Roundtable for Business Leaders in the GCC: Understanding and Implementing the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights – 17 and 18 November 2013, Abu Dhabi, UAE

On Sunday 17 and Monday 18 November 2013, a one-and-a-half day Roundtable on business and human rights was convened by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and supported by GBI. The Roundtable brought together experiences of 90 individuals – from the UAE and Gulf business community and multi-national corporations, together with representatives from UAE, Gulf and international governments, civil society, and the United Nations. Companies present included Emirates, Khansaheb Civil Engineering, Vale, Agility, Total S.A and many more headquartered in the region and worldwide.

Speakers at the Roundtable included: Dr Abdul Rahim Al Awadhi, Assistant Manager for Legal Affairs, UAE Foreign Ministry; Dr Alexandra Guaqueta, Member, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights; representatives from business (Emirates; Vale; ABB); representatives from Government (US State Department; UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs); along with representatives from the United Nations, the Institute for Human Rights and Business and more.

“The fact that you are here today demonstrates that you care about finding ways to maximize those benefits and minimize any negative impacts for people involved with, or affected by, your business. Of course, the protection of human rights is as much a challenge for governments as it is for businesses. And it is an ongoing one for all of us – new contexts and new opportunities will always emerge that we need to address. This is true of the UAE as it is of any country. This is important work and like much important work, it will never be fully done. But governments and businesses, working together where necessary, can make a difference.” Dr. Abdul Rahim Al Awadhi, Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs, UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“Social expectations regarding business have shifted. The Guiding Principles ensure that we speak the same language and find solutions so that people are treated with respect and dignity, and that we know what to expect of government and business.” Dr Alexandra Guaqueta, Member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

“Total adopted its Code of conduct in 2000, and is on a journey to improve business processes on human rights. We have identified the workplace, local communities and security as key human rights areas for us. We have developed a human rights internal guide, taken steps to embed human rights within the responsible departments, completed ethical assessments, undertaken training. We have developed a human rights roadmap, a precise plan that will help us embed this further. We will continue on this journey, and continue to view this as an opportunity for Total – an opportunity for the business to attract business partners who want to work with companies who have robust policies and practices.” Mr Philip Jordan, Chairman of the Ethics Committee, Total

“At Vale, we started small and simple, and then gained momentum. In 2007, we had no human rights team, no budget, but we knew that as a first step Vale needed a human rights policy, independent of the Code of Conduct, that would be specific to the mining industry. We looked at the UN Framework on business and human rights, and then all of the international standards, the extractive industry’s’ benchmarks, and into other company’s policies – and then drafted the company’s human rights policy. The policy was discussed with all departments to improve the policy and get their support, and then it was delivered to the Executive Directors of the Board. That validated the importance of the subject and centralized a discipline that was spread out in different departments. Now we have a corporate team, focal points, a budget, governance structures, and a strategy for our due diligence implementation.”
Liesel Filgueiras, General Manager Human Rights, Indigenous Communities, Vale Volunteer Program and International Community Relations, Vale

Business and Human Rights Roundtable: Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights in Practice – 14 November 2012, Dubai, UAE

On 14 November 2012, senior UAE business leaders met in Dubai to discuss the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and how they might use these to help inform their business practices.

The workshop was organized by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and facilitated by the GBI. Participants included business leaders from the UAE as well as representatives of a number of major multinational companies.

Business and Human Rights Roundtable -  An Emerging Approach to Corporate Social Responsibilities: Rights and Stakeholders in a Business Context – 9 December 2010, Cairo, Egypt

In 2010, GBI – under the leadership of GBI member the Mansour Group – worked with a wide range of partners to convene Egyptian business leaders to deliver a major roundtable in December 2011 to mark International Human Rights Day.

Over 80 business participants, 5 representatives from UN bodies, 8 from business associations, 12 from academic institutions, and 15 from civil society attended this one-day Roundtable event.  The Roundtable Report was translated into Arabic and disseminated in the Middle East and Gulf Region in 2011. A number of discussions are underway regarding how best to further dialogue in Egypt in light of the dramatic changes the country has experienced.

Speakers at the event included Professor John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights (UN SRSG); Youssef Mansour, Chairman and CEO of Mansour Group; expert organisations (e.g. UN Global Compact (UNGC), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), American University of Cairo (AUC) and the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and various businesses (e.g. Arab Africa International Bank, General Electric Company, Unilever plc, Proctor & Gamble, Shell, Total S.A. and Mercedes Egypt).

“Human rights have everything to do with business … we need to step up as companies and not be afraid to openly discuss this issue.  Human rights, which have been spelt out in the internationally recognized Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. With the ever-expanding role of the private sector in today’s world, we have a profound responsibility to uphold and ensure basic human rights.” Mr. Youssef Mansour, Chairman and CEO, Mansour Group, Egypt

“It is extremely important for senior leaders in the company to make their own commitment well known but having it well known is not enough.  You also need to make sure it gets institutionalised within the company and that the various business units and functions are adequately informed and trained.” Professor John Ruggie, the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights

“Respect and dignity sit beneath every single human rights convention that exists.  These are words that exist in every language, in every culture.  They are the bedrock of human rights, and human rights are only the social codification of these things.  We need a universal framework for this.  We need a global code.   We need global coherence.  We need a level playing field.” John Morrison, Executive Director, Institute for Human Rights and Business

“We were focussed on philanthropy.  Shortly after we realised that it was the core business that needed our attention.  Human rights lie in every part of our business.  Everything we do has a human rights dimension.” Dr. Dalia Abdel Kader, Head of Marketing and Communications, Arab Africa International Bank