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State’s Otero on Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
Implementation Workshop on the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
May 2, 2012

Remarks by Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
George C. Marshall Auditorium
Washington, DC
April 30, 2012

Thank you, Mike. I want to take a moment to recognize your leadership particularly in the area of Business and Human Rights. Not only have you created a team that focuses exclusively on the intersection between business and human rights, but your leadership has helped create the space to develop and maintain tools which encourage corporations to respect human rights while ensuring economic prosperity.

We are grateful to have Professor John Ruggie with us today. As you all know, John was the Secretary General’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights. There is no better person to discuss implementation of the Guiding Principles than the author himself.

Our strategy for promoting respect for human rights through our foreign policy must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be. Private companies are some of the world’s largest economic actors. Clearly, building bridges between government and business is not only smart, it’s necessary.

At the heart of this collaboration is the unique role business plays in bolstering innovation. Indeed, innovation is the core of what businesses do. From technology, to energy, to manufacturing, to health, business investments — both domestic and international — impact peoples’ lives. We must leverage this innovation and investment to help solve global challenges and improve the welfare of people. But in order to achieve our shared goals we must be sure such innovation is rooted in a respect for human rights. That is of course why we are all here today.

We must establish clear guidelines and reliable processes so that business can do their part in respecting human rights. The U.S. government uses our foreign policy to help strengthen the rule of law and human rights, which in turn improves the environment for prosperous business. It also ensures investment and innovation don’t violate standards of stable and democratic society.

But this is something neither government nor the private sector can accomplish alone. By working together across sectors, in partnership, with mutual respect, we can leverage our collective strengths to support business respect for human rights. We will be far more successful in achieving our shared goals if draw our solutions from all realms — governments, private companies, multilaterals, universities, and nonprofits. What I know from my career — and I suspect many of you know the same — is that innovation occurs at the intersection of worlds that are newly connected. When you bring people together, tapping new expertise and resources from every corner, and think outside of your respective box, perspectives shift and challenges break down.

For example, Barrick Goldand BP, as well as Marathon, Newmont, Shell and Rio Tinto; are working to develop a set of key performance indicators for the Voluntary Principles (or VPs) on Security and Human Rights. The VPs provide guidance to extractive companies on maintaining the safety and security of their operations while also respecting human rights.

Another partnership with great potential is the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers. Work is now underway to translate the code’s principles into clear standards, and to establish a governance and oversight mechanism. Over 300 members of industry have already signed, and we encourage your participation. Why? Because again and again, we see that when we work together, our capacity for innovation is nearly limitless.

The UN Guiding Principles provides an important framework through which we engage in these areas.

The United States is seeking to institutionalize and broaden support for the Guiding Principles in multilateral fora. For example, we have encouraged the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to incorporate language from the GPS into their human rights chapter of the newly revised (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. We are looking at other regional and global multilateral organizations to incorporate the principles in similar ways, furthering the GPs as the authoritative standard framework on business and human rights.

We also working with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights as it disseminates the Guiding Principles. We are exploring ways to support the work of the UN Working Group through targeted high impact projects, and intend to launch a $500,000 program to promote awareness and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles.

I know you have a robust agenda today, and I look forward to hearing about your exchanges. Your contribution will help inform our policies, and how we move forward the GPs. In so doing, we not only positively influence the respect for human rights but also enhance the success of businesses.

Thank you.