Sunday, March 31, 2019

Call for Sessions and Papers; 8th UN Forum for Business and Human Rights--"Time to act: Governments as catalysts for business respect for human rights"

Call for session proposals for 8th UN Forum on #BizHumanRights (25-27 Nov 2019) has now been circulated. Further information may be found HERE.

This year's theme moves us back from the enterprise and form remedies--a focus of the last several years, to that most troublesome partner in the Three Pillar structure fo the UNGPs--the state (in all its glory): Time to act: Governments as catalysts for business respect for human rights ⁦‪@WGBizHRs‬⁩ ⁦‪@BHRJournal‬⁩⁦‪@BHRRC‬⁩ ⁦‪@corpjust‬⁩ ⁦‪@AfricanACCA‬⁩ ⁦‪@OHCHRAsia‬⁩.

This ought not to come as a great surprise--it may be time to speak to the convergence of the UNGP and the Comprehensions Treaty processes.  It may also be time to consider how enterprises and NGOs can also act as a catalyst for state duty to protect human rights in the context of economic activity.  And indeed, as I have noted before (here), it is hard for states to serve as catalysts for much of anything when they can't get their own houses in order. But of course some states are leading by example--and that is likely the point of the focus.  As for the rest, well there is a lot to speak to beyond the usal fall back of extraterritorial projection of standards from the usual suspects (and now increasingly through the Belt and Road Initiative) from China as well.  In that context the Forum should provide a venue for rich discussion.    

As a side note, it is unfortunate that the dates selected immediately precede US Thanksgiving.  But of course, perhaps the Americans who can most actively participate, especially in the increasingly important post Forum conferences, may find this holiday inconsequential, a cultural stance then reflected by the leadership. A pity.

In any case I hope many of you will be inspired to submit proposals.  As most know, barely a small fraction of proposals are accepted, and of these most wind up being creatures of consolidation of multiple proposals. This year will be worse because of construction at the venue site.  The organizers have indicated that no more than 2000 persons will be able to participate in 2019.  Still, the conference theme should serve to energize--perhaps it is time to act; perhaps it is time to serve as catalyst; and perhaps the interrogation of the state and its failures to do either except as it suits them from time to time might be a perfect place to start.

And don't forget about SNAPSHOT PRESENTATIONS (as a side note I may be able to host these myself--more on that later). 

Links to more information and the Concept Note follows below. 


About the Forum

The UN annual Forum on Business and Human Rights is the global platform for stock-taking and lesson-sharing on efforts to move the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights from paper to practice. As the world’s foremost gathering in this area, it provides a unique space for dialogue between governments, business, civil society, affected groups and international organizations on trends, challenges and good practices in preventing and addressing business-related human rights impacts. The first Forum was held in 2012. It attracts more than 2,000 experts, practitioners and leaders for three days of an action- and solution-oriented dialogue.

The Forum was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011  “to discuss trends and challenges in the implementation of the Guiding Principles and promote dialogue and cooperation on issues linked to business and human rights, including challenges faced in particular sectors, operational environments or in relation to specific rights or groups, as well as identifying good practices” (resolution 17/4, paragraph 12).
The Forum addresses all three pillars of the Guiding Principles:
  • The State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation and adjudication;
  • The corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts with which a business is involved; and
  • The need for access to effective remedy for rights-holders when abuse has occurred, through both judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms.
The Forum is guided and chaired by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and organized by its Secretariat at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Date and location: 25-27 November 2019, Geneva (Switzerland)
Concept note: Concept note now available
Participation: Information on participation
Call for proposals: Call for session proposals now open

Call for "snapshot proposals" now open
Get involved:Submit information on government implementation of the UN Guiding Principles
Follow us on Twitter for updates:@WGBizHRs
Hashtag:#UNForumBHR / #bizhumanrights


The Forum is open to all relevant stakeholder groups, including States, the wider UN system, intergovernmental and regional organizations, businesses, trade unions, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations, and affected stakeholders, among others. Since the first Forum in 2012 participation has grown every year, reaching more than 2,700 registrations in 2018. Due to ongoing building works at the Palais des Nations in Geneva and limits of venue capacity, participation will be capped at around 2,000 participants for the 2019 event. All participants must register online. The registration form will be made available on this web page in due course. The Forum organizers will strive to achieve balanced participation between women and men and between relevant stakeholder groups and geographic regions. Parties interested in participating when registering must indicate their organizational affiliation, job title, nationality, place of work, and clearly state how participation in the Forum may benefit their work. Due to the space limitations, only a very limited number of externally-organized (non-UN) parallel sessions or side events can be accommodated. The same applies to space available for the “snapshot” presentation tracks organized at the 2017 and 2018 Forums.Beyond the proposals for sessions, the Forum organizers welcome any other suggestions for the programme. Ideas and suggestions can be sent to


Time to act: Governments as catalysts for business respect for human rights

A key message from the 2018 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights was that governments must step up their action and leadership. Currently, they are not doing enough to meet their duty to protect against business-related human rights abuse. While important legal developments are evolving in some jurisdictions,and the number of countries developing national action plans on business and human rights continuesto grow, the effectiveness of current efforts and the lack of wider action are being called into question.

The lack of government leadership, reflected in governance gaps and a lack of policycoherence at all levels –national, regional and global –remains a fundamental challengeto ensuring that the human rights and dignity of all are upheld in the context of business activities. These gaps have been a recurrent theme at all Forumssince thefirst edition in 2012, and a key reason for the development of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which provide the main reference for Forum discussions.

At the Forum, civil society organizations, affected stakeholders and business alike have called on States to step up action, through strengthened regulation, improvedpolicy coherence, and through leading by example in the various roles States have as economic actors.

The 2019 Forum will focus on the need for allgovernments to demonstrate progress, commitments and plans in implementing the State duty to protectand strengthening accountability. As the Guiding Principles clarify, ensuring access to effective remedy is also a part of the State duty to protect against business-related human rights abuse, and discussions on government action need to address the full spectrum of measures from prevention to remediation.

The Forum agenda will look at what governments need to do to foster business respect for human rights, including by getting their own house in order and by setting clear expectations and creating incentives for responsible business conduct. In doing so, the agenda will consider the Guiding Principles’ call for “asmart mix of measures–national and international, mandatory and voluntary, incentives and sanctions –to foster business respect for human rights” and what this can mean in practice.

2019 Forum topics

Potential topics and agenda items under this theme mayinclude:

Lessons from current legislative and policy efforts to drive corporate human rights due diligence and how to create incentives that work

Lesson from other relevantfields, such as anti-corruption and environmental protection

What outside push and pull is needed to get States to act to address gaps in human rights protection

Lessons from recent developments and efforts to improve access to effective remedy for business-related human rights abuse

Lessons from business action in situations where the State is failing or absent, such as in relation to attacks on human rights defenders and in conflict contexts, and how to scale up good practice

Practical ways of improvingpolicy coherence across Government ministries and departments

Overcoming legal obstacles to collective action

Ways of improving policy coherence in multilateral fora that deal with development, trade, investment and financeImproving the performance of States in their roles as economic actor (in the context of SOEs, institutional investors, sovereign wealth funds, development finance, trade promotion, public procurement)

Developments in public sector finance practice on remediation

Strengtheningregional “races to the top” on business and human rights

Bringing the State back in to make multi-stakeholder initiatives more effective

What does the State duty to protect against business-related human rights abuse mean in practical policy and “smart mix” of measures –for both home and host States as well as for collective action–inthe context of key current issues such as:
-the continuous tragedy of dam failures
–through better prevention, accountability and remedy-large-scale infrastructure development projects-extraterritorial regulation
-the gig economy
-protecting the rights of migrant labour
-artificial intelligence-climate change, business and human rights
-engaging SMEs-regulating the informal sector-safeguarding the rights of groups at risk-rethinking business models that work for society
-how to build sustainable peace and reconstruction in countries emerging from conflict and fragility and address corporate crimes
-public-private partnerships to realize sustainable development goals

Integrating gender and greater attention to the rights of women across State and business action

From the perspective of human rights defenders and affected rights holders(including worker representatives, indigenous peoples’ representatives, affected community representatives), what changes in government and business practice need to happen?


“Snapshot” presentations

The 2017 and 2018 Forums featured tracks with “snapshot” presentations of practice examples and experiences, tools, and new research.

Due to the space limitations for the 2019 event, only a limited number of such presentations may be included in the programme.  However, in order to enable wider exchange of new insights and developments, interested parties can submit 2-minute video presentations/lightning talks that may be posted on a dedicated online platform linked to the 2019 Forum. These may feature relevant new research, tools and initiatives focused on implementation of one or more of the three pillars of the Guiding Principles. In order to spur new thinking, presentations may also highlight relevant lessons from other fields (for example, anti-corruption, business ethics, development, behavioural economics). A small selection of presenters may be invited to participate in the snapshot track at the Forum.Instructions for submitting video presentations:

2-minute video file (mp4 format)
1-page attachment describing the content
Snappy presentations focused on new and forward-looking insights
Send to forumbhr@ohchr.orgby 1 June.

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