Reflections from UN Forum on Business and Human Rights 2019

Reflections from UN Forum on Business and Human Rights 2019

The recently concluded 8th UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, 2019 is the biggest gathering of civil society, governments, businesses, academics and others working on issues of Business and Human Rights. 2400 people participated in this 3 days forum in Geneva between November 25 – 27, 2019.

The theme for this year’s forum was ‘Time to act: Governments as catalysts for business and human rights’.

Below given are the key reflections from the forum:

  1. We saw some businesses standing up for critical issues such as living conditions and decent work in supply chains. However, these were very few in number. We need more businesses to stand up for critical issues sooner rather than later.
  2. There is an urgent need to multiply the speed of progress. The progress, right now, is too little and too slow. In one of the sessions, we heard that to meet SDG target 8.7 (forced labour, modern slavery, trafficking) we need to take 10,000 people out of modern slavery every day.
  3. Until recently, we have seen governments leaving the ‘smart mix’ to business and civil society. Finally seeing governments especially from the global South engaging with the idea of business and human rights. We need them on board more in action now - in multi-stakeholder initiatives, mandatory legislations, etc.
  4. There are still significant gaps under UN Guiding Principles Pillar 1 (State Duty to Protect Human Rights). Human Rights Defenders face killings and intimidation around the world. Women face marginalisation and exploitation, especially in global supply chains. Civic space is shrinking around the world. Companies and governments yet to acknowledge and act on these issues.
  5. UNGP Pillar 3 (Access to Remedy) remains a big gap. We saw more data emerging on increasing complaints but insignificant progress on effective remedy.
  6. Lot more work needed on meaningful stakeholder consultations and due diligence in participation with communities in development of National Action Plans as well as due diligence mechanisms.

In 8 years, the forum has come a long way in putting the agenda of Business and Hunan Rights on the radar of governments and businesses. It is still a long way for conversations, commitments and dialogues to turn into strong actions.

Watch Namit Agarwal, Lead Specialist – Private Sector Engagement, Oxfam India making a statement at the closing plenary of UN Forum on Business and Human Rights 2019, Geneva.

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