Nazia Riaz’s husband died in 2012, when the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Pakistan exploded into flames claiming the lives of 252 workers trapped into the building. A compensation agreement was reached after four years of negotiations.
‘I don’t think monetary compensation is the solution to the deaths of workers and my husband. Government should ensure such incidents don’t occur in future and labour laws related to health and safety shall be implemented’, Riaz said last year during the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights.
‘KIK [a client of Ali Factories] and such international corporations shall pledge not to work in factories where appropriate health and safety mechanism are not put in place’, she added.
The issue of access to remedy for the victims of business-related human rights abuses is the central theme of the 6th edition of the Forum, to be held in Geneva this week. Victims, government representatives, businesses and civil society groups have gathered together every year since 2012 to discuss how to advance corporate respect for human rights and secure justice for victims.
The 2017 Forum will focus on the Third Pillar of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), a non-binding instrument endorsed by the OHCHR in 2011, which provides a set of principles on how States and businesses should implement the ‘Protect, Respect, and Remedy’ Framework to ensure that companies respect human rights.
The Third Pillar of the Guiding Principles is devoted to the ‘access to remedy’ and has been often described as the ‘forgotten pillar’. According to the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, ‘The need to make progress in translating the third pillar … from paper to practice is perhaps the most burning issue in the current business and human rights agenda … Access to effective remedy and accountability mechanisms are pre-requisites for realizing human rights and achieving sustainable development’.
As the Forum’s concept note highlights, ‘Unless victims of adverse business-related human rights impacts have access to effective remedies, the state duty to protect human rights and the corporate responsibility to respect human rights become meaningless in practice’. Businesses’ activities can destroy people’s livelihoods, exploit workers and displace communities. Even more concerning? Companies can become complicit in human rights abuses. ‘Extensive research has shown that in cases where business enterprises are involved in human rights abuses, victims often struggle to access remedy. The challenges that victims face are both practical and legal in nature’, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed.
The situation is particularly complex, according to the OHCHR, in cases ‘involving gross human rights abuses and other particularly serious offenses’, such as slavery, torture, extrajudicial killings, forced and child labour, and large-scale harm to human health and livelihoods, in which companies ‘can be involved either as offenders or by being complicit’ of States.
The Forum’s discussions will address the effectiveness of a full range of mechanisms from State-based judicial and non-judicial mechanisms to non-State-based remediation and grievance mechanisms involving companies, industry bodies, multi-stakeholder initiatives and regional and international institutions.
‘The UN Forum presents a unique opportunity for all parties to come together to find practical solutions to ensure respect for human rights in global supply chains and in efforts to achieve sustainable development’, said UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
Photo Credtis: Rod Waddington