Press Release

REDESCA of the IACHR publishes Thematic Report on “Business and Human Rights: Inter-American Standards”

January 27, 2020

A+ A-

Washington, D.C. - The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA, by its initials in Spanish) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) publishes today its report on “Business and Human Rights: Inter-American Standards”. This report is based on the identification of the international obligations of States with regard to human rights in cases in which businesses are in some way involved in the realization or violation of such rights. In addition to systematizing and bringing together various pronouncements that have been made within the inter-American system in relation to the issue of business and human rights, the report also provides a systematic and evolving analysis that seeks to clarify, organize and develop these State obligations and the effects that may be generated on businesses in compliance with the inter-American legal experience.

In this context, conscious of the high expectations and usefulness that this report may have, the REDESCA considers it important to recall Resolution 2887 approved by the OAS General Assembly in June 2016, in which the IACHR was requested “to conduct a study on inter-American standards on business and human rights based on an analysis of the conventions, jurisprudence and reports emanating from the inter-American system”, in order to serve as an input and parameter for the efforts made by Member States in various national and international initiatives in this area. Within this framework, the IACHR entrusted this Special Rapporteurship with conducting this study and developing standards on “Business and Human Rights” in the inter-American context through the preparation of a thematic report. The topic also forms part of the REDESCA’s mandate and framework of action, in accordance with the Commission’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan.

The REDESCA, in compliance with the mandate received from the IACHR, carried out a series of activities conducive to the preparation of this report, through a broad multi-stakeholder dialogue and collaboration process. Thus, in order to gather information and encourage the participation of a wide range of actors in the region, the REDESCA organized and participated in workshops, events, working meetings, public hearings, open questionnaires and consultations with experts. Representatives of States and autonomous public bodies, civil society organizations, representatives of academia and the business sector, among other interested actors, participated in these activities.

It should be noted that both the IACHR and its REDESCA, through the various mechanisms of the Commission, have constantly received information on the performance of States with respect to their human rights obligations in the light of different types of business activities and operations, as well as various industrial or productive sectors. Such information has reflected different situations: either more direct State intervention or some form of complicity; effects at local or transnational levels; situations framed by current events or related to armed conflicts and repressive contexts of the past; and, situations concerning all human rights and vulnerable populations. The inter-American human rights system has not been unaware of these situations and its bodies have repeatedly recognized that under certain circumstances States may incur international responsibility for acts committed by businesses that have affected human rights.

For these purposes, it is essential to reiterate that in recent years, the international community has been discussing how to address the growing role of national and transnational businesses in the realization of human rights and the corresponding obligations of States to prevent and respond to such problems. Within this framework, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have been consolidated as a minimum reference point for global governance in this area. With this premise, instead of considering them as isolated concepts, the present report considers that these Principles represent a dynamic and evolutive conceptual basis, which permeates the aspects of discourse and action in the field of business and human rights in coexistence with other legal standards of a binding nature.

On the occasion of the report’s publication, the President of the Commission, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, recognized on behalf of the IACHR the value of the work carried out by the REDESCA in the preparation of the report, recalling that: “The IACHR has already emphasized that the norms of the inter-American human rights system do not prevent or discourage development, but demand that it take place in conditions that respect and guarantee the human rights of affected individuals and communities. The recommendations of this report seek to ensure development with a human rights-based approach”. Along these same lines, the REDESCA also recalls that both the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognize that States have a duty to ensure the effectiveness of human rights protected by inter-American instruments in inter-individual relations, as well as to prevent with due diligence violations of such rights and to investigate, sanction and repair their consequences.

For her part, the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, Soledad García Muñoz, highlighted the importance of this report and stated that “as this is the first time that this issue has been addressed in a comprehensive, direct and general manner by the inter-American system, the report constitutes a tool with enormous potential for improving and strengthening legislation, practices and public policies that seek to address human rights violations and abuses in the context of business operations, to help strengthen preventive and due diligence actions, to enhance the accountability of States and businesses involved in such situations, as well as to ensure access to effective remedies for victims”. In this framework, the Special Rapporteur highlighted her deep gratitude “for the support received from the IACHR and the team of the Special Rapporteurship, as well as from all of the individuals, institutions and donors who have contributed to its realization, in particular the valuable financial support of the people of Spain through the cooperation of their Government”.

In turn, the Executive Secretary of the IACHR, Paulo Abrão, indicated: “This report is of great relevance for the protection and defence of human rights with respect to an issue that is increasingly evolving and has current repercussions throughout the hemisphere. We hope that the standards compiled and developed, as well as the recommendations issued in this report, will be considered and implemented as appropriate by States and businesses, in addition to contributing to the work carried out by civil society organizations on the subject”.

The published report is structured in nine chapters. Chapter I contains an introduction, the working methodology and the objectives of the report. Chapter II establishes 12 criteria used transversally in the report, which must be taken into account as fundamental and indispensable elements in addressing the issue within national and regional legal and political systems. Chapter III develops the obligations that States must fulfill in the context of business and human rights from the perspective of the inter-American system. Based on the state obligations derived from the inter-American instruments, this section identifies the obligations of States in the specific context of business activities and human rights.

Chapter IV develops the extraterritorial scope of States’ obligations in this area in accordance with the preceding chapters. Chapter V explores the legal effects that can arise for businesses from the general obligations of States to respect and guarantee human rights. Chapter VI makes visible certain contexts or areas of special priority or attention for the IACHR and its REDESCA in this area, such as transitional justice and accountability of economic actors; essential public services and privatization contexts; climate change in the context of business and human rights; business, fiscal policies and influence on public decision making; and, businesses, and information and communication technologies, among others.

Chapter VII refers to some of the differential impacts on vulnerable populations in the region. Subsequently, Chapter VIII mentions, by way of example, some initiatives that stand out as positive references in this matter. Lastly, Chapter IX contains a series of recommendations designed to guide the efforts of the States of the hemisphere in the area of business and human rights.

Finally, the report underlines that companies can be positive agents for the respect and guarantee of human rights, as well as can generate or motivate with their actions and behavior key changes not only to transform those experiences of impunity and human rights abuses, but also to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Therefore, public and good faith commitments are essential to strengthen the initiatives to be carried out, as well as to build trust between businesses, authorities and the general population, so that the vision of traditional corporate social responsibility is transcended, towards a practice of effective respect and due diligence in the field of human rights. The political will of authorities at all levels will also be a very powerful tool for advancing national, regional and universal efforts in this area by providing opportunities for prevention and ensuring access to justice and reparations for affected individuals and communities. Within this framework, the IACHR’s REDESCA makes itself available to OAS Member States and other relevant actors in the field, to provide technical advice on the initiatives developed in this area.

The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights is an Office specially created to support the IACHR in its work regarding the promotion and protection of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights throughout the Americas.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 014/20