stakeholders.

According to the proposal, arbitration could be adapted for use in BHR disputes either…[b]y victims of human rights violations who wish to bring claims against businesses…[or to] resolve disputes involving human rights-related claims between commercial parties (for example, where a supplier fails to comply with certain contractually-imposed human rights obligations)…

…According to the working group, international arbitration “holds great promise” as a method of resolving BHR disputes, which often occur in regions where national courts are “dysfunctional, corrupt, politically influenced or simply unqualified”…

…The working group acknowledges that existing procedural arbitration rules are inadequate for dealing with BHR disputes, and that tailored arbitration rules should be developed…The working group is in the process of convening a drafting committee for this purpose…

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Article
27 November 2017

Commentary: GBI & BHRRC share insights on effective remedy through multi-stakeholder engagement

Author: Jo Reyes, GBI & Christen Dobson, BHRRC, Business and Human Rights Journal

"Effective Remedy: The power and pitfalls of multi-stakeholder engagement", 25 Nov 2017

Over the past few years, the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights [GBI] and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre [BHRRC], with the support of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights...have organised a series of panels at the UN Annual Forum (Forum) bringing together affected communities, civil society, business representatives and government officials to explore implementation of the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on the ground...

These sessions were intentionally constructed to be multi-stakeholder in composition, reflecting the critical need for all parties involved to build trust, engage in dialogue, and listen to the voices of those affected...[T]his year’s Forum agenda will once again include two multi-stakeholder case-based sessions: one exploring an independent problem-solving service for communities affected by mining operations in South Africa, and one on community-driven and -involved approaches to access to remedy in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone in Myanmar.

Shared below are high-level observations and insights from previous panels and background research...

...For most organisations (states and civil society, as well as companies), effective implementation of Pillar III may necessitate organizational change...to ensure that many different voices are heard, and for affected communities to propose their own approaches and solutions so that remedial mechanisms best respond to actual needs and realize remedy regarded as effective by victims harmed by business activities.

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