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Human rights good for business, EU envoy tells Phl

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Countries with a higher degree of respect for human rights have higher and more sustainable economic growth rates and higher levels of human development. Alongside governments and civil society, business plays a significant role in promoting human rights. Business has the ability to drive equality not just in the workplace but in the community. By providing quality employment opportunities, business supports the advancement of social and economic rights.

This topic was discussed recently at the “Business and Human Rights: Challenges and Opportunities” symposium organized by the Delegation of the European Union in the Philippines in coordination with the University of Asia and the Pacific in celebration of Human Rights Day. The symposium focused on human rights in the corporate sector, highlighting the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the Philippine context.

H. E. Luc Véron, European Union Ambassador to the Philippines emphasized the large responsibility for the corporate sector in the area of human rights, but also underlined the opportunities that the respect of human rights can bring for business.

”Sometimes we hear that human rights advocacy would stand in the way of trade and investment. Nothing could be more wrong. I have met many investors who confided that poor governance and sub-par access to justice, a context in which individual and collective rights are ignored or insufficiently protected, is one the most powerful business inhibitor. In other words, human rights is good for business.”

”In our age of transparency and people power, there is a clear reputational benefit for companies who abide by high international human rights and environmental standards. For most companies, if not all, brand value is amongst their most important assets, and human rights violations could strongly damage that value,” he said.

The European Union supports the international approach outlined in the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which stresses that not only the states have the duty to protect human rights, but companies also have the responsibility to respect them, including in their global supply chains.

The EU ascribes to multilateral instruments in the responsible conduct of human rights anchored on business sector’s compliance with international standards on human rights in the workplace.

“Nowadays a company that tolerates human rights violations in its operations, whose business model even relies on, for example, forced labor, is not a sustainable business. Also in the economic sense, it has no business case”, said Mr Philipp Dupuis, Minister Counsellor and Head of the Trade Section at the EU Delegation to the Philippines. Mr Dupuis discussed EU policies and initiatives on business and human rights.

In the symposium, he stressed the need for companies to exercise human rights due diligence to identify, prevent, mitigate and address human rights risks in their own operations or in their supply chain.

“Human rights due diligence obligations in recent EU legal initiatives apply to European companies. However, they can have an indirect effect on operators abroad because EU importers will have to exercise the obligation down their supply chain.”

Human rights are also part of the wider EU foreign policy through its trade initiatives. For instance, the trade and sustainable development chapters of EU Free Trade Agreements contain commitments to ratify and implement the core ILO conventions and to promote responsible business practices,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ms Signe Elneff Poulsen, Senior Human Rights Adviser at the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, said that to build on the progress made in the 11 years since the adoption of the Guiding Principles and address challenges, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights is implementing a UN Guiding Principles 10+Project to take a deeper look at the progress so far, and to prepare a roadmap for the next decade for states and business.

”With the initiative to develop a national action plan, the Philippines is uniquely placed to contribute to and benefit from such a roadmap. The adoption of a National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights in the Philippines will be a critical milestone”, she said.

”Only through joint action by all – including the United Nations, governments, human rights defenders, labor unions and other civil society actors – and by leveraging the influence of business committed to advancing human rights – do we have the best chance at tackling urgent global challenges and achieving a more sustainable future for all”, she said.

Atty Jacqueline de Guia, Executive Director of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights called on all sectors to align with the vision of the Commission.

”I hope that you join us in our vision that CSR should not be mere philanthropy”, as she called on for self-regulation and called on sectors to heed the call for Climate Action.

”The CHR, as the premier and independent National Human Rights Institution of the Philippines, is your partner in advancing Business and Human rights in the country. The different government instrumentalities, civil society organizations, the private sector, and the academe are also our collaborators to further strengthen the advocacy on responsible business conduct and operationalization of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the country. Only when we work together and share our learnings across our sectors can we move forward”, she said.

”This is not just a challenge for national human rights institutions, but an opportunity for each one of us in this room to do right by our people and environment. May this learning session be a fruitful activity for all of us where we can engage with each other, share our best practices, gain a deeper understanding of issues, and learn about the current efforts in promoting sustainability, responsible business conduct, and the UN Guiding Principles”.

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