4th UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

On November 16-18, 2015, Geneva hosted the 4th Annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. The forum was attended by 2,300 participants from 130 countries. Among them, non-profit organizations accounted for 36%, representatives of the business community 22%, scientists 15%, and trade unions 1%.

The main topic of the forum was devoted to observance of human rights within the framework of entrepreneurial activity. The session participants paid special attention to the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable social groups:

  • the indigenous population, on whose territory of residence companies are developing mineral deposits or building large-scale construction projects, such as plants, dams and power plants;
  • working women, migrants, and representatives of ethnic minorities;
  • children, whose welfare can be affected by entrepreneurial activity.

It should be recalled that the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights is the main venue for the promotion and implementation of the “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”. This document was adopted in 2011 by the UN Council on Human Rights and represents the first global standard that enshrines the obligations of entrepreneurs and the state before the civil society, preventing the violation of human rights as a result of entrepreneurial activity.

As far as the direct mandate of the UN Forum is concerned, it is not a special body of the UN Council on Human Rights or any other decision-making UN body and the results at the end of the Forum are not considered binding for its participants. However, the Forum has been established as a key platform of stakeholders from all regions to discuss the issues of entrepreneurial activity and human rights, and identify existing trends and challenges related to the implementation of the Guidelines. The purpose of the Forum is the exchange of knowledge and building a strategy for the observance of human rights in entrepreneurial activity.

The main issues raised by the Forum participants were the following:

  • The national plan and its implementation by states;
  • Business and human rights in the Asian region;
  • Corruption and human rights;
  • Local communities and the impact of business on their development.

 

The ECSN delegation proposed combating the phenomenon of “corporate capture”, which covers all spheres of social activity. Studies have been conducted that clearly illustrate the negative impact of “corporate capture” on human rights.

Thus, for example, a study conducted in Russia shows that the phenomenon of “corporate capture” is strongly connected with the problem of institutional corruption, which ultimately leads to a restriction in the population’s access to high quality medicines and services, especially for persons living with HIV.

A similar study has been conducted in India. In India, the capture of the medical services market is conducted in two ways: ideologically (when the market needs no regulation, and the prices for medicines increase driven by market players) and by “revolving doors” (when representatives of Big Pharma get into the ministry and the committees that are directly involved in policy-making in health care and regulation of the pharmaceutical market).

A study conducted in South Africa has shown how multinational corporations had restricted the development of local farmers by establishing high prices for seeds and agrochemical fertilizers in order to avoid competition and to remove small farms from the market. Multinational corporations have provided cheap and unhealthy food to the food market. In addition, they have avoided taxes in the countries where they opened their branches through transfer pricing.

To combat such capture of the market by multinational corporations, the following recommendations have been formulated:

1. Improvement of regulation

A) To limit the influence of multinational corporations in the production of food by developing strategies aimed at poverty reduction and the implementation of programs of local agriculture development. To limit the dominance of multinational companies in the market by special regulation of the market, and to prevent tax evasion by multinational corporations through transfer pricing.

B) In the health care sector, government bodies should aim at reducing prices for medicines and generics. Governments should develop programmes to reduce the prices of vital medicines by way of compulsory licensing of critical medicines and expanding the production of generic drugs.

2. Promotion of democracy and civic participation

State institutions can be protected from the takeover of business by improving anti-corruption legislation, prohibiting the financing of election campaigns by business, as well as introducing restrictions on personal contributions to party accounts.

Public participation is the key to public policy, the main purpose of which is to protect the public interests from the personal interests of the business. Transparency and access to information is an essential condition for the effective participation of civil society. Governments should actively promote public participation, and civil society organizations need to actively demand such promotion.

3. To increase the level of democracy of the international community

To stop the privatization of global governance, where the private business interests are beginning to prevail. One of the main problems is how the international authorities are funded and what issues they are bringing to the agenda in areas such as food, health care, taxes, finance, environment and others.

As always, the Forum served as an excellent platform for the exchange of views among the global community.

 

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