News & Views

New UN resolution highlights importance of improving accountability and access to remedy for business-related human rights impacts

Accountability and access to remedy for business-related human rights impacts continue to be key issues internationally and locally. Momentum around the issue has continued to build, and has intensified further after recent attacks on human rights defenders working on issues of corporate accountability.

In this context, and building on a report from the UN on gaps in access to remedy and how best to fill them, the UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution emphasising the importance of improving accountability and access to remedy for business-related human rights impacts. The resolution also encourages governments to consider undertaking a review of the effectiveness of domestic law regimes and to develop a comprehensive strategy for improving accountability and access to remedy.

The resolution calls on business to meet their responsibility to respect human rights in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, including by participating in good faith in domestic judicial processes and by establishing effective operational-level mechanisms to enable the early resolution of grievances. While UN resolutions are not binding they can pre-empt government and other stakeholder action. Indeed, as governments around the world review and strengthen remedial mechanisms – both judicial and non-judicial – businesses need to be aware of continuing developments.

The resolution is also a further reminder of the benefits of businesses developing effective company or operational-level grievance mechanisms. In addition to helping companies meet their own human rights responsibilities such mechanisms can help companies identify and address issues early, strengthen stakeholder relationships and provide recourse to effective remedy where barriers such as cost exist in relation to judicial remedy.

Encouragingly, some companies are also making policy commitments specifically in relation to human rights defenders. For example, adidas has recently launched a human rights defenders policy including setting expectations for how its suppliers should engage with human rights defenders.

In Australia, businesses recently engaged with the government on business and human rights policy development at roundtables convened by the GCNA. Some opportunities identified to improve access to remedy include strengthening engagement between businesses and the Australian Government’s missions overseas including raising awareness of the mechanisms available for resolving grievances in challenging contexts. It Participants also suggested exploring with all stakeholder the effectiveness of Australia’s OECD National Contact Point in resolving issues. A summary from the roundtables will be available shortly.

For more information about access to remedy, GCNA members can get in touch to access the recording of our recent introductory webinar on addressing adverse human rights impacts, including interviews with BHP and Thai Union about their approach to remedy.

Access to remedy will also be a key part of the agenda at the 2016 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights taking place in November in Geneva.