UNGPS 10+ Blog Series: Closing thoughts and looking forward

This is the seventh and last in a series of blogs exploring the UNGPs 10+ roadmap through the perspectives of our partners. You can read the introduction here and view the full series here.

When the United Nations unveiled its UNGPs 10+ Roadmap late last year, we saw it as an opportunity to ask our partners to share – with us, with each other, and with our wider audience – what they’ve learned throughout their own experiences in their own areas of expertise.

They responded with an absolute wealth of information and we’re struck by how these lessons and the key questions they raise are transferable across all of the action areas identified in the document.

  • What can those who want to ensure that workers have a prominent role in developing solutions learn from TIIP’s efforts to conduct a landscape analysis and needs assessment within the investment world?
  • What can those working on the idea of “regional races to the top” learn from Veritè’s insights into borrowing standards development lessons from the environmental movement?
  • How can Open Apparel Registry’s perspective on open data inform the way others are seeking to embed human rights considerations with the business of digital technology and communications?
  • Can we combine Re:Structure Lab’s research into business models and purchasing practices with the Global Unions Committee on Workers’ Capital’s experience activating previously inactive stakeholders, to reach new leverage points?

It is an incredible privilege to look across this series and see through the eyes of more than a dozen of our partners, and to share that experience more widely as we look forward to the next ten years of implementing the UNGPs.

Which leads to the other major takeaway for us – that the challenges we were facing ten years ago are still the challenges we face today.

Last year we looked back at the first ten years of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and we had a chance to assess where we are in their adoption. And while there has been progress made towards ending some exploitative business practices, others have become even more entrenched.

We began this blog series by stating “the intersection of business and human rights is a critical one.” Of the approximately 24.9 million people around the world in situations of forced labor, around two-thirds of them (16 million) are in the private economy.

For those millions of lives, hidden inside decimal points in the accounting software of the world’s biggest corporations, forced labor is literally just business as usual.

However, the roadmap proposed by the UN and the questions raised about how best to reach its varied destinations are critical now, not just because of the ten-year milestone. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve had several major opportunities to re-evaluate the way we see the economic engines that drive the world. In 2020 we redefined and relied on the critical efforts of “essential workers.” In 2020 and 2021 we had several crash courses in what supply chains are, and how disruptive it can be to our everyday lives when they are destabilized. And this year we’re seeing higher inflation rates around the world than we’ve seen in decades, putting further pressure on vulnerable workers in addition to more precarious labor systems.

All of this has occurred while companies have continued pulling in record-breaking short-term profits and sharing that wealth almost exclusively with their stockholders and executives while largely avoiding responsibility for workers’ health, working conditions, and wages.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed, and this attention presents us with yet another potential inflection point, if we are to take “human exploitation” off the list of acceptable practices in the global economy.

How can this heightened awareness of corporate practices grant more leverage to constituents or policymakers who want to enforce the State Duty to Protect? How can it combine new technology and increased pressure to drive action in the area of More and Better Tracking of Progress?

How can those of us working to end forced labor and human trafficking capture this moment to bring the integral voices of workers to the table?

How can leading corporations engage their lagging peers in a race to the top to improve the way workers are treated throughout the corporate world?

We can’t be afraid to ask these questions, but we also can’t be afraid to answer them, and swiftly.

Ten years seems like a long time, but the exploitative corporate practices that were in place before the pandemic began – and those that have sprung up during it – will only get further entrenched the longer we wait. As we’ve seen from how companies have treated workers throughout this global tragedy, without sufficient pressure, the only parties that will benefit from the “rebuilding” of our economy are those who already profit handsomely from worker exploitation.

For us at Humanity United, this process has driven home that this moment is filled with both opportunity and urgency. Now is the time to be acting.