Since the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsement of the landmark UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, USCIB, The Coca-Cola Company, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the International Organization of Employers (IOE) have organized an annual forum on business and human rights to foster candid discussion on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. The forum built upon earlier annual discussions of how companies can keep forced labor and child labor out of their supply chains.
The Guiding Principles, which were prepared under the stewardship of former UN special representative on human rights John Ruggie, established a framework under which states are obligated to protect human rights in their territories, while businesses, both foreign and domestic, are responsible for respecting these rights throughout their operations. The principles also propose a framework for greater access to human rights victims to effective remedy.
The 2015 Engaging Business Conference took place on September 17 at Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta under the theme of “Addressing the Challenges of Demonstrating Respect for Human Rights.”
The day-long forum drew over 100 company executives, along with select representatives from the public-sector, NGOs and the UN for discussions on the importance of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the challenges faced by business in demonstrating respect for human rights in their operations.
Speakers at the event included Ariel Meyerstein, USCIB’s vice president for labor affairs, corporate responsibility and corporate governance, Linda Kromjong, secretary-general of the IOE, James Plunkett, director of labor policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Brent Wilton, director of global workplace rights at Coca-Cola. Company presentations came from representatives of Barrick Gold Corporation, Coca-Cola, HP and Kosmos Energy.
“This event underscored the strong commitment and ingenuity that leading American and global businesses bring to addressing the human rights impacts of their operations,” said Meyerstein.
Wilton framed event with an overview of the challenging systemic issues that impact respect for human rights for businesses today.
“The global human rights agenda for business continues to evolve. For eight years now these conferences have given participants an opportunity to hear from those who are shaping that agenda as well as from peer companies who are working to give effect to the corporate responsibility to respect human rights,” said Wilton. “The conferences provide a safe place for information sharing, networking and knowledge building. There is no one answer to the challenges we all face in this space and no one person has all the answers. However, by coming together we all benefit from the collective experiences and knowledge present in the room.”
The following overarching topics were discussed by panelists and participants throughout the day:
- Supply Chain Impacts: forced labor and land rights
- Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining: linkage to human rights
- Human Rights Due Diligence: how to do it, the importance of transparency and understanding stakeholder expectations
- Human Rights Remedy: a discussion of business’ accountability for remedy and what effective remedies look like
Meyerstein moderated the panel on “Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.” Following the panels, participants held breakout sessions to share experiences and insights.
Read more: “Brent Wilton: How Respecting Human Rights Protects Our Brands” (Coca-Cola website)