For further information about the 9th UN Forum on business and human rights, please visit the Forum webpage

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Tuesday, November 17 • 10:30 - 11:45
Effective corporate accountability as prevention

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Session organized by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Interpretation in English, French and Spanish will be available

Brief description of the session:
The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights in its 2017 report to the UN General Assembly highlighted that remedies have a key role to play in pre-empting future human rights abuses: effective remedies should be able to discourage not only a given business enterprise, but also other enterprises from committing the same or similar abuses in the future. Against this normative background, this session will examine the role of effective corporate accountability in preventing human rights abuses by businesses. It will review the effectiveness of various accountability tools (e.g., litigation, complaints to non-judicial remedy mechanisms, and social campaigns) in achieving both specific and general deterrence. The session will also consider strategies to enhance corporate accountability for human rights abuses, especially in cases with transnational dimensions.

Key objectives of the session:
The session aims to:
  • explore what effective corporate accountability means in practice and how access to effective remedy contributes to such accountability;
  • examine the role of corporate accountability in preventing business-related human rights abuses;
  • assess efficacy of various strategies and tools being employed to hold businesses accountable for human rights abuses, including with transnational dimensions; and
  • discuss challenges faced by lawyers and civil society actors in pursuing corporate accountability and ways to overcome these challenges.

Key questions:
  • What does corporate accountability mean from the perspective of individuals and communities affected by business-related human rights abuses?
  • How is access to effective remedy related to corporate accountability and what is the role of effective remedies in preventing business-related human rights abuses?
  • In addition to litigation, what other tools and strategies are being used (or could be used) to pursue corporate accountability?
  • What are the challenges faced by lawyers and civil society actors in pursuing corporate accountability and how to overcome these challenges?
  • How could mandatory human rights due diligence legislation and the proposed legally binding international instrument strengthen corporate accountability, especially in transnational cases?

Background to the discussion:
In recent years, lawyers in several countries have tried various legal bases (e.g., tort law, false advertising, environmental law, labour law, criminal law, constitutional law, mandatory human rights due diligence law and international law) to hold business enterprises accountable for human rights abuses. Moreover, civil society organisations and human rights defenders have done advocacy, run social campaigns, complained to non-judicial remedy mechanism or pressurised investors to hold businesses accountable for human rights abuses. In many instances, such accountability attempts have involved transnational dimensions.

These corporate accountability strategies have had mixed result so far. But what lessons can we draw from these strategies in preventing business-related human rights abuses? This session will focus on the under-explored role of corporate accountability and access to effective remedy as a prevention tool, that is, in discouraging and deterring future abuses. Panellists will share their experiences of trying various corporate accountability strategies in different settings and in different parts of the world: what challenges they faced and what could be done to overcome those challenges.

Additional background documents:

The session will help inform the WG’s project ‘Business and human rights: towards a decade of global implementation' (also known as “UNGPs 10+ / Next Decade BHR”). Centred around the upcoming tenth anniversary of the UNGPs in 2021, the project is taking stock of practice to date, identifying gaps and challenges, and developing a vision and roadmap for scaling up implementation of the UNGPs over the course of the next decade.

avatar for Surya Deva

Surya Deva

Vice-Chair, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights


Miguel Guimares

Indigenous rights defender, FECONAU- Ucayali region, Peru
avatar for Richard Meeran

Richard Meeran

Partner, Head of International Department, Leigh Day
Richard is Head of the International Department at Leigh Day where he has been a partner since 1991. He specialises in multinational litigation in which he has been instrumental for 27 years. His work has transformed English law on the liability of multinationals through the imposition... Read More →
avatar for Keren Adams

Keren Adams

Legal Director, Human Rights Law Centre
Keren Adams is a Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre where she leads the Centre’s work on business and human rights. Keren has over 15 years’ experience working as a human rights lawyer and advocate in Australia and internationally. Prior to joining the HRLC, she was... Read More →
avatar for Sandile Ndelu

Sandile Ndelu

Advocacy Coordinator, Centre for Applied Legal Studies
Sandile Ndelu is a South African Black Trans Feminist writer, speaker and lawyer currently working as the Advocacy Coordinator at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS). Sandile holds a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Writing Studies and a postgraduate... Read More →

Tuesday November 17, 2020 10:30 - 11:45 CET
Plenary Room