Africa critical to advancing business in human rights agenda – UN Expert

The Vice Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Pichamon Yeophantong, has indicated that the African Continent is important to advancing business in the human rights agenda.

She noted that the world could not do it without Africa.

“There is such a lot of optimism and hope, I think, for many countries and other parts of the world whose supply chains cut across the African continent. There is a hope that African states, African businesses as well as foreign businesses operating on the Continent will be working together collaborative to advance business in human right because this is a cross-cutting issue that concerns everyone. It concerns businesses because it will have impact on their profit margin. It concerns state because it will enhance security and it concerns communities because they are the ones who are affected when violations are occurring. Together this requires a collective effort and the world cannot do it without Africa.”

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are a set of guidelines for States and companies to prevent, address, and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations.

They were proposed by UN Special Representative on business and human rights, John Ruggie, and endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. In the same resolution, the UN Human Rights Council established the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

On the UN Guiding Principles, Mrs.  Yeophantong said they are meant to help set standards and expectations for how businesses should behave and respect human rights. She noted that it also shows how the state should behave in order to protect human rights violations.

“So, the guiding principles themselves are made up of three pillars. The State duty to protect, the business responsibility to respect and access to remedy. Access to remedy is one of the lesser developed pillars of the UNGP but because it’s so difficult to implement and practice but nonetheless taken together the reflective set of voluntary principles that help to make a more inclusive future when it comes to business and human right.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the African Union Forum on Business and Human Rights, the Vice Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Madam Yeophantong, added that getting the UN guiding principles endorsed by the Human Rights Council was a major step forward because it represented how states were willing to go back to this agenda.

“But also, the UNGPs, even though they were not really making rules or new norms per se laws, they nonetheless represented the kind of convergence of existing standards, international human right laws, principles. It spotlighted how business human right is very important issue now. One that we cannot ignore now and that every state needs to be involved to ensure that what businesses do will contribute to economic activities but also to human security.”

Pichaman Yeophantong announced that this year, the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights will take place in a hybrid format from November 28-30, 2022, under the theme “Rights holders at the centre: Strengthening accountability to advance business respect for people and planet in the next decade”.

The 11th annual Forum will take stock of efforts at securing accountability and access to remedy, in order to focus on how the implementation of the UNGPs can be accelerated from a rights holder perspective.

The agenda of the 2022 Forum will continue the trend of the past two years in offering a leaner agenda compared to previous editions of the Forum, also considering that the Palais des Nations has been under renovation. While the event will still cover a broad range of issues and hear from a diverse group of actors from all regions, the more condensed format will enable focused discussions on key issues.

The 2022 Forum will continue to serve as the leading UN platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue on business and human rights. Subject to public health regulations relating to the pandemic, the Forum will take place in a hybrid format, which will include in-person and virtual participation, as the situation allows.

Information about the agenda, registration process, and any other relevant information will be posted on the Forum’s dedicated webpage in due course.

In view of the above, an open call for session proposals and side events will be issued.

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