ADC “Memorial” takes part in UN Forum on “Business and Human Rights”

On 3-4 December, 2013 in Geneva international forum on “Business and Human Rights” organized by the United Nations Organization was held. It was attended by more than 1,600 participants, including government officials, representatives of business and civil society. This was already the second UN forum on this topic (the first one was held a year ago).

Discussions at the forum were devoted to the principles and obligations that must be respected and observed when doing business: the rights of indigenous peoples, if they live on the territories where mineral resources are extracted, where dams or power plants are built, as well as the rights of workers, especially if they belong to vulnerable groups (women, migrants, minorities), the rights of children, if their interests are somehow affected by the business operations.For example, in Russia the problem of violations of labor rights of immigrant workers is very acute. Though they are formally employed by private companies and a multitude of intermediary firms, in fact a significant part of immigrant workers are employed on public facilities, such as the construction of the Olympic Stadium in Sochi, the stadium in Saint Petersburg , various jobs in the housing maintenance and utilities sector. This places special responsibility on the country that hosts immigrant workers and is interested in their work. Unfortunately , in practice, state agencies often not only do not care about respecting the rights of migrants by the business owners, but also create conditions for massive violations of these rights – safety conditions at workplaces are not checked, accommodation and proper legal registration of workers are not provided, salaries are not paid in full. This problem exists in many countries. It is necessary to seek fulfilment of all these obligations by the hosting country because workers coming from poorer regions of the world are double as vulnerable compared to the rest.

UNO’s guiding principles on business and human rights are not legally binding in the strict sense, but many companies and corporations aim to follow them in their operations, and some states welcome this approach and try to monitor its implementation. Representatives of different countries and businesses have spoken about this in their presentations at the forum.

The forum was attended by human rights defenders of indigenous people from various parts of the world. They spoke of the negative consequences of globalization and activities of the multinational corporations, about how dangerous it was to be human rights defenders in the atmosphere of corruption and impunity. Many speakers stressed that a strong civil society, able to respond to human rights violations in business practices, is a determining condition in order to provide for observation of UN’s guiding principles in this field.

Unfortunately, indigenous peoples living in Russia were not represented at the forum by any NGOs, although the problems associated with oil, gas and other minerals’ extraction to the detriment of the interests of indigenous peoples, clearly exist in Russia, too. Olga Abramenko of ADC “Memorial” drew attention to the conflict between “Lukoil – Western Siberia” oil company and the regional Khanty community, which protests against oil exploration on the territories traditionally used for reindeer herding. Protection of the rights of indigenous peoples in Russia should be carried out through various UN mechanisms, in particular, through special reports to the corresponding UN committees.

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