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Wednesday, December 1 • 2:00pm - 3:15pm
Ensuring business respect for human rights in the political and regulatory sphere and preventing “corporate capture”

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Brief description of the session

This panel discussion will explore links between corporate political engagement practices and responsible business conduct. Panelists will discuss how to encourage responsible political engagement, how to prevent undue political influence by businesses—sometimes termed “corporate capture”— and how such activities may undermine and be inconsistent with the corporate responsibility to respect human rights set out by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“the Guiding Principles”).

When conducted responsibly, corporate political engagement is a legitimate avenue for the private sector to exercise leverage to improve policymaking and prevent harm. When conducted irresponsibly, however, corporate political engagement can direct political processes away from the public interest and toward the interest of the business entity itself, leading to business-related human rights abuses. Such practices are sometimes referred to as “corporate capture” or “undue corporate political influence.”

This panel discussion will focus on how businesses should account for their responsibility to respect human rights under the Guiding Principles, and how they should exercise human rights due diligence (HRDD) when engaging in a variety of activities in the political sphere – from lobbying to political donations to decisions about whether to speak publicly about policy debates that may impact their employees and other members of their community.

Following introductory remarks from the moderator, panelists will discuss several pressing contemporary human rights issues that are caused or exacerbated by irresponsible corporate political engagement; case studies will be provided from the tobacco, agribusiness, and climate fields. Panelists will describe the specific corporate political engagement tactics that are leading to these negative human rights outcomes; explain how this conduct is inconsistent with the business responsibility to respect human rights under the Guiding Principles; and examine how States have fallen short of their Guiding Principles duties in failing to sufficiently regulate corporate political activities.

Thereafter, panelists will discuss examples of good practice currently utilized by States and businesses around the world to ensure that corporate political engagement remains responsible and does not lead to human rights abuses. Speakers will examine which strategies have been effective in which geographies and recommend measures that should be implemented more widely to engender greater adherence to the Guiding Principles. Potential solutions include pledges made by corporations, actions by the investor community to shape responsible corporate behavior, as well as guidelines for States to avoid conflicts of interest relating to the private sector’s engagement in policy making This will include discussion of how HRDD can identify negative impacts for people and planet resulting from corporate political engagement activities, and how businesses should implement HRDD effectively to prevent and mitigate such impacts.

The primary aim of this session is to identify actionable solutions for both States and businesses. The discussion will focus on recommending concrete steps that State and non-State actors should take to fully implement the Guiding Principles with respect to corporate political engagement, in order to ensure greater coherence between businesses’ commitments to respect human rights and their political and lobbying activities, which are not always in alignment.

Key discussion questions
• How should “corporate capture” and its connection with human rights be defined? What distinguishes legitimate corporate political engagement from undue political influence by businesses which carries human rights risks?
• Are there specific examples of undue corporate influence that has led to government decision-making that negatively impacts human rights? What solutions or measures have been taken to encourage responsible and transparent corporate engagement in global and national policy making?
• What are good practices that businesses can implement to avoid undue political influence or engaging in political activities that negatively impact human rights?
• What are key practical considerations for businesses when creating human rights due diligence processes that will take into account the impacts of their political activities? What does/might this look like in practice, including for global political engagement (e.g., corporate engagement with multilateral institutions or international treaty processes)?

Background reading
• Working Group report: Guiding Principles on Business And Human Rights at 10: Taking stock of the first decade, available at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Business/UNGPs10/Stocktaking-reader-friendly.pdf
• Working Group report: Connecting the business and human rights and the anti-corruption agendas, available at https://undocs.org/A/HRC/44/43
• Working Group information note: A Roadmap for Responsible Recovery in Times of Crisis, available at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Business/WG/Responsible-recovery-information-note.pdf

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 →

Fabio Da Silva Gomes

Regional Advisor on Nutrition and Physical Activity, Pan American Health Organization
avatar for Irit Tamir

Irit Tamir

Director, Private Sector Department, Oxfam
avatar for Bobby Ramakant

Bobby Ramakant

Director for Policy and Communications, CNS
avatar for Astrid Puentes

Astrid Puentes

Former Co-Executive Director, Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, Independent consultant on climate, human rights and environment

Tom Lyon

Faculty Director, Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, University of Michigan
avatar for Nora Mardirossian

Nora Mardirossian

Project Lead, Food Sector and Sustainable Development Goals, Columbia Center for Sustainable Investment

Brynn O’Brien

Executive Director, Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility

Lisa Sachs

Director, Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment

Wednesday December 1, 2021 2:00pm - 3:15pm CET
Virtual Plenary room