Business and Human Rights Conference, 15-16 September 2011

Last week I attended in London the conference “Business and Human Rights: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles”, organized by the BIICL in collaboration with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, the Söderberg Foundation, the International Bar Association, and Clifford Chance. A very intense day and a half. The conference was divided into six panels, each with several speakers combining knowledge and practical experience in the field. Indeed, one of the great successes of the conference was to bring together people dedicated to different activities in the field of human rights and business – academic, practical, institutional, with great variety within each of them. Not exhaustively: we could listen to Peter Muchlinsky (on state-owned transnational corporations and the Guiding Principles); Radu Mares (on the question of affiliates and the responsibility of the core company); Mary Dowell-Jones (a pessimistic view on the future of human rights as the financial crisis grows and expands); Christopher Ward (on the Australian Wheat Board Limited scandal, as an example of the failure of the state duty to protect); Patricia Feeney (on the Anvil case); Maurizio Lazala (of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre); Rae Lindsay (on the Principles and their effect on a lawyers firm); Charlotte Wolf (from ArcelorMittal); John Bray (on human rights impact as a business risk); Susan Bird (on the active role of the European Commission in the finalization of the Principles, and on what is being and going to be done to implement them in the EU); Marie France Houde (on the revised  OECD guidelines), o Meg Taylor (on the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman scheme, and how it fits within the World Bank group). All this allowed to address the relationship between the UN Principles and businesses from many diverse angles.

The richness of the contents makes an adequate summary impossible. I’m not only talking  of the presentations of the speakers, but also of the comments of chairs (which would have been excellent speakers themselves), and the subsequent discussions. I particularly loved the second panel, the closest to a private international law approach, on the obstacles of access to justice in developed countries such as Australia, or the UK, for various reasons, among which the proposed changes in legal aid are specially to be feared – all issues I’m presently studying. But there was a lot more: the report of the representative of ArcelorMittal on the process of elaboration and implementation of a policy on human rights in a transnational corporation; the analysis of the adjustment (better, non adjustment) of the Principles to the financial system; a presentation on the need to understand human rights impact as a risk to be managed, on which corporations need professional advice; another on the OECD updated guidelines and their relationship to J. Ruggie’s Principles; one on the incorporation of human rights to the performance standards required under IFC projects; the impact of business on human rights in conflict zones; a (deliciously told) report of the concrete experience of a National Contact Point; or the explanation of some non judicial grievance standards as alternative justice mechanisms. And lots of questions and comments followed: for example, on how to incorporate China in this context; on possible reactions to the failure of a company to comply with a statement made ​​in the context of a non-judicial grievance mechanism; on the real implication of EU in business and human rights…

 At the end of the conference a comment reached my ears about a summary being published. I think it would be a great idea. Also, some of the documents given to the audience correspond to future publications of which I expect to be informed and tell on this site.

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