Michael Sippitt, Chairman of Clarkslegal and the Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform, reports from the closing day of the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva.
This annual forum, which attracts a diverse spread of businesses, professionals, international institutions, governmental representatives, NGOs, trade unions and interest groups from all over the world, has this year focused especially on access to remedies for human rights abuses.
There has been wide ranging discussion of judicial and non-judicial remedies, collaborative mechanisms, grievance processes, community engagement programmes, and the great challenge of safeguarding human rights and sustainability in complex supply chains.
Some large corporates have shared their approach to managing thousands of suppliers and their sub-contractors. This is a developing area where technology may help in due course but there is inevitable risk of non-compliance by some suppliers.
The Forum has taken into account legal progress such as the UK Modern Slavery Act, which is now beginning to bite on multinationals and should prove increasingly effective. The trend towards corporate responsibility, driven also by fear of reputational risks, has been clear from business interventions at the Forum.
Issues around industrial accidents in vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh have been examined, along with discussion of the Bangladesh Accord due for renewal in 2018.
A particular feature of the Forum and a key strength is the remarkable diversity of stakeholders engaged in global human rights, and how businesses help to drive progress in protecting people from State or Corporate disregard of human rights.
It is plain that overall progress is a combination of regulatory frameworks and business support for improvement, and indeed multinationals have a huge role to play influencing governments to raise and enforce standards generally.
There are examples of strong expressed commitments to enforce standards by governments such as Malaysia, which figures strongly in global supply chains and the ASEAN region.
There is noted concern on barriers still existing internationally to access to justice, but the Forum itself and the UN Guiding Principles are evidence of aspirations becoming attainable. Respect for human rights issues is becoming an accepted part of doing business in the global economy.
There are still gaps in the level of corporate attention paid to human rights impact assessments, but there is clear progress towards a collaborative global community of best practice.