Has a corporation ever made you feel vulnerable? Have your rights been ignored? Does it seem that businesses have no oversight? Then this may be of interest to you.
In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The principles reiterate that nations must control business activities, that corporations must respect human rights, and that victims must have access to justice.
The Council also created the Working Group on Business and Human Rights to put these principles into action.
The Working Group will visit Mexico from August 29 to September 7. This visit will be its second to Latin America, after a mission to Brazil in December 2015.
The Mexico visit is important for three reasons:
- Mexico is the 15th largest economy in the world.
- Mexico doesn't often invite international human rights institutions on official missions that generate recommendations the government must address seriously.
- The nation is experiencing a human rights crisis, evidenced by its position atop the lists of forced disappearances and attacks on journalists and human rights defenders (particularly environmentalists).
Expectations of the visit are high. The Working Group has received information about the human rights situation in Mexico and about business-influenced violations of those rights. The Group has yet to announce the places it will visit or an exact agenda, a complicated task considering the vast geography of the country and the variety of issues to address.
During its visit to Brazil, the Working Group met with authorities, State and private businesses, civil society, and affected groups. It visited strategic locations such as Altamira, the city closest to the Belo Monte Dam, and Minas Gerais, where a mining-waste dam broke last November.
The result was a report containing 32 recommendations for Brazil's government and corporations. The Working Group expressed its worry about undue corporate influence in the creation of national policies. It explained why politics and lobbying may compromise the State's ability to monitor business. It noted that most businesses don't evaluate the implications of their activities for human rights. It emphasized weaknesses in regulating, licensing, and monitoring large projects. And it highlighted the lack of consultation on mitigation and compensation measures with affected communities.
Ten of the recommendations made to Brazil could also be applied to Mexico.
The government should:
- Train officials, decision makers, and judges about the obligations of business and government to prevent and remedy human rights violations.
- Define clear policy expectations so that all businesses (both national and foreign) respect human rights and operate with due diligence.
- Comply with the Guiding Principles as well as with international standards and best practices, especially in infrastructure and development projects.
- Evaluate effective access to remediation, strengthen judicial and non-judicial mechanisms, and address business-related abuses.
- Strengthen the regulation of large-scale projects, and increase resources, capacity, and coordination between authorities--particularly those related to the environment and human rights--to improve monitoring of socio-environmental impacts.
- Ensure that when environmental disasters occur, mitigation and remediation measures are implemented, and adequate compensation is provided to the affected people (duly consulted).
- Guarantee that people potentially affected by development projects (especially the most vulnerable) receive information and adequate legal advice to be on equal footing in negotiations with corporations.
- Provide more resources for national programs to protect environmental defenders and emphasize improvement of social, economic, and political conditions.
Public and private business should:
- Respect human rights and act with due diligence to identify, prevent, and mitigate human rights violations.
- Ensure effective consultation with affected people and communities. This involves assessing impacts on human rights, paying special attention to vulnerable or potentially marginalized groups, and guaranteeing adequate and timely information about activities that could affect them. It includes distinguishing the risks to women, children, and men, especially with regards to infrastructure projects that displace communities.
The UN Working Group aims for its visit to be an important event for human rights in Mexico.
We hope its conclusions reflect what the country really needs. We hope that both business and government welcome the visit, take the recommendations seriously, and demonstrate the political will to act on them.
We shall see come September. A positive response is in all of our best interest.