Thursday, July 30, 2020

Going Virtual--9th Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights 16-18 November 2020 and the Coalition for Peace & Ethics Statement Welcoming the Virtual Forum Event

I am delighted to pass along the announcement of the organization of the 9th Annual Forum for Business and Human Rights, a principal undertaking of the UN Working Group for Business and Human Rights, in virtual form. Here is the announcement from their website:
9th Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights

Thank you for visiting the website of the 9th Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights! Due to the ongoing worldwide challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, which guides and chairs the Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, has decided that the 2020 edition of the Forum will be held virtually from 16 to 18 November 2020.

Reflecting on the current global situation and the renewed emphasis on the need to prevent harm to people and the planet resulting from business activities, the prevention of business-related human rights abuses will be the central theme of the 2020 Forum. The Forum agenda will seek to reinforce the message that strengthening prevention– by learning from both good practices and from when things have gone wrong, as well as by addressing systemic gaps – can help to build a sustainable future for people and the planet.

The Working Group hopes that using virtual platforms will extend the global reach of the Forum and open it up to even more stakeholders. The relevant information, including the concept note and agenda for the 2020 Annual Forum will be provided in due course on this webpage dedicated to the Forum, as well as via the Working Groups twitter account @UNWGizHRs
Please consider joining in the virtual event. The referenced statement, "COVID-19: State and business respect for human rights critical to resilience and recovery, say UN experts"  [Chinese | Spanish"] also follows below.


In connection with this event, the Coalition for Peace &Ethics has issued the following Statement:

The Annual Form on Business and Human Rights is where the great global influercers drive the agenda and the narrative for the management of the human rights effects of economic activity.  It is an important event for the crafting of the relationship between human rights, philanthropy and sustainability--especially in the way that states, civil society, and enterprises are expected to think about value, and approach each.  It is, lastly, a forum for driving group think about accountability and the valuation of institutions, institutional actors, and the hierarchy of influencers in this area. This is one important site where collective meaning is made and imposed respecting business and human rights; where the concepts are limited and directed; and where from those constraining reality framing principles, accountability and operationalization acquire legitimacy tested against the approved meaning-narrative.  A sries of consequences and challenges follow:

1. For these thought leaders, the move from business and human rights to the legalization of a harm principle deeply embedded in enterprise compliance mechanisms is already being developed.  But the evolution of that principle and its tremendous consequences for the remedial pillar remains to be acknowledged, except in the form of the development of approaches designed to construct theory out of practice.

2. Likewise, the detachment of philanthropy and its marginalization--even as enterprises move decisively to shift the center of their social responsibility (including human rights and sustainability) from enterprises to foundations)--is moving quickly toward narrative orthodoxy.  

3. Moreover, the continued effort to construct a narrative in which human rights serves as the lens through which all economic activity is understood continues to be built, and with it an implicit hierarchy of perspective in which sustainability is understood as consequential and derivative to the principal project.  

4. In addition, the effort to deploy all of this language to continue the project of human rights imperialism--extending from developed states outward, remains unchallenged--and here the issue of funding and capacity driving narrative remains unexplored, whether the source are the OECD states and leading Marxist-Leninist states now financing an alternative perspective. Should money drive narrative? That remains a question unasked and certainly unanswered.       

5. The contradictions of remedy remain to be resolved.  That contradiction is inherent in the drive toward the use of market mechanisms and the delegation of regulatory authority to private actors to develop a private transnational law of business and human rights--the inevitable result of the increasing reliance on disclosure mechanisms (Modern Slavery Act; Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence regimes,  and related statutory approaches)--and the inherently regulatory and administrative approaches of a prevent-mitigate-remedy standard administered by public bodies.  

6. Lastly, the emerging role of data and data governance provides an irresistible temptation.  And yet data driven governance's human rights effects have produced little by way of sustained consideration for its effects on the human rights enterprise.  This is of considerable importance in a context in which data driven governance is challenged  when exercised by the state in some contexts but goes unremarked in many contexts when used to further a human rights objective legitimated by the orthodox narrative.
7.  And thus the central theme of the 9th Forum--the COVID-19 pandemic and prevention--provides a useful window on these significant trends, contradictions, and trajectories. Yet one ought not to treat the pandemic as producing something new--instead, the value of shaping discussion through the pandemic, is to understand the way that major events help accelerate, but do not appreciably change--the trajectories of events already in the process of occurring.  One van use COVID-19 to shine of light on those actions, objectives, desires, and narratives that were otherwise slowly and quietly seeping their way into official, but one ought to remember that these trends will long outlast the disease that has brought such tragedy in such a condensed period of time to so many. 
For these reasons, and to the extent it might produce a marginal effect on those who drive these things, The Coalition for Peace & Ethics urges all who would seek to meaningfully engage in agenda setting, in the construction of narrative, in the process of collective meaning making, and in the construction of systems of valuation, to attend this virtual event.  But bnot just to attend this virtual event, rather it the 9th Annual Forum provides an important opportunity for those whose voices are rarely heard to help shape what is to come. 

 COVID-19: State and business respect for human rights critical to resilience and recovery, say UN experts

Chinese | Spanish

GENEVA (28 April 2020): Governments and business must prioritise the wellbeing and rights of all in society, and particularly vulnerable workers, as they try to keep firms and economies afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of UN experts said.

In a statement issued today, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights said the global health and economic crisis is an unprecedented test for governments and businesses not to lower human rights standards and urged them not to cut corners in the push for economic growth. It is vital to protect workers who are most vulnerable to abuse and loss of livelihood.

“The workers who sew our masks in factories, who staff essential services and transport, and who farm the land, or care for the sick, amidst the crisis, are essential to our survival,” said the Working Group’s Vice-Chair, Anita Ramasastry.

“Yet, they are often the ones most vulnerable and at-risk of human rights abuses – often on temporary or abusive contracts, with low wages and few or no safety nets, and exposed to health and safety risks,” she stressed.

“As governments scramble to extend a financial lifeline to struggling businesses, any financial support or bailouts should come with a clear requirement – to commit to respect human rights and dignity of people,” Ramasastry said.

Companies have an independent responsibility to treat all with dignity and respect human rights and must ensure the health and safety of workers during the health crisis. Guarantees, such as paid sick leave and providing safety gear and equipment, are fundamental.

“Companies should also assess the impacts of business decisions and activities on workers in their supply chains and expect the same from their business partners and suppliers. While masks may be disposable, workers are not,” the expert said.

The Working Group said the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights already offer guidance for government and business responses during COVID-19. The three pillars of the Guiding Principles – “Protect, Respect and Remedy” – provide a globally agreed baseline for conduct both during the ongoing crisis and for a post-COVID-19 world.

“The pandemic will eventually pass. States and business actors must use this moment to not revert to business as usual, but to forge a new normal of business respect for human rights, based upon the globally agreed standard provided by the Guiding Principles,” Ramasastry said.


The UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (known as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights) was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 to promote worldwide dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It is composed of five independent experts, of balanced geographical representation. Its current members are: Mr. Githu Muigai (Chairperson), Ms. Anita Ramasastry (Vice-Chairperson); Mr. Surya Deva, Ms. Elżbieta Karska, and Mr. Dante Pesce,

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights , unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 (resolution 17/4), provide the authoritative global standard for action to safeguard human rights in a business context, clarifying what is expected of governments and companies to prevent and address impacts on human rights arising from business activity.

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

For further information and media requests, please contact Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / or write to

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Xabier Celaya (+41 22 917 9445 /

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