Business Executives Conference – Sustainable Business and Investment in the Global Context: Rights, Risks and Responsibilities
16 April 2013, Beijing, China
On Tuesday 16 April and Wednesday 17 April, an event series was held in Beijing, China, entitled “Sustainable Business and Investment in the Global Context: Rights, Risks and Responsibilities”. This meeting was the first of its kind in China, bringing together participants for a practical business-to-business discussion on sustainable business and human rights.
The event series consisted of a Business Executives Conference and a Roundtable for Practitioners aimed at business leaders and investors from China and abroad. The events were aimed at exploring the experiences of Chinese and international businesses and relevant experts, exploring investing and operating in high-risk contexts, and how companies should implement respect for human rights. The event series was organised by the UN Global Compact, the Principles for Responsible Investment, the Global Compact Network China, the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management, the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights (GBI), and COSCO as a corporate partner.
The Business Executives Conference, held on Tuesday 16 April, was attended by over 200 participants. Participants included some of the largest and most prominent businesses from China and overseas. Almost half of the participants were representatives from Chinese businesses, including private enterprises and state-owned enterprises.
The Roundtable for Practitioners on Risk Management and Human Rights, held on Wednesday 17 April, brought together over 100 participants. This smaller event was an opportunity for businesspeople to enter into working sessions with corporate counterparts, from different industries and diverse corporate functions. Through deeper dialogue and discussions in small group working sessions, participants discussed how companies manage human rights impacts and risks, business management systems and processes they have in place and specific challenges that they are facing.
Speakers at the events included representatives from leading Chinese businesses such as China Mobile, COSCO, CPI Yunnan International, the China Development Bank and Sinosteel; from multinational corporations such as General Electric Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Shell, and Flextronics; international investors from ATP Investment Department, Hermes Equity Ownership Services and MN Services; and from international organisations including the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
‘Human rights used to be perceived as a concept that was highly politicized. But much more simply, human rights can be seen and used as a universally agreed benchmark of how to treat people. With agreement on clear benchmarks from business and other stakeholders, the era of declaratory CSR is over. In its place, business today has a clear and authoritative roadmap for what it means to respect human rights—that is found in the UN Guiding Principles.’ Mr Gerald Pachoud, Senior Advisor, UN Peacebuilding Support Office, and Formerly Special Advisor to the Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights
‘A company’s reputation is part of, not separate from materiality. A reputational crisis absorbs the time and focus of high-level executives to solve, when they should be focused on creating value. So from a business point of view, it is good for business to be proactive. Companies have certain responsibilities, and respecting human rights is part of this.’ Mr Ole Buhl, Head of ESG, ATP Investment Department
‘COSCO holds human rights as a core value. That means that our management takes a people-oriented approach. With a people-oriented approach we can maximize our profits. Human beings are the most uncertain factor in business operations, so in terms of risk control, respect for human rights is the major effort we must make. If we reduce human rights risk then we will succeed in promoting sustainable development.’ Ms Ma Xinying, Director of Sustainable Development Office, COSCO
‘No company is perfect—invariably, any business has human rights impacts. What is important is to build the capacity of our business leaders to understand and identify those impacts. In that way, the journey to respect human rights is parallel to the journey in the 1990s
to incorporate corporate codes of ethical conduct.’ Mr Kent McVay, International Labor Relations Director, The Coca-Cola Company
‘As Chinese companies become more international, the voice of stakeholders like NGOs is becoming stronger. As a result, Chinese companies are incorporating human rights into their management systems. Even within China they cannot avoid this topic. International conventions are being translated into Chinese law and the enforcement of these laws is becoming more stringent. Chinese companies must comply, either voluntarily or involuntarily. This is why Chinese enterprises have a strong drive to respect human rights.’ Mr Liang Xiaohui, Chief Researcher, China National Textile and Apparel Council, and Lecturer in Business and Human Rights, Peking University Law
‘To succeed, a company must assume global responsibilities. It is important not just to consider the responsibilities of your home country but also those of the country where you are operating. This requires enhanced transparency, equity and neutrality. If we are modest and willing to learn, then we can do better.’ Prof. Wang Zhile, Director General, Beijing New Century Academy on Transnational Corporations