UN Global Compact summit: Final declaration falls short of effective commitments in favour of human rights

The voluntary character of the Compact “does not mean unaccountable”: As global corporate leaders just adopted the Geneva Declaration at the end of the United Nations Global Compact Summit in Geneva, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), backs the UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon’s warning and will remain vigilant and continue to hold business accountable for their commitments. FIDH calls on states and corporations to take further commitments for the respect of human rights by corporations.

While FIDH agrees ”that business, as a key agent of globalization, can be an enormous force for good” and that responsible business practices can contribute to the protection of human rights, at the same time, corporations that are directly or indirectly involved in human rights abuses across the world are numerous and remain largely unpunished.

The declaration adopted by participants is supposed to establish a roadmap for the future of the initiative and deepen their commitment. In fact, the commitments of corporations remain extremely weak. Businesses merely commit “to advance the implementation of the UN Global Compact and its ten principles” and to “give concrete meaning to a principle-based approach in (their) strategy, operations and culture”, and to seek to mobilise business units, and business partners to commit to the UN Global Compact its 10 principles.

The most important commitment taken by corporations is to report on their activities through annual communications on progress on their environmental and social performances. This demand had been made previously by the Global Compact. Companies that have not reported on their practices, two years after joining the Global compact and every year thereafter have now been listed as “non-communicating”. For the first time this year, the Annual Review of the Global Compact provided an insight into the actions of business participants to implement the ten principles. These are important first steps, but they remain largely insufficient.

Indeed, after 7 years, no mechanism has been set up within the Global Compact to monitor the commitments made by corporations. As a result, corporations that directly violate or are complicit of violations of human rights, labour, anti-corruption and environmental standards would still remain members of the initiative, and publicly benefit from this adherence.

FIDH hopes that UN Secretary General’s warning will be heard and that the activities of corporate participants to the Global Compact will be seriously monitored, and that members found not complying with the principles will- at a minimum - be excluded from the initiative.

However, FIDH believes that time has come to move away from a purely voluntary initiative to legally binding standards, and an effective control mechanism, enabling victims of corporate abuses to have access to effective remedies.

FIDH supports the demand made by participants of the Summit to States to ratify and effectively implement relevant conventions, including ILO core labour standards. FIDH recalls that States are under the obligation to protect human rights and thus to better control the compliance of practices of non-states actors with international standards. There is a need to clarify and expand if necessary the responsibilities of States to protect human rights from corporate misbehaviour. If the primary responsibility lies with the territorial state under the jurisdiction of which the violation occurs, this is not exclusive of the responsibility of other states, in particular of the national state of the parent corporation of the multinational group. FIDH has advocated that obligations should be imposed on States to adopt legislation to ensure corporations respect human rights. Further FIDH supports that corporations themselves have a legal responsibility with regard to human rights.

It is FIDH’s expectation that the UN Global Compact make a move in such direction, not to remain mainly a forum for dialogue on such key issues.

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