Belgium and the UK are working closely together to put human rights high on the business agenda

Today, Belgium, together with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the British foreign ministry, organized a seminar to put human rights high on the agenda of business, as part of the Belgian Economic Mission to the United Kingdom.

"Business and Human Rights" is a priority for our country. Following the unanimous adoption of the "UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights" (UNGP) by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, in 2017 the Federal Government, together with the Regional Governments, adopted a National Action Plan to implement these standards. This drew on expertise from various departments and put forward 33 concrete actions. One action is to raise awareness in the context of Belgian economic missions abroad of companies and other stakeholders on the subject of "companies and human rights".

The United Kingdom also adopted a national action plan for implementing the UNGP for the first time in 2013 and passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. This Act allows for modern forms of slavery to be combated, ensures that perpetrators receive appropriate punishment, and improves support and protection for victims.

 
UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights '10+ Roadmap': looking to the future

The topic of human rights in business is also receiving increasing attention on the European and international stage. Thanks to the application of the UNGP, considerable progress has been made over the past decade. However, important challenges remain to ensure better protection of human rights, as well as better prevention of adverse effects, especially for the most marginalized and vulnerable groups. Ensuring access to remedies for inflicted harm also remains a focus that needs to be worked on. The UNGP's 10+ Roadmap for the next decade therefore describes the key areas of action to progressively realize these principles.

With this event, Belgium and the FCDO hope to encourage Belgian and British business leaders and policymakers to implement the UNGP properly and keep the issue high on the international agenda.

On behalf of both governments, the seminar was introduced by Tinne Van der Straeten, Minister of Energy, replacing Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès and Andrew Patrick, the UK Representative for Migration and Modern Slavery, in the presence of Princess Astrid.

Dr. Jan Wouters, Professor of International Law KU Leuven and Director of the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, moderated the debate between representatives of business and civil society. Elisabeth Van Damme (GlaxoSmithKline), Charles Snoeck (IDH-The Sustainable Trade Initiative) on Beyond Chocolate and Francis West (Shift, leading center of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) shared their views on the values debate in companies, the importance of a code of conduct, due diligence, evaluation of human rights policies, monitoring with third-party partners, employee training, measuring success and reporting problems.