KOLKATA, 2 June 2017: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) organized East Regional Conference on Business and Human Rights in Kolkata on 2 June 2017. The main objective of the Conference, third in the series of the Regional Conferences being organized by the Commission in collaboration with CII is to share the national and international developments in the area of business and human rights besides hearing experiences and views of all stakeholders. Through this Conference, it also sought inputs from businesses on the draft self-assessment tool to be voluntarily used by the business fraternity, which it has facilitated in developing along with few industry organizations.
Justice Shri Darmar Murugesan, Member, NHRC said that human rights being universal in nature their availability and accessibility are an important measure of human wellbeing. It is crucial that business enterprises, big or small, must respect human rights culture in the country by their conduct and operations.
“Undoubtedly, the Government has a responsibility and has taken initiatives to protect the people against the violation of human rights, at the same time, business organizations also need to shoulder the responsibility to respect human rights,” he said.
Dwelling on the United Nation’s Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights developed by John Ruggie and endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, he articulated, rests on three pillars – Protection, Respect and Remediation. The second pillar elaborates on corporate responsibility to respect human rights which entails twin responsibilities on the part of businesses.
Companies should avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities and address such impacts when they occur and secondly, they must prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships. Thus, companies must ensure that their entire supply chain is respectful of human rights. To fulfill these, there is a need for a policy commitment to respect human rights, evolved at the highest level, by the companies. And, this should be followed by the process of due diligence, he reiterated.
Mr Justice Darmar Murugesan said although respect of human rights remains a voluntary obligation for companies, it is receiving wide support, of late, paving the way for implementation of Guiding Principles in responsible business efforts.
Having been nominated by the Commonwealth Forum for National Human Rights Institutions (CFNHRI) to be a focal point for the subject of Business and Human Rights recently has put more responsibility on the Commission to promote the agenda of making business fraternity respect human rights. He concluded by stating that the deliberations would benefit everybody to ensure human rights environment in the country.
Dr Satya N Mohanty, Secretary General, NHRC while talking in context of responsibility of business to respect human rights added that it has become a much more simpler task for the businesses ever since the Sustainable Development Goals 2013 itself has come out with one agenda item on ‘responsible business’.
He highlighted the aspect of ‘knowing’ and ‘showing’ embedded in UNGPs which emphasizes that the company should know and be able to show that they respect human rights by conducting due diligence process on continuous basis. Thus it is the expectation from the industries now to take leadership in this area and carry the agenda of respecting human rights forward. He also highlighted the importance of mapping of supply chains by businesses to identify the adverse human rights impacts. He concluded by stating that the outcome of the Conference will help in working as a multiplier for industry/businesses down the stream.
Mr Avijit Mukerji, Regional Managing Partner and Assurance Leader, East, PwC, said the canvas of CSR for most companies is limited to consciously choosing two important areas for CSR activities namely, education and sustainable development. He also stressed the importance of embedding human rights framework in business operations which would substantially help businesses in building their reputation in the market as well as enhancing their brands image.
Mr Sushanta Sen, Principal Adviser, CII, listed some recent initiatives of CII including guidelines on important sectors like health care and real estate. He also stressed the importance of industrial relations and ensuring equally, dignity of regular and contract workers - through payment of reasonable wages.
The other experts and industry captains who spoke were Mr Viraf M. Mehta, Adviser (Business and Human Rights), Partners in Change, Shri Sanjay Prasad, President &CEO, Mission of Mercy Hospital & Research Centre, Mr Subir Chaki, Wholetime Director, McNally Sayaji Engineering Ltd., and Mr Mukesh Partro, AVP Operations, Varun Beverages (Pepsi Bottling Plant).