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U.S. Statement at the Clustered Interactive Dialogue on Health and Human Rights and Business
June 11, 2014

Clustered Interactive Dialogue on Health and Human Rights and Business
Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America

 UN Human Rights Council – 26th Session
Delivered by Natalya Scimeca

Geneva, June 11, 2014

Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health

The United States would like to thank Mr. Anand Grover for his service as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The United States appreciates the focus on unhealthy foods and diet-related non-communicable diseases in the latest report from the Special Rapporteur.  We respectfully disagree, however, with some recommendations in this report.  For example, proposals on how to regulate trade agreements between states and between markets within a state both reach well beyond the scope of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and the purview of this body.  We are also concerned about certain characterizations of human rights law, and we would stress that while businesses should respect human rights and not infringe on their enjoyment, it is states that are responsible for implementing their human rights obligations.

Nevertheless, the United States acknowledges the importance of the report’s topic.

In 2010 our government launched Let’s Move! – a comprehensive initiative dedicated to addressing the challenge of childhood obesity, providing healthier food in our schools, ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food, and helping kids become more physically active.  The private sector is one of many partners with Let’s Move!.

Also in 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act secured historic reforms to school meals to ensure that children are fed healthy food, and authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue new nutrition standards for foods and beverages sold outside of the federal school meals program.  In 2011, the United States launched our multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder National Prevention Strategy, including key actions to increase community access to healthy and affordable foods; improve the nutritional quality and safety of the food supply; and provide information, tools and expertise to help Americans understand and apply dietary guidelines.

We strongly support the 2011 UN Political Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases, which includes actions for governments, private sector and other stakeholders concerning many of the issues raised in the Special Rapporteur’s report.  A critical element of effective prevention programming on NCDs is the recognition of the need to tackle the social, economic and environmental determinants of health, and we are pleased that this is one of the current leadership priorities of WHO.

Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises

The U.S. government thanks the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises for its report and commends the significant efforts that the Working Group has undertaken over the last year.  We strongly support the work of the Working Group in promoting, disseminating and fostering implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and reiterate our views regarding the State duty to protect that we expressed at the time this body endorsed the Principles.

The United States is committed to the implementation of the Guiding Principles, and we look forward to continuing to work with you in this regard.  We note that the United States recently submitted a response to the Working Group’s request for comments on the Consultation Document on Substantive Elements to be included in Guidance on National Action Plans.

The United States also supports further discussion of issues related to access to remedy, whether judicial or non-judicial.  We agree that it is important not to lose sight of the flexibility of non-judicial remedies and the ways in which use of such procedures can facilitate innovative solutions to grievances.  That said, we agree that access to judicial remedy is an important matter that merits greater focus.  We support the decision of the Office, in collaboration with the Working Group, to take discussion on this topic forward.  But we would also urge that this conversation focus on the concrete issues – technical, practical, or legal – that warrant further exploration, so that good practices tailored to the specific problem or issue can be identified, while also recognizing the diversity of legal systems around the world.

With regard to an international legal instrument on business and human rights, the United States strongly agrees with the Working Group’s assessment that the international community has made a strong global political commitment to the Guiding Principles.  While there are challenges in their implementation, the United States does not believe that launching a treaty negotiation process will be useful in achieving our shared goals, as reflected in the Guiding Principles.  A treaty process would likely be lengthy and would distract from efforts to implement the Guiding Principles and other work of the Working Group.  The United States strongly believes that the international community’s efforts should be focused on implementing the Guiding Principles, which took years to achieve and present the strongest and most immediate opportunity for us to make positive changes.

We are gravely concerned at the prospect of a competing initiative that would challenge the global commitment to the Guiding Principles and undermine years of important work.  Such an initiative would in any event be unlikely to address the concerns that animate calls for a legally binding instrument, as a one-size-fits-all instrument is not the right approach to handling the rich fabric that is regulation of business and would only be binding on the States that became party to it.  We agree with the Working Group that a much better avenue for implementation – although one among several – is for States to consider developing and implementing National Action Plans.

We thank the Working Group for raising the extremely pressing issue of protecting human rights defenders who raise awareness of the impacts of business activities.

We encourage the Working Group to remain focused on this issue.  In addition, the U.S. government has devoted over $1 million in programmatic funds specifically to support dissemination and implementation of the UN Guiding Principles globally.

We look forward to continuing our work together to implement the Guiding Principles.