Promoting the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the Philippines

Mar 25, 2014

Keynote Message of UNDP Country Director Maurice Dewulf at the Forum on Business and Human Rights, Shangri-la Hotel, Makati City 

Chairperson Etta Rosales, Commission on Human Rights;
Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras;
Mr. Michael Raeuber, President of the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (ECCP);
Mr. Martial Beck Vice President and General Manager of ECCP;
Mr. Paul G. Sch
äfer, Hanns Seidel Foundation;
Mr. Kees de Ruiter Regional Manager for SEA&P ICCO-Cooperation;
Ms. Manon Wolfkamp, ICCO-Netherlands;
Mr. Ramon del Rosario, Makati Business Club and Integrity Initiative, Inc.
Partners and friends from government, civil society, and the private sector; Ladies and gentlemen.

Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all today to this forum on business and human rights.

Traditionally, human rights were first conceived as the norm and practice by which citizens are protected from threats posed by the state, as well as defining the state’s obligation to ensure the conditions necessary for people to live with dignity. Following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and the conventions which followed it, nations have pledged to ensure that their legal and administrative systems respect, protect, and fulfil human rights. In is in this respect that human rights transcend the borders of geography, colour, race, and creed.

Previously, only few recognised the need for businesses to have human rights responsibilities. However, privatisation and the liberalisation of trade has broadened and deepened the impact of markets. To ensure that businesses operated effectively, business rights expanded with the introduction of robust and enforceable rules to provide protection for foreign investors and intellectual property. The protection of human rights, on the other hand, did not keep up the pace, and during this economic transformation, the citizen has been forgotten. The global governance gap has widened, and history has shown that an imbalance between market forces and the welfare of society is not sustainable.

Sadly, there has been evidence of this in the Philippines, the most alarming of which concerns the extractive industries. While there are extractive industries that make great effort to limit their impact on the environment and surrounding community, there are, unfortunately, those who do not. Through corruption, collusion, and coercion, both small and even large-scale mining companies have stripped land titles from Filipino owners, polluted water sources, and displaced hundreds of families. The illegal logging in Bukidnon which exacerbated the floods brought by Pablo in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, killing approximately 1,900 people, is just one of many examples where business profits have been prioritised at the expense of human rights, and in this case, the citizens’ right to a safe and sustainable environment.

Naturally, afflicted Filipino communities have sought to protect their rights to land and a safe, sustainable environment by protesting against the destructive impacts of extractive industries. However, many anti-mining activists have been intimidated, kidnapped, disappeared, and even lost their lives over the past years. The number of mining-related human rights cases has only begun to increase.

Given the way businesses impact heavily on all of our lives – how they drive economic growth, how they provide employment, and how they affect the environment - it is clear that the private sector also has the responsibility to uphold and protect human rights.

And the private sector has begun to recognise this responsibility. Today, more than ever, businesses are becoming increasingly conscious of the need to promote human rights in their Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Governance programmes. The presence of top business representatives here, as champions of human rights in business, is a resounding testament to this fact.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

To aid businesses uphold international norms and treaties on human rights, the UN has formulated the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These Guiding Principles recognise the corporate responsibility to protect and uphold human rights independently of the state’s ability or willingness to fulfil their own human rights obligations. These Guiding Principles rest on three pillars:

  • The state duty to protect human rights;
  • The corporate responsibility to respect human rights;
  • Access to remedy for victims of business-related abuses.

These Guiding Principles clarify the interrelated roles and responsibilities of states and business to protect and fulfil human rights, and provide a solid framework from which Philippine businesses can reinforce their own corporate social responsibility programmes. 

The first pillar urges companies to formally assess actual and potential human rights impacts; to make a statement of commitment to respecting rights; and to integrate human rights into their operations, both internal and external.

The second pillar offers a process for companies to demonstrate that they are aware of their human rights responsibilities, and that they are not causing, contributing to or being directly linked to adverse impacts on human rights.

The third pillar addresses both the state's responsibility to provide access to remedy through judicial, administrative, and legislative means, as well as the corporate responsibility to prevent and remediate any infringement of rights to which they have contributed. To this end, having effective grievance mechanisms in place is crucial to uphold the state's duty to protect and the corporate responsibility to respect.

These Guiding Principles have already been accepted by international development and business networks. The core expectations of the Principles have been incorporated into the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; the OECD Common Approaches for Export Credit Agencies, and the IFC Performance Standards. In the United States, the Guiding Principles have influenced the Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment in Myanmar, which require U.S. companies investing in Myanmar to report on their social and environmental due diligence. 

Promoting Business and Human Rights in the Philippines

In the Philippines, the UN will be doing its part to popularise these Guiding Principles. As part of its project with the Commission on Human Rights, entitled “Nurturing a Culture of Human Rights in the Philippines, we will be  developing a business and human rights framework and code of conduct based on the Guiding Principles, to address the impact of extractive industries on the most disadvantaged and marginalised sectors, specifically indigenous peoples.

The UN and CHR have also sought to strengthen private sector partnerships in addressing human rights issues, particularly in regards to the Universal Periodic Review. Every four years, all 193 Member States of the United Nations gather together to assess each other’s human rights records, and make specific recommendations. One problem encountered in the Philippines was not being able to monitor the progress being made on fulfilling recommendations. In response, the UN assisted CHR in setting up the UPR Tripartite Monitoring Mechanism. Comprised of civil society, government, and the private sector, this monitoring mechanism allows stakeholders to participate not only in the reporting of the UPR, but also with the evaluation of the government’s performance in implementing the recommendations issued after each UPR cycle every quarter. The UN Guiding Principles can only seek to strengthen the private sector’s engagement with stakeholders in the promotion and fulfilment of human rights.

Your Commitment and Action will be Needed

Our attendance at this conference shows that we have achieved convergence around a common set of norms and policy guidance for business and human rights. However, this is just the beginning, and it will need the commitment from all of you to build on this promising start.

For government, the focus is on the legal obligations it has under the international human rights treaties to protect human rights abuses by third parties, including business.
 For the citizen, the Guiding Principles now serve as a basis for further empowerment, and they must engage with businesses in consultation, and to achieve greater access to effective remedy. For businesses, these Guiding Principles will focus their efforts on the need to manage the risk of involvement in human rights abuses. By following this beacon, may businesses flourish in a manner which does not harm, but enriches the society of which they are all a part.

Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat!




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