Civil Society Human Rights and Business Strategy Meeting & UN Forum on B&HR
On December 6, 2012, following the UN Forum on Business & Human Rights, the ESCR-Net Corporate Accountability Working Group (CAWG) held a civil society strategy meeting on human rights and business, hosted by the International Commission of Justice (ICJ) and co-facilitated by Rights & Accountability in Development (RAID). Sixteen civil society organizations working on corporate accountability (fourteen from ESCR-Net’s membership) joined together to discuss their reflections on the UN Forum and to consider their plans for 2013. Aside from the organizers, the groups attending were: Centre for the Protection Ogbogolo People (CENPOP, Nigeria), International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR, USA), Terra de Direitos (TDD, Brazil), Federation Internationale des ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH, Global), Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre (Nigeria), European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ, Europe), Amnesty International (Global), CONECTAS (Brazil/Latin America), Halifax Institute (Canada), DeJusticia (Colombia/Latin America), FORUM ASIA (Asia), FIAN (Global), Citizens For Justice (CFJ, Malawi), Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP, Nigeria).
The strategy meeting focused in part on critical reflections on the UN Forum that had occurred during the previous two days. It was expressed that representatives of people affected by corporate human rights abuses were far under-represented at the Forum – with the exception of many indigenous peoples’ groups that organized well for the event and used the Forum effectively to advocate their positions in many sessions and with members of the UN Working Group. Reflecting more introspectively on the role of civil society actors, there was a general feeling among the participants that a lack of coordination by civil society in preparation for and collaboration around the UN Forum led to the feeling that little was gained by participating. In turn, there was a feeling that we should have a greater degree of communication and coordination in the months prior to the 2013 UN Forum to decide if and how to effectively engage.
This discussion led to a broader discussion among participants about the objectives of engagement with the UN Working Group and the Forum. Similarly, it was agreed that further discussion was required on these important points. However, overall there was acknowledgement that the Working Group represented only one opportunity at the UN for engagement, and that many groups had successfully made progress in engaging with other areas of the UN and a wider range of institutions, such as international financial institutions. All agreed that it was important to take a pro-active approach to various opportunities, rather than reacting to last-minute possibilities for engagement.
Another agreed point from the meeting was that the UN Working Group should not be called on to interpret the application of international human rights law to cases of corporate abuse of human rights. Rather, the participants at the meeting concluded that national and regional courts, as well as other specialized UN bodies and agencies are more qualified to do this, such as Special Rapporteurs and treaty bodies. The group also acknowledged other areas of potential progress that could prove fruitful. In particular, there was interest from some groups present in following up on the opportunity presented by former UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Human Rights and Business, Professor John Ruggie, in his speech that opened the Forum. In the speech, he referred to the need to clarify categorically that “the corporate form cannot be used as a shield behind which companies can commit or be complicit in the worst human rights abuses”. This is permitted to occur, it was recognized by John Ruggie, because of a lack of clarity regarding “what precisely the international standards stipulate and require”. He stated that only an inter-governmental process can provide such clarity, and he urged States to respond accordingly. This will be an opportunity that some groups will explore developing further in 2013.Finally, the CSO strategy meeting participants considered two opportunities for collaborative engagement in 2013 and beyond – the ‘Dismantle Corporate Power’ (DCP) campaign, which is a broad civil society movement to challenge ‘corporate power’, and an ESCR-Net initiative to host a ‘Peoples’ Forum on Human Rights and Business’. Both were considered in turn. The group decided to reach out to the organizers of the DCP campaign to learn more about this grouping, campaign objectives and substance. Then, the participants discussed the Peoples’ Forum, with the ESCR-Net CAWG coordinator explained the vision for the People’s Forum—to bring attention to affected communities and ongoing corporate human rights violations, provide a space for collective strategizing involving grassroots groups and Global South NGOs, and building capacity. Then participants discussed how this forum could be useful as a means of tying in the various areas of work of different groups. In an effort to do this better – and as a means of setting the focus of the Peoples’ Forum – it was decided that early in 2013 a smaller group of the participants at the meeting would come together (attentive to the regional and gender diversity of participants) to consider developing a unifying ‘global corporate accountability call’. The ‘call’ would serve as a focal point for corporate accountability priorities that human rights groups around the world could relate to and use to guide themes in their work. The grouping met in January 2013 and decided to focus the call on ‘Regulation and Remedy’ as the main theme of the call. The specific substance of this theme is currently being further developed collaboratively by this grouping of organisations. More information will be available about this soon.
For further information, please contact Dom Renfrey at: drenfrey[at]escr-net.org
Photo 1: Debbie Stothard, FIDH Deputy Secretary General, addressing the UN Forum, Geneva, Dec 4, 2012
Photo 2: Saro Pyagbara, President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), and ESCR-Net Board Member, attending a session at the UN