Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Conversation on Human Rights

Conversations change the world. But the participants of those conversations must carry weight and speak with force and conviction.

Without either, the dialogue becomes chatter and empty in meaning.

In 2000, the United States and United Kingdom announced the formation of The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (“Voluntary Principles”). The initiative is meant to be a conversation between governments, NGOs, and private companies to discuss and advance the protection of human rights throughout the world. The conversation recognizes the “constructive role business and civil society — including non-governmental organizations, labor/trade unions, and local communities — can play in advancing these goals.”

What emerged from this ongoing conversation is a set of voluntary principles to help participants maintain safety and security of their operations within a framework that ensures respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of people around the world.

The participants of this conversation acknowledge that security is fundamental to individuals, companies, and governments alike; and maintaining security of operations and livelihood is consistent with the goal for maintaining the highest standard and respect for human rights. While the governments around the world have the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights, all parties—including NGOs, companies, and individuals—share that responsibility and the common goal of furthering principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international humanitarian law.

Throughout the last decade, the conversation surrounding the Voluntary Principles has generated predictable guidelines for private companies doing business in countries where security and human rights are of concern. Amongst these, the Voluntary Principles maintain, companies should consult regularly with host governments and local communities about the impact of their security arrangements in those communities; communicate their policies regarding ethical conduct and human rights to public security providers; express their desire for adequate and effective training; and encourage accessibility of these operations to the public, subject to any overriding safety and security concerns. Companies are encouraged to assist in maintaining the rule of law in their host country and safeguard human rights by using their influence to promote principles consistent with international law and the Voluntary Principles. Companies are also encourage to conduct regular meetings with their host government and communities to discuss issues of security, violation of human rights, consistent application of international standards, and maintaining good interactions amongst all stakeholders of their operations.

Government participants include: Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Norway, The Republic of Colombia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.

NOG participants include: Amnesty International, The Fund for Peace, Global Rights, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Alert, IKV Pax Christi, Oxfam, Pact, Partners for Democratic Change International, Partnership Africa Canada, Pearson Centre, Search for Common Ground, Organizations with Observer Status, DCAF, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Council on Mining & Metals, International Finance Corporation, International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association.

Business participants include: AngloGold Ashanti, Anglo American, Barrick Gold Corporation, BG Group, BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold, Hess Corporation, Inmet Mining Corporation, Marathon Oil, Newmont Mining Corporation, Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Rio Tinto, Shell, Statoil, Talisman Energy, Total, Tullow Oil, Xstrata.

Most recently, the Voluntary Principle participants gathered in The Hague for its annual meeting. Outreach and implementation efforts were the focus for this year’s discussions. Also discussed were initiatives to implement the Voluntary Principles in countries such as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, and Panama.

The opening speakers of the annual meeting were Professor John Ruggie—former U.N. Special Representative on Business and Human Rights and author of the U.N. Guiding Principles, and Dr. Margaret Jungk—from the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights. Professor Ruggie noted that the U.N. Guiding Principles “provide high-level guidance, with the expectation that more granular elaboration may be required for specific sectors and operating contexts.” The Voluntary Principles provide critical guidance to companies on how best to implement those granular elaborations and add insight to how to operate with respect for human rights for companies and

Thus far, the Voluntary Principles participants include only a handful of sovereign governments and companies from the extractive sector. Notably missing are Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Japan; and for this kind of conversation to be effective in terms of global development, it ought to reach into manufacturing sector as well.

There are high hopes for this kind of conversation—a conversation changes the world.

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