The Global Business Initiative on Human Rights and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

Over the past few years, the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, with the support of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG), have organised a series of panels at the UN Annual Forum (Forum) bringing together affected communities, civil society, business representatives and government officials to explore implementation of the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on the ground. Past case studies profiled multi-stakeholder initiatives from Turkey, Ivory Coast, China, Mozambique, Ghana, Myanmar, the United States, Cambodia, and Malawi, in sectors ranging from agriculture to the garment industry. [1]

These sessions were intentionally constructed to be multi-stakeholder in composition, reflecting the critical need for all parties involved to build trust, engage in dialogue, and listen to the voices of those affected. In order to learn from good practices and innovations, as well as gaps and challenges in ensuring access to effective remedy, this year’s Forum agenda will once again include two multi-stakeholder case-based sessions: one exploring an independent problem-solving service for communities affected by mining operations in South Africa, and one on community-driven and -involved approaches to access to remedy in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone in Myanmar.

Shared below are high-level observations and insights from previous panels and background research to stimulate further dialogue on multi-stakeholder engagement and how it can be used to realize effective access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses.[2]

EFFECTIVE ENGAGEMENT INVOLVES ALL PARTIES AT THE TABLE, WITH RIGHTS-HOLDERS AT THE CENTRE

Much of the value of multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration comes from the ability to leverage different capabilities, roles and networks, and to bring all relevant actors together to solve problems. Effective engagement among affected communities, governments, business, and civil society starts with developing a shared understanding of the problems, expectations of these different actors and proposed solutions, as well as each stakeholder establishing a real commitment to addressing the problems.

It is critical that affected rights-holders be effectively engaged in the process from the start and be at the heart of the entire remedy process. Actions must be taken to ensure their meaningful participation, that their perspectives, experiences, and proposed solutions are listened to, that power imbalances are addressed, and that any potential for manipulation of the process by any stakeholder is addressed. Multi-stakeholder initiatives on remedy can contain inherent inequalities of power and wealth between parties. Unless this is recognised and addressed explicitly, the results will reflect that inequality and decrease the chances of success.[3] In addition, there may be varying levels of commitment among parties to reaching a fair remedial process, in which cases affected communities and workers may need to explore alternative routes to remedy while the multi-stakeholder discussions continue.

Moreover, remedial processes need to be inclusive of representatives from all affected communities, recognising that this is not a uniform group and that there can be a diversity of negative impacts, as well as proposed solutions. It is important that everyone affected has equal opportunity to participate in, and receive remedy from, remedial mechanisms.

We have seen in past panels that bringing together affected community members, companies, civil society and government to work together can be a powerful approach to resolving problems and strengthening relationships between actors. However, a further challenge is how to dispel assumptions that different stakeholder groups make of one other so that they effectively ‘hear’ each other and foster the respect necessary to move forward. Otherwise, these misconceptions and assumptions can serve as barriers to real engagement and genuine collaboration.

IT TAKES EFFORT AND TIME

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Remedial processes must be thoughtfully tailored, designed and hosted, bringing parties together around shared objectives and with a clear focus on understanding, and then realising, effective remedy for impacted parties.

Multi-stakeholder remedial efforts also need to be designed to recognise changes in the challenges they seek to address by being adaptable and reviewed often, to ensure they remain effective and fit for purpose. There needs to be clear mutual accountability to ensure that all parties are delivering on their duties and responsibilities within the process, particularly given unequal access to resources and decision-making power. Processes should be put in place to ensure ongoing consultation and reflection among all parties about what is and isn’t working, whether there are new actors that should be engaged in the process, and whether there are ways to further strengthen stakeholder engagement.[4]

THREE IS STILL THE MAGIC NUMBER

Whilst the 2017 Forum will focus on Pillar III, it is important to remember that implementation of all three pillars of the UNGPs is needed to ensure effective remedy. As a previous Forum blog “Three is the Magic Number” noted, failure to implement all three pillars will result in only “partial or fleeting protection” for rights holders. The recent report of the UNWG to the UN General Assembly also strongly reinforces the importance of the interconnection between all three pillars in the provision of effective remedy.

In endeavouring to progress all three pillars on the ground, we have seen that multi-stakeholder approaches can be used effectively to raise standards within industries or on specific issues, as well as addressing systemic human rights risks.[5] And whilst the multi-stakeholder efforts explored in the past sessions did not all take the UNGPs as their starting point in their initial formation, they demonstrated that an appreciation of all three pillars in a multi-stakeholder context can assist in demarcating the obligations, responsibilities and expectations of the parties at the table.

IT CAN BE COMPLEX

It is inevitable that conflict will arise and there is value in becoming comfortable with the complexity and time required for operationalising multi-stakeholder remedial initiatives in practice.

For most organisations (states and civil society, as well as companies), effective implementation of Pillar III may necessitate organizational change, including a willingness to reflect on one’s own processes and to adapt. It takes time and patience – to build trust, to ensure that many different voices are heard, and for affected communities to propose their own approaches and solutions so that remedial mechanisms best respond to actual needs and realize remedy regarded as effective by victims harmed by business activities.

We look forward to engaging in further dialogue at the Forum on Tuesday 28 November in Room XX from 15:00 – 18:00.

Jo Reyes, Global Business Initiative on Human Rights and Christen Dobson, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

[1] Reports are available here and here.

[2] Whilst multi-stakeholder action can be impactful, collaboration and collective problem-solving efforts should not undermine human rights, nor exclude access to judicial mechanisms.

[3] Equally, the inequality of formal power on the part of communities and workers needs to be compensated by their informal power – to organise and ensure that companies and governments know they are ready to defend their rights by many different means.

[4] See case study on Malawi from the 2015 panel.

[5] For example, EITI in the extractives and transparency field, and the Montreux/ICOCA process in the field of private security companies.

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