Government’s Role

From Principles to Practice - The European Union and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human

07 May 2012

From Principles Practice

Business and human rights is now a permanent, if somewhat, nascent fixture of European public policy. It first came to prominence under the Swedish Presidency of the European Union in 2009 and was the focus of the Danish EU Presidency Conference of 7-8 May 2012. Much has happened in the intervening three years. The main achievement has been the consensus adoption of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (here after ‘the Guiding Principles’ by the United Nations Human Rights Council, in June 2011.

The challenge now is for the European Union, its Member States, and its partners in other regions of the world, to move from ‘policy to practice’. The Danish Presidency Conference focused on a fundamental part of this challenge: the role of the state in protecting human rights in relation to the activities of business (with particular emphasis on promoting business’s respect for human rights through due diligence and access to remedy).

Keynote speakers at the Conference acknowledged that at a time of pressing financial crises and many other international challenges, the European Union – as well as the rest of the world – has many other priorities besides the promotion of business and human rights. However, without exception, speakers declared that exactly because of the wider systemic financial, economic and social insecurities, security risks and governance gaps in the world, the issue of human rights and business, addressed at the Conference, was most timely. In many ways, business and human rights is an idea for which time has now come. At the Conference there was a general call for greater accountability, greater transparency and for more attention on how to prevent human rights abuses from occurring through due diligence.

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