Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Getting Down to Business and Human Rights

“Because of what we have learned this week with Global Rights, we will be able to fight more strongly for our rights.”

These feisty words were spoken by Dr. Jennifer Spiff from the Women Initiative for Transparency and Social Justice Organization in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.  She was one of 12 civil society members from nine African nations who participated in our recent workshop on business and human rights in London. 
Participants discuss civil society's critical role in working with governments
and corporations to protect human rights
I knew from the agenda that this was going to be unlike any workshop I’ve ever attended. For one of the first times, our workshop brought together three key constituencies – civil society, government and corporations – to discuss the many elements that make up the intersection of business and human rights.

We primarily focused on two important international mechanisms that when followed, protect communities from dangerous human rights violations: The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (GPs) and The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs).

For three day we had civil society, governments and businesses – all with different perspectives – exchanging ideas, suggestions and remedies to protect human rights. It was evident that despite diverse backgrounds, everyone at our workshop had a common goal: to ensure human rights are protected when natural resource extraction takes place.

What also became clear was that civil society has an important role in ensuring that state and business entities fulfill their responsibility to protect human rights.

For example, as we worked on the content of the GPs, participants agreed that civil society can play a critical role in holding governments and businesses accountable for their responsibilities to protect human rights.  By including human rights discussions early in negotiations and assessments with extractive industries and governments, civil society can ensure that the GPs are followed, and communities’ rights are not violated.

The same goes for the Voluntary Principles.  In our discussions with representatives from civil society, government and businesses, we agreed that civil society can keep pressure on governments and companies to improve their security practices and seek solutions to better protect human rights.  Through persistent advocacy and relationship building, civil society must be leaders in protecting their communities.

Flavia Milano, Global Rights' Natural Resources and Human
Rights Initiave Director with Michel Yobue from Cote D'Ivoire
I congratulate my colleague Flavia Milano for organizing such an invigorating three day discussion and for creating the space that facilitated these important conversations.  I would like to also thank the Ford Foundation making this conference possible.

Our colleagues from Africa learned not just from the presenters, but also from each other as they shared their own experiences, challenges and successes. The presenters, representing NGOs, government and corporations shared their knowledge and experience, but, I believe, gained a deeper understanding of how civil society works on these issues and how they can be more supportive of their efforts.

As I noted at the beginning, these three days were filled with energy, passion and commitment to continue the work and to make progress in securing a better world where government, business and civil society can work together to uphold human rights for all.


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

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