Last week, USCIB members and government officials gathered in Washington, D.C. for two days of meetings on human rights, labor policy, and corporate social responsibility, as USCIB’s Corporate Responsibility Committee and Labor & Employment Policy Committee met on consecutive days. Laura Chapman Rubbo (Walt Disney) acted as chair of the Corporate Responsibility Committee meeting, while Ed Potter (Coca-Cola) chaired the Labor & Employment Policy Committee meeting.
UN debates Ecuador proposal on human rights
One focus of discussion was renewed action in the United Nations on human rights and business. The ground is shifting, with the UN Human Rights Council recently voting, at the behest of Ecuador and a few other states, to pursue talks toward a binding UN instrument on business and human rights.
The United States and numerous other governments voted against the Ecuador resolution, but their opposition was insufficient to prevent the measure from moving ahead. Members heard updates on this fast-moving topic from Jason Pielemeier, special advisor at the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Lene Wendland, advisor to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Amol Mehra, director of International Corporate Accountability Roundtable.
Myanmar open for business
Members also discussed new opportunities and challenges as Myanmar (formerly Burma) increasingly opens itself for business and foreign investment. The Burmese government has expressed an interest in bolstering the country’s relationship with American businesses, and a number of USCIB members operate in the country. Company representatives said their decision to expand in the country came after intensive due diligence and numerous dialogues with the government. American business activity in the country is only a small percentage of overall investment in Myanmar, which is dominated by companies from other Asian countries.
The steady growth of Myanmar’s garment manufacturing sector has spurred U.S. and other foreign investors to take stock of factory safety, in order to avoid a repeat of last year’s Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, and to work closely with the International Labor Organization to improve working conditions in the country. Members cited greater ease in intergovernmental and private-sector dialogue with the Burmese government then was experienced in Bangladesh, a positive sign for the well-being of workers moving forward.
Corporate Responsibility Updates
Members also reviewed progress on a wide range of business and human rights issues, including a discussion on how and where to functionally embed oversight for human rights into a company’s organization, updates on the various regulatory measures related to conflict minerals, emerging trends in CSR and human rights reporting, and a recap of USCIB’s UN-business door knock event on engaging the private sector with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Bennet Freeman (Calvert Investments) gave a presentation on evolving trends in CSR and human rights reporting for businesses. Respect for human rights now constitutes a core part of companies’ business models, as opposed to being limited to CSR or philanthropic activities, and business is making steady progress in reporting in this area. Freeman gave a similar presentation at USCIB’s September conference on Engaging Business and Human Rights in Atlanta.
On the UN SDGs, Ariel Meyerstein (USCIB) and Tam Nguyen (Bechtel) reported on USCIB’s doorknock event, “Practical Private Sector Engagement in the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda,” hosted at Pfizer’s New York headquarters. They noted that business is much more engaged with the UN’s Post-2015 Development Agenda than it was for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, and that the private sector hopes that the UN takes into consideration existing CSR reporting mechanisms when formulating the SDG targets, so that companies won’t have to grapple with new and redundant sets of metrics and indicators.
Staff contact: Ariel Meyerstein