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Freshfields Sustainability

| 3 minutes read

UN Global Forum on Business and Human Rights, day three: human rights, climate change and mediation as an access to remedy

Day three of this year's Forum focused on the crossover between human rights and climate change, the use of mediation to resolve disputes, regional trends – and key takeaways from the various stakeholder groups.

The role of human rights in climate change

The crossover between human rights and climate change was a key agenda item on the third and final day of this year's Forum. 

Speakers, including Emily Hickson of The B Team, the nonprofit initiative co-founded by Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, agreed that the corporate responsibility to respect human and environmental rights must include responding to climate change, even though it is not expressly mentioned in either the Guiding Principles or the OECD Guidelines for MNEs.    

Surya Deva from the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights said the Working Group is increasingly focusing on climate change as a ‘cross-cutting’ human rights issue. ‘We must integrate climate change in all business and human rights debates,’ he added, describing the sequencing of ‘development first, climate mitigation later’ as ‘highly problematic’. Brynn O`Brien of  the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility went further still, branding climate change as ‘the most pressing business and human rights issue’ of all.

National Action Plans around the world

Various sessions on day three explored business and human rights issues from a regional perspective.

Participants heard how Asian governments are pushing ahead with the development of National Action Plans (NAPs); Thailand was the first Asian country to adopt one in October, while similar frameworks are in the pipeline in India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Pakistan. Elsewhere, South Korea has inserted a chapter on business and human rights into its generic human rights NAP, with Nepal in the process of doing likewise.

Another session covered the ‘Responsible business conduct in Latin America and the Caribbean’ project, which is designed to support sustainable growth in the region in line with the UN, International Labour Organization and OECD frameworks.

The project is being developed in partnership with the European Union and will involve a combination of regional and national activities across nine countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama and Peru. Once again, NAPs will form a central pillar.  

Is mediation the best way to resolve disputes?

Another session looked at the rising importance of mediation as a mechanism to resolve business and human rights disputes.

Cristina Tébar-Less, acting head of the OECD Centre for Responsible Business Conduct, stressed that clear procedural rules are a vital component of any effective mediation regime. She said that the OECD’s National Contact Points (NCPs) could play an important role given they are the only state-based non-judicial grievance mechanism that provides for mediation.

However she also pointed out that to build trust in the NCP system requires ‘visibility, openness, accessibility, transparency and accountability’ to assure stakeholders that the process is fair. Users of the NCP mechanism need to know its advantages and disadvantages, not least that it is not an arbitral venue and is not able to impose sanctions.

Stakeholders’ key takeaways from the 2019 forum…

The forum closed with representatives from all the various stakeholder groups (indigenous, business, trade union, government and civil society) sharing their takeaways. One industry representative highlighted on the emphasis on Pillar 1 of the UN Guiding Principles (the state duty to protect) saying that ‘where states are proactive, it facilitates business in implementing Pillar 2’ (the corporate responsibility to protect). Others described discussion about the challenges of achieving progress on the ground as ‘the starting point for change’. For Surya Deva of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, access to remedy is the key challenge because without it, the ‘rights’ in human rights lose their meaning.

…and our own

'The number of businesses calling for regulation rather than voluntary standards was remarkable. The message was clear: any rules have to be consistent, aligned with the UNGPs and involve incentives and ways of reporting'

Marlen Vesper-Gräske, associate

‘It was interesting to hear several panels debate how to ensure technology develops in a way that respects and protects human rights. There is concern about surveillance and the use of AI, not only in the private sector but also in administrative and judicial proceedings. Integrating human rights considerations into any efforts to regulate big data and AI was raised as a potential solution, something that should be on the radar of all businesses’

Marius Scherb, associate

Fact of the day


Private sector participation in the UN Global Forum on Business and Human Rights was up by almost one-third on last year. In total 2,400 people participated across the three days.

Quote of the day

‘Climate change is the most pressing business and human rights issue’

Brynn O`Brien, executive director, Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility