11th Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights


Members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights,

Distinguished panellists,

Colleagues and friends,

I am really pleased to be here.

Since the beginning of my mandate as High Commissioner for Human Rights, I have engaged on several occasions on this important issue.

Over the course of the last three days, we have heard first hand from rights holders, civil society, business, and States across the spectrum of issues – ranging from development finance to confronting racism to the responsibility of business in conflict situations – on how to strengthen accountability and access to remedy for business-related human rights abuses.

I welcome the fact that this year’s forum has placed rights holders at the centre – and that human rights defenders were active in all sessions.

Their meaningful engagement is the most effective way to understand and grasp our global challenges – and craft the solutions that are urgently needed.

So we can learn what works in practice, can share this knowledge, others can build on it and ultimately achieve better outcomes for people.

In order to address today’s global challenges, we need all hands on deck. Business has an important role to play in this endeavour. I am pleased that many business representatives joined the Forum’s discussions.

Allow me to recall that whether our events are physical or virtual, the same standards of dignity, respect and tolerance apply.

This Forum must remain a safe and inclusive space for a constructive dialogue by all stakeholders, without discrimination, intimidation, or reprisal.

One message that comes across clearly is the need to do more.

Young people are clamouring for accountability and for change – they want to see a transformation taking place. As are those who have suffered harm. Both in the way businesses operate, also – and more fundamentally – in the way we ensure economic growth. It has to be built on values and on the SDGs. We need to rejuvenate our values; to re-evaluate our relationship with the natural world; and make sure these efforts are underpinned by human rights.

We know that State laws and policies can be strengthened as part of the smart mix of measures to protect people and planet from harmful business activities throughout the value chain.

And the business community can do more to avoid harm and address it where it occurs.

This change – and this commitment – must be genuine and authentic. Not by sticking a label on a product or publishing one pager on a website.

Otherwise – the shadow side of it – as we know, is child labour, modern slavery, targeted killing of indigenous peoples and human rights and environmental defenders persist. And the continuous shrinking of civic space.

And we know that economic activity can lead to a loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation on a global scale and contribute to the climate crisis.

We need a radical transformation: to put human rights at the heart of our economies and State policies.

The Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” provides a blueprint for our responses. It recognizes the role and impact of business on human rights, in terms of climate change or in conflict, or our financial systems. So, we need for more inclusive, networked and effective multilateralism: the private sector is a key piece of the architecture needed to rebuild trust and to tackle our most pressing global challenges. To ensure accountability and remedy.

It must be unequivocal: business profit cannot be at any expense. We have to take into account the impact of profit on people.

The good news is, we are seeing this change happen in many ways.

Like mandatory human rights due diligence, which has a knock-on effect on countries through value chains. For instance, some countries have introduced or are in the process of drafting mandatory human rights due diligence legislation (France, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands). At regional level, the European Union is considering a Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence.

As this Forum heard, law firms are coming together to exchange practice and to support each other across regions. This can be very powerful to pursue climate justice litigation for instance.

I welcome these advancements and encourage others to think about such initiatives, ensuring efforts are aligned with international standards, notably the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

To truly strengthen the enjoyment of human rights.

Multilateral stakeholder meetings like this Forum are essential to creating conditions for all of us to find solutions to these global challenges.

To foster new relationships across sectors. To break down the silos and avoid the fragmentation that we see.

The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights coming up next year is an opportunity to reconfirm the principles of this miraculous text – and the role of all – in light of current and future challenges, especially as we get closer to 2030.

We can make this a rallying call next year, to make sure we create real positive change in the lived experience of people everywhere.

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