Human Rights in Business
BEF organized a conference on the “Variability of Human Rights Obligations in Business”March 19th, 2019
Arnas Liauksminas, PhD researcher and member of the Human Rights Laboratory at Mykolas Romeris University in Lithuania, managed to clearly present a complex topic during the conference titled “Variability of Human Rights Obligations in Business.” An interview with the speaker shed light on specific issues. This article summarizes the conference and the short interview that followed.
Thanks to his academic expertise, Arnas Liauksminas provided a clear definition of what constitutes human rights. Human rights are universal, inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. National governments are responsible for ensuring the respect of human rights and treating humans with dignity. However, if a State fails to do so, the international community has the responsibility to protect humans and must intervene (UN R2P doctrine).
Arnas Liauksminas affirmed that businesses can have positive impacts such as improving equality and the condition of life of a population. However, most of the time, businesses’ negative impacts are highlighted: pollution, safety failures, forced labour, child labour, displacement of communities, etc. Businesses who fail to respect human rights are exposed to several risks : bad reputation, NGO and media exposure, loss of investors etc. One of the solutions for businesses is to appoint a specific board in charge of assessing the situation and offering solutions to improve labour conditions. However, businesses often operate with large complex networks, from external suppliers to the internal team. Therefore, it is difficult to ensure the respect of human rights throughout the entire supply and production chain.
Arnas Liauksminas mentioned the increase of regulations. For instance, the obligation to submit a report requires businesses to investigate and expose the truth. Reports allow businesses to compare with one another, get inspired by other companies’ actions. The ranking incites them to improve their situation. Although the European Union have some mandatory regulations, the United Nations have adopted many voluntary guidelines on how business should operate. I asked Arnas Liauksminas “Knowing that the UN soft law approach result in these principles not being fully implemented, why international institutions are so reluctant to adopt a hard approach?” The expert acknowledged that there is no sanction mechanism currently in place because the creation of new legal instruments requires the consent of different States with diverse national laws. He believes small steps forward are better than trying to change whole system.
A final question was “How can we ensure that natural resources are being shared equally between multinational companies, the national government and, citizens?” As a lecturer of public international law and environmental law, Arnas Liauksminas answered that it is important to provide clear rules on how the sharing mechanism work, it helps citizens understand their rights and spell out businesses’ obligations. The State must balance the local communities’ interests and on the other hand, the interests of the businesses.
To conclude, business human rights obligations is a complex issue that remains largely unresolved. The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy provides the space for debate. A necessary debate to understand and advance in the right direction. Cultural diplomacy results in a constructive dialogue between various stakeholders and positive cooperation.