Global Witness welcomes this opportunity to provide input to the report by the UN Secretary-General on how the United Nations system as a whole, including programmes, funds and specialized agencies, can contribute to the advancement of the business and human rights agenda and the dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (‘UN Guiding Principles’). We believe the key areas for focus are via:
o The UN Human Rights Monitors
o The UN Sanctions regimes
o The UN Special Rapporteurs
o The UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises
Global Witness is a non-governmental organisation that for 17 years has run pioneering campaigns against natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated human rights abuses. We have exposed the brutality and injustice that results from the fight to access and control natural resource wealth, and have sought to bring the perpetrators of this corruption and conflict to account.
Since 2007 we have proactively engaged in the business and human rights debate. In the first instance we seconded a member of staff to Professor Ruggie’s team to help develop a better understanding of the respective obligations of the State, private enterprises and NGOs operating in conflict zones. In 2008, after the publication of the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework for Business and Human Rights, we co-hosted a meeting of corporate, government and civil society experts in London to seek to identify ways of minimizing human rights abuses caused by companies operating in volatile areas by moving from Professor Ruggie's policy framework into practice. We have continued to stay involved in the mandate, most recently attending the first meeting of the newly formed UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (‘UN Working Group’) in Geneva in January of this year.
Despite the UN Human Rights Council’s endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles, there is still a need for greater clarification of a minimum standard of unacceptable business behaviour or “bottom line” and about the regulation of business activities in situations of widespread violence. In addition States need to be significantly more proactive to ensure business compliance with their human rights responsibilities.
Partly as a result of the work undertaken by Professor Ruggie whilst working as the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, there is now a consensus that concrete action is required by business to ensure they respect human rights. However States still need to put mechanisms into place to ensure protections from and remedy for business related human rights abuses. When the proper tools are not in place or fail to be used, the human cost is significant.
Unfortunately we have found many examples of business entities – both local and international - which have facilitated or been complicit in human rights abuses, either through their own operations or indirectly through their relationships with unsavoury business or individuals. Numerous examples are available on our website www.globalwitness.org . Such case studies show that there are companies that willingly or unwillingly, ignorantly or proactively, are involved in human rights abuse, that governments are often unwilling or unable to prevent or are complicit in these abuses and that victims have limited access to remedy.
Global Witness believes the UN Guiding Principles are a minimum standard. The importance, usefulness and success of the UN Guiding Principles is in their implementation – in summary they are of no use if they are not used or not used effectively. At the very least, the UN needs to ensure that the UN Guiding Principles are upheld and reported on but Global Witness believes the UN should also be pushing governments and companies to operate to a higher standard. The UN needs to lead, coax and compel governments and companies to reinforce the unacceptability of corporate involvement in human rights abuses whilst ensuring it too is upholding the UN Guiding Principles in all it does.
Global Witness believes that the UN system as a whole, could contribute to the advancement of the business and human rights agenda" by making the following changes:
Investigations by UN Human Rights Monitors into corporate abuse have occurred in the past but inconsistently and often only because there has been some incidental level of corporate involvement in or link to abuses committed by other actors such as the local military. However it is important to make sure that, where appropriate, the corporate dynamic is identified and highlighted. Therefore, UN Human Rights Monitors must be required to:
o Monitor links between human rights abuses and corporations.
o Undertake thorough and independent investigations into claims of human rights violations by or associated to companies.
All information collated by the UN Human Rights Monitors must be provided to the UN Working Group as well as to the relevant investigative or prosecutorial authorities in the responsible country or countries.
Sanctions regimes should be utilised to better effect
o Sanctions, as one of the few coercive measures at the UN’s disposal, are potentially one of the most powerful instruments available. Sanctions can send a clear signal to governments, industry and consumers about what not to buy, who not to do business with and can also demonstrate how economic decisions can affect human rights.
o Sanctions can have the dual impact of positively affecting situations where human rights abuses have been facilitated or committed by companies and of reinforcing the State’s role in monitoring and taking action against companies in breach.
o Unfortunately Global Witness’ experience has shown that sanctions are often poorly targeted, badly timed, slow moving and inefficient. They can also have the adverse effect of punishing those who are not associated with any illegal or violent activity.
o Therefore it is imperative that the UN ensures sanctions regimes are used to better effect and where appropriate, states must be held accountable for their failure to implement sanctions.
o States should be obliged to report at least annually to the Sanctions Committee on how they are implementing sanctions and what steps they have taken to ensure all companies that may be affected by the sanctions are aware of them.
o Where there are breaches in the sanctions or a failure to implement them then both the state and companies involved need to be held to account.
All UN Special Rapporteurs should:
o Be fully aware of how the UN Guiding Principles affect and apply to their mandate.
o Be required to report annually to the UN Working Group on how the UN Guiding Principles affect their mandate.
In addition, if the Special Rapporteurs have any urgent or salient examples or concerns regarding the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles, a mechanism should be introduced that would enable this information to be brought to the attention of the UN Working Group as soon as possible with the clear understanding that this information be acted upon swiftly and effectively. This information would then be collated by the UN Working Group and included in their publicly available reports to the UN Human Rights Council.
The UN Working Group should :
o Become a forum to enable breaches or failures of implementation of the UN Guiding Principles to be reported. This would require an expansion of its current mandate to enable it to undertake investigations and report on conclusions and recommendations for improvement. There is already a precedent for this type of system, for example under the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People.
o Where appropriate, present their findings – or information supplied by other UN agencies – outside of their regular reporting to the UN Human Rights Council to ensure there is no delay in remedying any ongoing corporate human rights abuses, or failures of implementation by states.
o Consult with and feed into the work of the UN Expert Panels to ensure that the corporate dynamic of any conflict – whether that is as a facilitator, financer, beneficiary or cause - is fully understood and reported on.
All UN agencies, bodies, staff and forces must :
o Be are fully aware of the obligations of states and companies as outlined in the UN Guiding Principles and what they can do to make sure the UN Guiding Principles are being upheld. This in-depth knowledge must be complemented by effective cooperation within the UN system to ensure there is no duplication of effort or, potentially more damaging, gaps where information is lost.
o Monitor and report on cases of corporations linked to human rights abuses and report these to the relevant investigative or prosecutorial authorities.
o Ensure that conversations the UN has with governments, address their interpretation and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles.
o Regularly report to the UN Human Rights Council on how they are monitoring and encouraging the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles, and as appropriate, any breaches they have seen or been made aware of.
The UN need to ensure that all states:
o Introduce methodologies for ensuring all their companies, operating at home or abroad, are aware, understand and are implementing the UN Guiding Principles. This needs to include regular monitoring and evaluation of their companies’ understanding and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles.
o Collate information regarding their companies operations at home and abroad including allegations of corporate behaviour that would be in breach of the UN Guiding Principles.
o Respond swiftly and genuinely to allegations and evidence of any breaches by any companies’ operating within their jurisdiction.
o Include reporting on the UN Guiding Principles in the Universal Periodic Review and other country reporting mechanisms, including to the Sanctions Committees and Expert Panels or Groups.
o Report at least annually to the UN Working Group on their activities regarding the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles. This process will also require an opportunity for 3rd party scrutiny of these claims.