The roles played by investors, corporates and state-owned enterprises were in the spotlight on Day 3 of the UN Forum. A key theme was measurability of impact through data collection and analysis.

The role of investors in relation to corporate human rights due diligence

In a session focused on the role of investors in relation to corporate human rights due diligence, panellists pointed to the fact that many investors take a reactive approach to business and human rights in their portfolio companies. However, a growing number of investors are focused on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) indicators when making their investment decisions. This, in turn, has the potential to drive good business practices in relation to the UNGPs, as companies look to secure investment.

The relationship between businesses and local communities

Another session considered the relationship between businesses and local communities, with companies in the extractives sector pointing to the importance of stakeholder engagement, including through consultations with local communities to obtain ‘social licences to operate’ (ie de facto acceptance of a project by a local community), as well as capacity building and dialogue with civil society. Panellists highlighted the need for data to measure progress, whilst noting the difficulties in measuring qualitative issues such as corporate relationships with local communities.

Corporate human rights reporting

A discussion on corporate reporting in relation to human rights drew out several themes, including the increase in mainstreaming of human rights standards into business practice and periodic reporting. Panellists distinguished between corporate data collection and analysis for the purposes of: (i) mapping the human rights landscape for a particular company; and (ii) corporate impact assessment. To date, much of the data in corporate reporting has focused on the former, with corporate impact assessment marked as an area for future development.

State-owned enterprises’ performance on human rights due diligence

Another session considered the role of the more than 1,000 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in promoting human rights in line with the UNGPs. The OECD outlined that a recent study it had conducted of SOEs across nine Asian states showed a range of practices in relation to human rights, reflecting differing national legislative policies and market forces. The OECD indicated that it would be publishing a set of guidelines on business and human rights compliance aimed specifically at SOEs. Some states pointed to the leadership potential of SOEs in promoting the UNGPs, with the boards of Swedish SOEs, for example, comprising 49% women, as compared with 9% in the private sector.

Conclusion

Day 3 concluded with reflections from a selection of stakeholders on the more than 60 sessions that had taken place during the Forum, involving some 2,000 participants from states, businesses, investors, industry groups, civil society and international organisations. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights noted that this year’s Forum had seen an increase in business participation to 29%, an upward trend that looks set to continue as businesses incorporate the UNGPs into their practices.

All our reports of the 2018 UN Forum can be found here.