US must address adverse business impacts on human rights: UN experts

US must address adverse business impacts on human rights: UN experts

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[JURIST] Members of the UN Working Group on business and human rights [official website] ended a 10-day mission to the US on Wednesday after exploring practices, challenges and lessons relating to the country’s implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights [text, PDF]. In a statement [press release] following the visit, Working Group members noted that federal and state government agencies have been making notable efforts to address human rights challenges related to business, but significant gaps remain in regulation and enforcement. Praiseworthy action included stricter disclosure requirements, efforts against human trafficking, forced, and child labor, and raising awareness of the Guiding Principles among businesses and civil society. Of concern were allegations of unfair labor practices such as restricting the freedom of association, violating minimum wage legislation, and a chronic disregard for minimum health and safety measures. Findings indicate that the legal and regulatory framework provides too many loopholes, weak deterrents to illegal activity and little incentive for businesses to behave responsibly in a supply chain. The members stated:

With a few exceptions, most companies still struggle to understand the implications of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Those that do have policies in place, in turn face the challenge of turning such policies into effective practices. … Much more awareness-raising and education needs to take place. Effective implementation of the Guiding Principles by companies requires first and foremost a good understanding of the processes involved, mobilization of significant buy-in and commitment from the top of a company.

Detailed observations and recommendations will be presented by the Working Group in a report to the Human Rights Council in June 2014.

Business’ effect on human rights is a growing concern in the international community. In December UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] addressed [JURIST report] the growing issue of global business’ role in gross human rights abuses. A month earlier the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises [official website] submitted its report [JURIST report] to the General Assembly regarding specific groups of individuals whose human rights are put at risk by transnational business activities.