"Human Rights are good business"
- United Nations Global Compact Summit
24 June 2010
From 24-25 June, representatives of more than 1,000 companies, headquartered in all regions, gathered in New York to assess their progress under the United Nations Global Compact, the world's largest corporate citizenship initiative.
The Global Compact, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, seeks to foster business practices that align with universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.
Among these principles, the more than 5,000 businesses which currently participate in the Global Compact have committed to "support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights," and to make sure they are "not complicit in human rights abuses."
A decade ago, few companies saw human rights as relevant to their operations, let alone had made a public commitment to respect them. I saw this begin to change during my term as UN high commissioner for human rights. Business leaders began to see how a range of dilemmas -- from complying with government censorship requirements, to providing finance for infrastructure projects that displace large numbers of people, to contracting with security forces which violate basic rights standards -- could all result in a range of reputational and legal risks for companies.
Today, we are getting closer to a tipping point when private-sector leaders from all industry sectors will recognize their companies need to engage proactively with human rights issues and demonstrate they are doing so in practice. More companies now see how respecting human rights can not only help avoid risk but can also contribute to good community and employee relations.
For many companies, the first step in that process involves developing a publicly stated policy on human rights. A still small but steadily growing number of firms from a range of business sectors and regions have adopted human rights policy statements to guide their efforts...
In a side-event on 24 June, Mary Robinson, as Chair of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, moderates a panel featuring Professor John Ruggie (UN Special Representative on business and human rights), Mr Jamshed Irani (Director of the Board, Tata Sons), Mr Paul Polman (CEO, Unilever Plc.), His Excellency Ambassador Mr Herman Schaper (Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations), and His Excellency Ambassador Mr Martin Dahinden (Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation).
The panel is discussing the United Nations framework for Business and Human Rights (???Protect, Respect and Remedy???) and how governments and companies can benefit from and support it.
New publications, on human rights due diligence and an assessment of the overall impact of the Global Compact, are being formally launched by the Institute at this event.
Mary Robinson also participated in Plenary 1 of the morning session on 24 June, entitled: Setting the Sustainability Agenda.
Her contribution can be viewed in the clip below, commencing at: 52min34sec.