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Tuesday, November 17 • 18:15 - 19:30
Confronting racism and xenophobia - What role for the Guiding Principles

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Session organized by the Working Group on Business and Human Rights
Webex meeting (English only)

Description of the session
This session will examine how the expectations set out in UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) - the globally authoritative framework for the respective duties and responsibilities of governments and businesses for preventing and addressing business-related human rights abuse - can support efforts to address racism and xenophobia in a business context.

The Black Lives Matter movement and protests against racial discrimination and injustice have focused worldwide attention on the grave implications of long-standing, structural racial discrimination. While racial discrimination has been a longstanding concern for the human rights system, it has received less focus and attention on the business and human rights agenda. However, recent developments have starkly highlighted the need for companies to reflect on how racial discrimination relates to their corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Responding to the events in the United States, business leaders and companies across sectors have made statements against racism – all welcome efforts as a broader business response to combat racial discrimination. At the same time, business responsibility goes considerably further than that, in how companies deal with race-based discrimination internally within corporations, who they transact business with, the approach they take towards customers, the messages their marketing efforts send out, and the broader impact on the society. Speaking out is an essential first step but should not be confused with what is expected of companies under the UNGP.

The rights to equality and non-discrimination are fundamental in human rights law. The human rights system reflects the deeper history that is being confronted at this moment, one that includes the legacy of slavery and its origins, legalized racism (i.e. racism enshrined in law), race-relations of the past and colonisation where business contributed to and benefited from racist laws, policies and practices and, in large part, has still not meaningfully engaged with this. In 2001, the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action acknowledged that people of African descent continue to be victimised by the legacies of trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism. To date, these legacies remain unaddressed. The international human rights frameworks for elimination of racial discrimination offer important guidance for companies discharging their responsibility to respect, highlighting the various forms of racism that companies should be aware of. Companies should keep in mind that racism and xenophobia exist in every society, meaning that all companies should consider how they may be involved with racism, as part of the context in which they operate.

The UNGPs expect companies to assess the risk that they cause, contribute to or are directly linked to human rights abuse, including potential or actual involvement with racial discrimination by their products, services or operations, through their business relationships. This means companies should consider racism risks as part of their human rights due diligence, taking a robust look at potential involvement in racial discrimination, going beyond public statements, philanthropy, or even assessments of diversity and inclusion policies and practices.

Objectives of the sessions
The session seeks to help shed light on key challenges and ways forward for companies to better prevent and address racial discrimination and xenophobia as part of their human rights due diligence, and what other stakeholders should do to support this objective.

The discussion will also 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 on 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.

Guiding questions:
  • What are key challenges for companies in assessing and addressing how they potentially exacerbate existing race-based discrimination in society, and what steps can companies take to eliminate potential involvement in racial discrimination across their activities?
  • How do companies overcome these challenges? What more should be done?
  • How can businesses play a role in the struggle for redress of historical injustices, including through reparation for historical injustices?
  • What practical steps companies need to take to eliminate racism within companies and address broader challenges in the societies in which they operate?

avatar for Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry

miembro, Grupo de Trabajo sobre las empresas y los derechos humanos
Sra. Anita Ramasastry es la profesora Roland L. Hjorth de Derecho y Directora del Programa de Posgrado en Desarrollo Internacional Sostenible en la Escuela de Derecho de la Universidad de Washington. Investiga y enseña en los ámbitos de la justicia y el desarrollo, la lucha contra... Read More →

avatar for Salil Tripathi

Salil Tripathi

Senior Advisor Global Issues, Institute for Human Rights and Business
Conflict, human rights defenders, technology, teaching business and human rights, LGBTI rights, gender, freedom of expression

Dominque Day

Chair, Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
avatar for Pregs Govender

Pregs Govender

Love Courage & Insubordination, Author & Educator
Pregs Govender is an author and teacher who has served as a trade union educator, an MP and A Human Rights Commissioner. She uses her book, Love and Courage, A Story of Insubordination, to incite the transformation of unjust systems that destroy humanity and the earth.In SA’s first... Read More →
avatar for Merisa Heu-Weller

Merisa Heu-Weller

Chief of Staff, Technology and Corporate Responsibility, Microsoft Corporation
Merisa Heu-Weller is Chief of Staff in Microsoft’s Technology and Corporate Responsibility (TCR) group and also leads its Criminal Justice Reform initiative. TCR plays a vital role in realizing Microsoft’s mission by applying advanced technology to address critical societal issues... Read More →

Tuesday November 17, 2020 18:15 - 19:30 CET
Virtual Room 2