The first annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights will be held in Geneva on 4-5 December 2012.  The UN Forum will bring together governments, national human rights institutions, business associations, companies, NGOs and UN bodies to discuss the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. A provisional agenda for the UN Forum can be found at here. Herbert Smith Freehills will be attending the Forum and we will be posting a report on the Forum on this arbitration blog shortly after the event. A webinar discussing recent developments in the field of business and human rights is planned for the New Year.

The UN Guiding Principles set out an authoritative global standard for preventing and addressing adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity and include the responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights (for further information on the UN Guiding Principles see our article of 6 July 2011).

The UN Forum will be an opportunity to take stock of the developments in the field of business and human rights and to understand how this area of risk and compliance for businesses is likely to evolve in the future. Topics to be discussed at the UN Forum include:

  • steps taken by national governments, international institutions and regional organisations to implement the UN Guiding Principles;
  • the emerging trends in the implementation the UN Guiding Principles;
  • challenges to ensuring business respect for human rights in the context of business activities affecting indigenous peoples, conflict-affected areas and by small and medium sized enterprises; and
  • the role of investors and the legal profession in advancing business respect for human rights, including in State-investor negotiations.

The Forum follows a report by the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business, which was submitted to the UN General Assembly on 10 August of this year ( see here). In the report the UN Working Group welcomed the rapid growth in the number of initiatives to develop guidance on the UN Guiding Principles and their implementation but warned that it is necessary to ensure that the UN Guiding Principles are interpreted consistently. In order to achieve this, the UN Working Group has committed to developing criteria to help ensure that guidance is aligned with and does not undermine the UN Guiding Principles. A first draft of these criteria is expected to be published for consultation later this year.