"The skies are clear and purple-tinted as the morning sun washes out the remains of the evening. The toxic haze that blanketed the city a few months ago seems like a distant memory."
On October 6th, UNDP Sri Lanka hosted the inaugural Responsible Business and Human Rights National Dialogue organized in close cooperation with the Human Rights Commission and the National Global Compact Network. Nearly 50 participants attended the event, including representatives from businesses, civil society and government, and multilateral organizations.
The UNDP Sri Lanka Deputy Resident Representative, Faiza Effendi, provided opening remarks, outlining the context in which the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) have been launched. She has further underlined that UNGPs serve as a means for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The opening remarks were followed by a guest speaker, Chairperson Deepika Udagama from the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka. The Chairperson acknowledged that in Sri Lanka the link between Human Rights and Business is relatively new, however, the business and human rights conversation has been happening for decades in under different guises. Chairperson Udagama provided an overview of the role of the NHRI in addressing business-related human rights abuses and also noted that the business sector is bound by labor regulations and environmental standards. The Chairperson stated that the Business and Human Rights agenda could be a win-win situation.
“Good business practices have reaped benefits for businesses. This is what the evidence suggests when we look at the things happening at the international level,” she explained.
Following remarks from Chairperson Deepika, Dr. Surya Deva, Member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights provided a keynote address. He asked, “How do move towards BHR in Sri Lanka?” Two points of understanding are required he suggested. First, the link between Business and Human Rights is here to stay - all of the world’s most pressing issues are connected to BHR including climate change, migrant worker rights, tax evasion, and conflict. The second point of understanding is to acknowledge that, the approach of putting economic development before human rights leads to structural problems and inequality. His keynote was followed by remarks by Dr. Harpreet Kaur, Business and Human Rights Specialist for South Asia at UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub. She began her remarks by noting that the business sector is driving the global economy, including in what were once public sector industries.
“The business sector is becoming much more influential on social issues,” she noted.
Dr. Kaur also noted that Sri Lanka has ratified all the main UN Human Rights Conventions and that these conventions are reflected in the country’s Constitution. Thus, Sri Lanka is already vested in the issues. “The UNGPs are not asking for a new commitment,” she concluded, “the government is already committed.”
The keynote speeches were followed by discussion panels featuring representatives from the civil society organizations, including the Center of Environmental Justice, and business sector, including companies such as Macksons Paints, Jetwing, Aitken Spence, Nations Trust Bank, Ceylon Biscuits Limited, Kelani Valley Plantations, Selyn, MAS Garments. Business representatives outlined the challenges they encounter in UNGPs implementation and the provided overview of how they address human rights in their operations. During the final session, the moderators Chandrika Karunaratna, and Sean Lees, Business and Human Rights Specialist for UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub, facilitated discussion with business leaders and Chairperson Udagama to discuss the way forward. One of the suggested developments was to launch a task force to chart the next steps. The closing remarks were offered by the UNDP Resident Representative, Robert Juhkam, who noted that UNDP is looking forward to building on the momentum gathered at the National Dialogue in pursuing a collaborative approach to expanding the Business and Human Rights agenda in Sri Lanka.
UNDP's contribution to Business and Human Rights in the region
As a global organization, UNDP aspires for sustainable development — eradicating poverty, reducing inequality, promoting peace and prosperity, protecting the planet — in all regions. Our focus on Business and Human Rights goes to the heart of the organization’s efforts to assist States in reaching their goals under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including SDGs 5, 8, 10 and 16. Initiatives that build partnerships between business and government can also enhance policy coherence around sustainable development, described in SDG 17 as key to reaching all goals.
With a presence in 23 countries across Asia-Pacific, UNDP supports the implementation of the UNGPs on a truly regional scale. Seizing on the momentum in particular sub-regions, UNDP Asia-Pacific has been engaged in Business and Human Rights since 2015, facilitating regional exchanges of best practices, and through the establishment of regional awareness-raising and advocacy efforts. UNDP is assisting regional and national institutions and networks to play their respective roles and functions in furtherance of the UNGPs.
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