Opening statement by Minister of State Niels Annen on the occasion of the project launch of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights: “Business and human rights – towards a decade of global implementation”

07.07.2020 - Speech

Thank you, Anita, for your kind words.

The fact that it’s still very early in the morning over in Seattle shows your commitment to the “Business and Human Rights” agenda – at any time of the day.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Seeing all of you – although virtually – political and business leaders, stakeholders and experts from all over the world – reminds us what the UN Guiding Principles are all about:

They truly create a true global forum –

a common space to set and implement global standards.

Human Rights must be the key part of these global standards.

Because the “global economy” is not something abstract.

Global economy that is the people – people who create added-value with their hands and brains, people who take business decisions and people who shoulder responsibility for their workers and customers.

Economy always implies people. And their rights must be at the heart of our discussions about a more sustainable and prosperous future.

I think we all agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has put the global economy into cardiac arrest.

Reviving it will not only demand unprecedented public investments.

It will require us to “build back better”.

This is not the time to turn away from ambitious environmental, social or human rights obligations and goals.

I believe, on the contrary: Sustainable production and better risk management are the only ways out of this crisis – and our best insurance against future shocks.

It is true that the virus does not make a difference between nationalities or skin colors.

But it sure does make a difference whether workers enjoy social security and safe working conditions.

Once again, we see that the hardest-hit are the most vulnerable:

Women working in the textile industry for example in Bangladesh who lost their entire income.

Health professionals working without life-saving equipment.

And I am not only talking about far away countries – also here in Germany we saw that workers in meat factories contracted the virus due to outrageous working conditions.

Protecting these vulnerable people is more than just an economic necessity to avoid further lockdowns.

Their situation is a wake-up call to build a more respectful model of economic cooperation. Short-sighted efficiency cannot be the center of this new economic model we want.

We therefore fully support the new project on business and human rights that we are launching today.

We are glad to have many international champions on board, such as the UN Development Programme, the International Labour Organization and the OECD. And I am glad that there are many governments wishing to contribute.

You can count on our support during our Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the coming six months – and, of course, beyond that.

Finding a way to advance both – human rights and sustainable competitiveness – is a challenge for every government.

In Germany, a large-scale study will provide us with facts on voluntary compliance by businesses with our National Action Plan in the coming weeks.

Indications we have so far suggest that the time has come to shift gears into a balanced, but mandatory approach. An approach that protects human rights but which also protects those enterprises, which suffer from standards dumping and unfair competition.

We are ready to share the results with you and our European partners – also as an input to a new EU strategy on responsible business behavior. I am sure that Didier Reynders will elaborate on his plans later.

He has our full support, because national solutions can only be second best to a joint European or even a global approach.

Dear friends,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ten years after their adoption, the UN Guiding Principles remain a benchmark. They promise to pave our way from a shareholder to a stakeholder economy.

Today, as we work our way out of this crisis, it is time to turn that promise into reality.

Thank you all very much!


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