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Wednesday, December 1 • 3:25pm - 4:40pm
Confronting racism: using the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to support transformative action

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Overall objective
This session will examine what the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) expect from business with regard to meaningful action to prevent and address racism and how the business and human rights agenda can be leveraged to confront racism.

Brief description of the session
As the UNGPs turned 10 in June 2021, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights mandated by the Human Rights Council to promote dissemination and implementation of the UNGPs worldwide, took stock of the first decade of implementation. The stocktaking highlighted that the UNGPs have led to significant progress by providing a common framework for all stakeholders in managing business-related human rights risks and impacts. Yet, considerable challenges remain when it comes to coherent implementation. Among major long-standing human rights challenges that continue to exist in all societies, racism, intolerance and discrimination have been amplified further during the COVID-19 crisis. As some countries saw public and media attention to the challenge of racial discrimination in the wake of high-profile cases of abuse, many companies and business leaders stood up publicly in support of anti-racism. These are welcome moves, but to tackle racism more effectively in all societies, much more is needed.

The failure to address racism seriously undermines both the promise of business and human rights generally - that is to provide a framework to prevent and remedy abuses by businesses of internationally recognized human rights - and specifically the recognized need to address intersectional harms experienced by individuals, especially women and people with non-binary identities, from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The UNGPs require 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, throughout their business relationships. This means, for example, that for companies it is not enough to commit to equality and diversity initiatives, if these are not accompanied by a foundational shift in their human rights due diligence operations and practices, which are able to acknowledge and address legacies of trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism. Similarly, while there are many corporate policy commitments to embrace diversity within the workforce, companies have been less forthcoming when making diversity and inclusion a reality on the ground.


An under explored angle to date is the way in which mainstream business can be leveraged to a greater scale by having businesses paying attention to the issue as part of their responsibility to respect human rights under the UNGPs. The economic prosperity of modern economies undeniably rests upon the foundations of colonialism, and the transatlantic slave trade and exploitation of generations of enslaved people of African descent, which remains to be fully recognized and addressed. However, the persistence of racial discrimination by, and benefiting businesses continues to manifest in many ways. For example, workers of colour are those at highest risk of exploitation in labour markets, including within industries in the digital economy. Likewise, large-scale development projects, the operations of many companies within the extractives industries, and the development of real estate investment projects often have racially discriminatory impacts on the communities that experience abuse because of such projects. Women of colour are in an even more precarious position, with racism often compounded by other intersecting forms of discrimination, such as sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.

The climate crisis also has a disproportionate impact on the rights of people of African descent, indigenous peoples and other communities of colour, which is tied to historical and structural racism. In many parts of the world, environmental racism poses a serious and disproportionate threat to the enjoyment of human rights of people of African descent, including the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment. At the same time, those seeking to defend their human rights in relation to climate change and the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment face unacceptable levels of violence, threats and intimidation.

avatar for Fernanda Hopenhaym

Fernanda Hopenhaym

Presidenta del Grupo de Trabajo de la ONU sobre empresas y derechos humanos., Grupo de trabajo sobre las empresas y los derechos humanos
Sra. Fernanda Hopenhaym es codirectora ejecutiva del Proyecto de Organización, Desarrollo, Educación e Investigación (PODER), una organización de América Latina dedicada a la responsabilidad empresarial. Durante veinte años, la Sra. Hopenhaym ha trabajado en la justicia económica... Read More →


Miriam Miranda

Coordinadora General, Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH)
avatar for Jena Martin

Jena Martin

Professor of Law West, Virginia University
Professor Martin is a Professor of Law at West Virginia University. Her research and scholarship is in the area of business and human rights, specifically examining how traditional frameworks - such as securities regulation - can be applied.
avatar for Paul Lalli

Paul Lalli

Global VP, Human Rights, The Coca-Cola Company
Paul Lalli is The Coca-Cola Company's Global VP of Human Rights, overseeing its ethical supply chain initiatives, stakeholder engagement, and the imbedding of a human rights lens into business operations and strategy.   He serves as the Co-Chair of the Consumer Goods Forum Human... Read More →
avatar for Sriram Madhusoodanan

Sriram Madhusoodanan

International Policy Lead, The Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP)
Sriram Madhusoodanan is International Policy Lead for the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) where he works to build bridges and connection between communities in the U.S. Gulf South and the Global South and amplify calls for climate reparations. GCCLP advances structural... Read More →
avatar for Barbara G Reynolds

Barbara G Reynolds

Member, Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
Ms. Reynolds served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Guyana from August 2014 to September 2019. Prior to this, Ms Reynolds was Head of Education for Save the Children UK, having spent the previous two decades with UNICEF. Ms Reynolds began her professional career as... Read More →
avatar for Alexandra Montgomery

Alexandra Montgomery

Programme Director, Anistia Internacional Brazil

Wednesday December 1, 2021 3:25pm - 4:40pm CET
Virtual Plenary room