Panel Discussion on Regional Dialogue- Lessons Learned, Challenges, Innovation-Asia at the 08th Session of the Business and Human Rights Forum held on 27th November 2019, 1030 hours in Palais des Nations, Geneva.

Panel Discussion on Regional Dialogue- Lessons Learned, Challenges, Innovation-Asia at the 08th Session of the Business and Human Rights Forum held on 27th November 2019, 1030 hours in Palais des Nations, Geneva.

Remarks by Sh. Animesh Choudhury, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of India

  

Thank You Mr. Chair,

 

Distinguished Panellists, Excellencies and other esteemed delegates, 

This morning we have already had the privilege to listen to some interesting remarks and presentations from experts from the Asian Region.

Distinguished Delegates,

As the largest democracy in the world, protection of human rights has been an intrinsic part of the Indian tradition. India’s rich cultural values are based on the principle of inclusive development for all.

Since we have a paucity of time, I will give a brief description of the efforts taken at our national level in the past decade to further the concept of business and human rights in India.

 The Constitution of India with its strong focus on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy has always been the principal driver in this direction. Respect for human rights with a focus on sustainable and inclusive development has been the priority for India.

In fact, India is one of the few countries to have statutorily mandated Corporate Social Responsibility by law. Companies having a certain threshold turnover have been mandated by law in India to spend at least 2% of their average net profits of the preceding three years on socially beneficial activities.

When one thinks of a business enterprise, the traditional view has been looking at it from the perspective of shareholders and their interests. In India, we have taken a more holistic view of an enterprise. A business and its activities affects all stakeholders, be it its employees, the community at large or the natural environment. Hence India’s Companies Act 2013 makes a significant departure from the traditional shareholder model to the more progressive and inclusive stakeholder model. This ensures that businesses look beyond the shareholders as far as the impact of their activities on the society at large is concerned.

Distinguished Delegates,

In India, way back in 2009, we had started taking steps at the national level to encourage our businesses towards recognizing the importance of protection of human rights. This led to another important step in 2011, when after long-ranging consultations with various stakeholders, we brought out the National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, economic and environmental responsibility of businesses. These guidelines aimed at encouraging businesses to adopt higher standards to corporate governance. These principles were in line with the then international best practices. However, as we all know, the international landscape also underwent significant changes since the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011. In 2015 we had the Sustainable Development Agenda and then the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Hence, at the domestic level, we again felt the need to improve upon the National Voluntary Guidelines to bring them in line with the UNGPs, SDGs and the current international framework. Thus began the work in 2015 towards the National Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct which were finally published early this year. These Guidelines which contain 9 core principles have been formulated in alignment with the SDGs and UNGPs. These are designed to be used by all businesses, irrespective of their ownership, size, sector, structure or location. It is interesting to note that Principle 5 of the guidelines recognizes that businesses must respect and promote human rights in their operations.

Distinguished Colleagues,

Yesterday we were informed on the achievement of Thailand to be the first country in Asia to have formulated a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. We convey our heartiest congratulations to the delegation of Thailand for this achievement.

India has also been working on a National Action Plan on BHR at the domestic level. In fact the zero draft of the same was published early this year. But as you understand, the enormous geographical area and diversity of India is itself a challenge while undertaking any such exercise. A thorough and intense process of consultations is put in place as part of such a process. The diversity and number of stakeholders involved in India also needs to be factored in. We have already had a series of Inter-Ministerial Consultations, consultations with various Stakeholders as well as regional consultations during this exercise. The process is still on and India is steadily moving towards its own National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in the near future.

Another significant component of the accountability framework to ensure socially responsible businesses is the mechanism of reporting. The Securities and Exchange Board of India mandates the top 500 listed companies to submit business responsibility reports on initiatives taken by them from the environmental, governance and social perspective. The National Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct also encourages such reporting.

We have also started the process of bringing in the element of sustainability reporting in business activities. A Committee has been set up for the same and the process is still ongoing.

These initiatives at the national level in India complements an already existing machinery comprising of an independent judiciary, national and state commissions to monitor compliance with human rights, legal and policy measures and an independent media.

Distinguished Delegates,

We all understand that the landscape of business and human rights is a dynamic one and is rapidly evolving at the global arena. Today we are also discussing a proposed legally binding instrument in the field and India has been closely involved in that process.

 

The domestic developments in the last decade in India only reaffirm its resolve and unwavering commitment towards the realization of human rights and ensuring socially responsible businesses.


Thank You.

 
2019
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