While it is governments that have the primary responsibility for implementation, there are a plethora of actors who play a role in implementation, including the United Nations, international financial institutions, the private sector and civil society. These actors cannot currently be held accountable in the same way as governments can.
Private businesses, for example, are not signatories to international human rights standards or to international normative agreements such as the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda or the Beijing Platform for Action. Moreover, the actions of the private sector do not always align with the objectives of sustainable development and gender equality.
Corporate investments in mining or agriculture, for example, have led to large-scale land dispossessions and the displacement of women in rural areas in South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, undermining women’s property rights and reducing food security. Similarly, millions of women experience dangerous and insecure working conditions along global value chains in many industries, including agriculture and manufacturing, which threaten their safety, health and well-being.
There have been a number of voluntary initiatives to encourage the private sector to align its action with international standards around human rights and gender equality. For example, the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) explicitly recognize the responsibility of businesses for women’s right to work and rights at work—including fair and equal treatment, occupational health and safety, training and professional development, and support for women-owned enterprises.
While voluntary codes of conduct such as the WEPs provide important, gender-specific guidance to corporations that support gender equality, the need to move towards a global set of binding rules on business and human rights is increasingly recognized.
In 2014, the Human Rights Council took a historic step in this direction by establishing an open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises. Country-level experience with effective regulations regarding transparency, legal protections, remedies and other measures shows that they can help the private sector meet its human rights obligations and maximize its contribution to sustainable development and gender equality.
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The CSR Journal Team