Why should companies care about human rights? | Heraldo Muñoz

06 Sep 2013

coal miners Businesses must work together with governments and civil society to take protect human rights as they promote economic growth. Above, miners in Brazil. (Photo: Sebastiao Barbosa/UN Photo)

What led more than 400 representatives of national and multinational companies, governments, trade unions, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organizations to gather to discuss the impact of business on human rights? I asked myself this question as I opened the first Regional Forum for Latin America and the Caribbean on the Business Impact of Human Rights in Medellin, Colombia this August. Hundreds of top executives from the mining, energy, oil, food, beverage, banking/finance and agriculture sectors held an open dialogue with local communities, including campesinos and indigenous peoples, NGOs and public sector officials.

Certainly the region has grown in recent years, but investments, especially related to extractive industries and land tenure, tend to spark social conflicts. And that's a challenge we all have to tackle together for truly sustainable development in the economic, social and environmental spheres.

The United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) recognizes human rights as a central component of human development. And of course, human development is linked to the universal rights to equality, non-discrimination, participation and accountability.

So we convened this forum in partnership with the Government of Colombia and the UN High Commission for Human Rights to provide a regional platform to promote and help implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean.

These Guiding Principles are a global standard to prevent and deal with human rights abuses linked to business activity. They emphasize what states and businesses should do, in practice, to prevent and address negative impacts from these infringements, and to ensure protection mechanisms for people whose rights have been adversely affected by businesses.

The business sector can play a critical role in promoting inclusive economic growth by implementing innovative business models that are positive for the environment and for social and economic development while promoting a rights-based approach—beyond the traditional concept of corporate social responsibility.

We know that societies that are more just, equitable and inclusive are more stable and secure. Conversely, companies that allow for discrimination, exclusion and lack of accountability help generate instability.

It’s a tough paradox: companies can be an engine for equality and prosperity, but they can also derail development. With collaborative efforts between governments, business and civil society, there are great opportunities to build more equitable and just societies.

Talk to us: How can businesses help promote human rights?

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