Business and Human Rights and the UN Guiding Principles

UN Conference Room

On Monday and Tuesday of last week, I attended the ABA Business & Human Rights Conference at the Palais de Naciones in Geneva along with another law student from my office, Glaucia. The Palais de Naciones originally housed the League of Nations before the United Nations was established. The United Nations is now headquartered in New York, but Geneva continues to operate a main office which includes the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The UN Human Rights Council was created in 2006, and co-sponsored this conference with the ABA. In 2014, the EU called upon member states to integrate environmental, social, and labor requirements into public procurement procedures. The EU advocates “insistence on compliance with human rights as an eligibility requirement for State support, and commercial transactions (including Stock Exchange listing).

The United Nation’s Business and Human Rights Guiding Principles address the risks of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity. The Principles rest on three pillars for implementation: state actor duties to protect human rights; corporate responsibilities; and access to remedies for victims. The Corporations represented included Phillip Morris International, Holcim, Total, and Nestle, and each representative of general counsel spoke very candidly about the challenges of doing work and using supply chains in developing countries. The struggle to respect human rights principles in extractive work was a recurring focus of panel discussions on both days. One particularly interesting panel discussion, with representatives of several different countries’ bar associations, examined whether business and human rights training modules should be mandated by the bar. (There was quite a bit of debate in the room centered on whether mandating training tends to dilute the quality.)

Over the weekend, I spent my last days in Ville la Grande and Annemasse because I moved to Plainpalais in Geneva Canton on Sunday. It was bittersweet. On my last day walking around, I encountered a display showing historic photos of Annemasse from well over two centuries ago, and not much has changed at all in the layout of the town, architecture of buildings, and even locations of things like the grocery, pharmacy, etc. I will miss living in France, but I look forward to not having almost four hours of commute each week. Unfortunately, Geneva is also a very expensive place to live- particularly when you are not staying for over six months. (As an example to future interns reading this, my rent for this next month for a private room/ shared bathroom in Geneva will be just about $2,000 U.S., whereas I was able to find my room in Annemasse for only $1,400.)  On Sunday, several of us (Glaucia, Sonia, Maija, and our boss Ramin) also spent the day hiking in Gruyere and enjoying some fondue. It rained on us a bit, but the views were beautiful, and the rain made the fondue more appropriate for a summer meal. 

Historical AnnemasseGruyere Hike