On 26, 27 and 28 November 2018, almost 3,000 participants from government, business, civil society, UN bodies, trade unions, academia and the media, gathered in Geneva at the seventh edition of the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights to discuss trends, challenges and progress in advancing implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

The emphasis of the Forum for 2018 “Business respect for human rights – building on what works” was the second pillar of the UNGPs, that is the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. The Forum focused on the requirement that companies exercise human rights due diligence to prevent adverse impacts on people, hosting discussions of emerging practices in different sectors and across value chains, and exploring what human rights due diligence implies in relation to specific human rights risks and impacts.

Andrea Saldarriaga and Andrea Shemberg, Visiting Fellows at the Laboratory for Advanced Research on the Global Economy, actively contributed to the Forum by organising and speaking in three sessions covering cutting-edge topics on the business and human rights agenda.

Responsible exit: As the sole speaker at the snapshot session “Exiting responsibly: respect for human rights in circumstances of urgent exit”, Andrea Saldarriaga used a short video produced with the Iran Business Responsibility Project (IBR) to highlight the importance for companies to address the impacts that leaving a market and reducing or winding up operations can have on people’s rights. While the business and human rights debate has been focused on key corporate decisions such as market entry, new investments or the launching of new products or services, less attention has been given to questions of sales and market exit – especially in circumstances of urgent exit.

Business lawyers and human rights due diligence: Andrea Saldarriaga participated as a speaker in the session “Business lawyers: from obstacle to enabler of human rights due diligence”. The session led by business lawyers looked at creative and innovative solutions to scaling up human rights due diligence in client advisory work. Drawing on the speakers’ practical experience advising clients on business and human rights, the panel began by exploring the current challenges across key practice areas that impede implementation of human rights due diligence in commercial advisory work to then explore with the attendants some approaches to overcome such challenges.

Building and exercising leverage throughout the value chain: 

Andrea Shemberg moderated a panel discussion on building and exercising leverage in global value chains. The session aimed to demonstrate some positive and innovative steps companies have implemented to carry out human rights due diligence across the value chain to respond to the increasing expectations for companies to identify and respond to adverse human rights impacts in their complex value chains. The discussion brought together representatives of Trafigura, a Swiss-based commodities trading firm; Rio Tinto, an Australian mining firm; and NXP, a Dutch semiconductors firm to share case studies of how each of these companies managed to both map their value chains and then impact positive change for human rights deep in that value chain.  To help describe Trafigura’s case study on formalising artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an NGO representative that works locally in the DRC was on the panel to describe the collaboration with the company and how it helped build leverage to make positive change in the working conditions of miners.