5th International Conference of the Parliamentary Committees on Legal Affairs on “Politics, Business and Human Rights”
- Published: November 10, 2016
Organised jointly by the IRZ, the German Bundestag Committee on Legal Affairs and Consumer Protection and the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV), the 5th International Conference of the Parliamentary Committees on Legal Affairs was held in the German Bundestag on 24 and 25 October 2016. The organisers welcomed 30 guests from Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Algeria to the event.
The focus of the event was on issues concerning the protection and respect of human rights in politics and business, in which the civil society and non-governmental organisations also play an important role. Based on the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights, with the three main focus points on the state duty to provide protection, the responsibility of businesses and access to remedies and the resulting 31 guiding principles, national efforts to implement these principles were presented and discussed. The conference was opened by the parliamentary Secretary of State at the BMJV, Christian Lange, MdB, the President of the German Bundestag Committee on Legal Affairs and Consumer Protection, Renate Künast, MdB, and the IRZ Managing Director, Veronika Keller-Engels. Following on from this, Ulrich Kelber, MdB, parliamentary Secretary of State at the BMJV, and Yasmin Fahimi, Secretary of State at the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, introduced the German national sustainability strategy and the national action plan for business and human rights on behalf of the German federal government. Four panels dealt with issues concerning corporate social responsibility and the global challenge of fighting corruption as aspects that are part of protecting human rights.
In this context, delegates explained the approaches to finding solutions that are already in place or are under discussion in their respective countries, followed by lively and controversial discussions with responses from delegates who are Members of the Bundestag, Volker Beck, Dr. Hendrik Hoppenstedt and Harald Petzold. From the world of business, the Chief Counsel at the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), Prof. Dr. Stephan Wernicke, Luise Seyfferth from Allianz SE and Dr. Christoph Klahold from thyssenkrupp AG, explained the efforts that have been made and are still being made by German businesses at a national and international level in order to ensure high standards of corporate social responsibility in Germany and worldwide. In this respect, clear rules, legal certainty and international cooperation to achieve consistent standards are in the interest of businesses. These discussions with foreign parliamentarians made clear the different approaches regarding, for example, a normative commitment or voluntary-based efforts to protect human rights in the world of business, which was also explained by Cornelia Heydenreich from Germanwatch. Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Hellwig from the German Bar Association (Deutscher Anwaltverein) then elaborated on the significance of the UN guiding principles and of national efforts to implement legal advice from the legal profession. There followed a keynote by the lawyer Wolfgang Schaupensteiner on the meaning of corruption and on its effects on the state and society and then Dr. Angela Reitmaier from Transparency International Germany and delegates from the partner countries gave their own opinions.
During speeches by guests from other countries, it became clear that, due to terrorist attacks, political unrest, the acceptance of refugees, the prevalence of Islam and the colonial legacy in their respective home countries, international standards with regard to protecting human rights have not yet been achieved and further, some quite considerable efforts are still required. The parliamentarians reported on their reforms in the field of human rights and the sometimes quite poor implementation of the appropriate provisions because of insufficient institutional anchoring or an absence of sanctions.
The four panels were moderated by the lawyer, Dr. Sebastian Cording, a member of the Human Rights committee of the German Federal Bar (Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer), Dr. Almut Wittling-Vogel, the German government’s Commissioner for Human Rights issues at the BMJV, Metin Hakverdi, MdB and Harald Petzold, MdB.
Overall it can be noted that the conference shed light on some particularly important aspects concerning the protection of human rights in the world of business and the corresponding approaches to finding solutions. It allowed the attention of the participating guests, who come from states undergoing transformation for which the topic is particularly significant, to be directed to the efforts made at the level of parliaments, governments and businesses. Finally, in this respect, we should not underestimate the fact that during this conference it became clear that in Germany - as a developed constitutional state - controversial discussions, albeit based on mutual trust and respect, are taking place at a political, economic and social level on all sides to find compromises and the best possible outcome to improve the protection of human rights in the world of business and work.
Subsequently, the parliamentarians attending the conference agreed that the kind of exchange of thoughts made possible by this conference is worthwhile and that, ideally, the objective should be for a network of parliaments to be set up, in order to help efforts to improve the protection of human rights become a reality at an international level as well.