Notes from thematic session on the promotion of the principles of the Convention in international forums, 23 June, 2002

Information from the session that is stated at https://unece.org/sites/default/files/2022-06/WGP-26_Programme_PPIF_session.pdf “The thematic session on the promotion of the principles of the Aarhus Convention in international forums will include panel presentations and round table discussion on rules of procedure and practice with regard to access to information and public participation in the international decision-making on legally binding instruments on plastic
pollution and on business and human rights. The notes are from the part of the session on promoting the principles of the Aarhus Convention vis-à-vis States’ obligations with regard to the responsibility of business actors under their jurisdiction in the context of legally binding instrument on business and human rights.
Panellists:
• Nathalie Stadelmann, Human Rights Officer, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (who provided the context)
• François Gave, Special Representative for Corporate Social Responsibility and the Social Dimension of Globalization, Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, France
• Attracta Uí Bhroin, Environmental Law Officer, Irish Environmental Network/European ECO Forum

François Gave: the Aarhus convention, human rights, and responsible businesses – a French perspective What is the problem? there are three pillars: access to information, access to justice, and access to participation. They are independent pillars, and creating trust is not easy. Environmental issues today are increasingly important and they are linked to human rights and there are divisive and politicised aspects. There are different communities – human rights defenders, environmental activities, business and science. Human rights are about the rule of law. The environmental activists are looking at the future and how to move out of the crises, Business is pragmatic – with concerns about competition, cost and benefits. Science is related to uncertainties and they don’t always want to share information and lower standards in their view. We need to ensure dialogue and public institutions need to change their practice. The role of the state is to facilitate a dialogue in a new way which is not what the state does.

In France, they need to explore different options as no size fits all. An example is a national platform for business social responsibility that was set in 2017. To communicate to the population at large what it means and to participate in the debate and discussion, and support private and public initatives. An important role was played in a different area – France was a pioneer in business due diligence law and adopted a binding law with access to justice about due diligence. It took four years of negotiation with lots of parliamentary debate. It allows the representation of different views – public, trade unions, researchers, business, employers and employees – this allows reaching a consensus and sharing of information. It influences European thinking and negotiation about due diligence and influences the EU actions in this area. It supported it into the EU presidency as an activity. This also allows for the draft of international instruments on business and human rights.

Another example is the National contact point for the OECD on corporate responsibility, and this contact point is responsible on promoting the principles of the OECD and also serve as a recommendation and mediation body for complaint about companies and enterprise. It is an interesting body, it was set by all states in OECD, but each done it in a different way with flexibility. In France, it includes representation of business, trade unions, government and a condition for valid complaints and it is very broad. The access to information is broad – e.g. on procedures, and information is shared across these organisations. It contributes to transparency. The contact point works well, but a business can refuse to take part, but those that participate find it useful – but it’s not binding.

The challenges: creating trust is challenging, there is competition between aims and establishing trust is hard. On the positive side, the structured conversation can be far-reaching – when businesses are listening and willing, and sometimes they request binding text. The difference between communities is sometimes disappears. The results are sometimes beyond what was expected. Environmental democracy is difficult to achieve.

Attracta Uí Bhroin – making a contribution: the environmental crises are widely recognised as the biggest threat. IPCC recognises the interdependence of biodiversity and human societies. We need to deal with it fairly for all concerns. For the essential role of environmental law and protecting environmental defenders. The Aarhus community is taking the decision for a rapporteur on protecting environmental defenders. This is deeply troubling that it is needed after 24 years. The Covid 19, energy and food crises are now used to trample environmental democracy. Climate and biodiversity crises are used as a justification to trample over the principles of environmental democracy. We need to pay attention to how our inactions are impacting the rights of indigenous people and people in other jurisdictions. The mandate for setting up the negotiation for intergovernmental negotiation. A concrete suggestion in the seventh session, there was no engagement from the Aarhus parties to make the text more progressive. There is a full spectrum of positions. Further negotiation will happen in October 2022. There is a role for a legally binding instrument on due diligence. There is a need to think about access to justice – and we can’t allow to fail. The council of Europe will consider the addition of the human rights to a healthy environment.

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