Today marks the tenth anniversary of the unanimous endorsement by the UN Human Rights Council of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). These principles recognize a three-pronged approach to protecting human rights in the context of business activity: States have the duty to protect human rights; businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights; and victims affected by business-related human rights issues should have access to remedy. We commemorate the achievements made over the last decade in these areas, and take heed of the substantive work that still needs to be done toward realization of these principles.
Businesses can provide crucial support for democratic principles, including respect for human and labor rights. They have the capacity to help shape society and the environment – raising local wages, improving working conditions, building trust with communities, and operating sustainably. As a result, businesses have a key role in addressing human rights abuses, including throughout their value chains.
Looking ahead to the next decade, we must go further in shaping the business and human rights agenda. This will take concerted efforts by governments, businesses, and other stakeholders. Doing so is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do. We know that companies thrive and economies prosper when there is strong rule of law and adherence to human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as respect for international labor, environmental, and technical standards, good governance, and accountable institutions. Businesses in the rapidly evolving emerging technology sector have a particular opportunity to shape its deployment and establish guardrails against misuse. There also needs to be more attention on the leverage wielded by investors, including private equity, venture capital firms, and multilateral development banks to address human rights abuses, including those committed against environmental defenders. That is why today I am pleased to announce that the State Department, working with the White House and other federal departments and agencies, will soon begin the process of updating and revitalizing the United States’ National Action Plan (NAP) on Responsible Business Conduct.
The Department is renewing its commitment to advance business and human rights under the framework set out in the UNGPs, and in comparable provisions in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which were updated 10 years ago as well. As we look forward to the next decade under the UNGPs, we recognize there is still much work to be done. The success of future efforts to build upon the UNGPs will depend upon maintaining the approaches that have made them such a success.