On November 30 and December 1, 2018, the heads of state of the world’s leading economies met in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the tenth G20 annual summit. Despite the tense political context, G20 Leaders managed to agree on the 2018 G20 Leaders’ declaration, outlining their commitments towards “fair and sustainable development.”
The G20 Leaders’ declaration 2018
Compared to last year's declaration, the 2018 G20 Leaders’ declaration marks a clear regression in relation to business and human rights. The 2017 Leaders’ declaration contained a strong set of commitments aimed at fostering sustainable and inclusive supply chains, with explicit references to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, national action plans on business and human rights, the business responsibility to exercise due diligence, measures against child labor and all forms of modern slavery, health and safety, decent wages, and access to remedy. In the 2018 declaration, G20 Leaders simply commit to “take actions to eradicate child labor, forced labor, human trafficking and modern slavery in the world of work, including through fostering sustainable supply chains,” without detailing the various elements at stake, existing frameworks, and measures needed to achieve this objective. While the G20 Strategy to eradicate child labour, forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery in the world of work, detailed in Annex 2 of the G20 Labor and Employment Ministers’ declaration 2018, outlines more detailed priorities aimed at promoting decent work and sustainable supply chains, such commitments need to be much stronger to ensure the protection of human rights and accountability within global supply chains (see ICAR’s analysis of the G20 Labor and Employment Ministers declaration 2018 here). The lack of robust and explicit commitments in relation to sustainable supply chains and responsible business conduct in this year’s G20 Leaders’ declaration is not only disappointing, but also inconsistent with Leaders’ stated objective of achieving fair and sustainable development.
In the 2018 G20 Leaders’ declaration, the aim to foster sustainable supply chains seems to have been scaled down, to focus on an ambition to build “an inclusive, fair and sustainable Future of Work.” This is of course paramount, but calls for measures that are narrower in focus and risks leaving important issues unaddressed, including those related to transparency and accountability in global supply chains. The G20 recognizes the need for policy measures and cooperation to address the challenges brought about by technological transformations, and ensure its benefits are shared widely. Some of the important commitments made in relation the Future of Work, further detailed in the G20 Labor and Employment Ministers’ declaration, relate to improving labor conditions in all forms of employment, including in the platform economy; promoting social dialogue; decent work and labor formalization; ensuring strong and portable social protection systems; and promoting training, skill development and the reskilling of workers. However, G20 Leaders missed an opportunity to underline and detail businesses’ responsibilities in the context of the Future of Work, in particular in relation to the automation and mechanization of production processes, which threaten jobs and social protections in global supply chains. In line with their responsibility to conduct human rights due diligence, business enterprises need to identify, prevent, and mitigate adverse human rights impacts linked to shifting production models and design responsible transition plans in consultation with workers and their representatives. The G20 Leaders also failed to recognize the need for unemployment protections, as well as the need to ensure living wages for jobs of the future to be truly sustainable.
Of importance in the G20 Leaders’ declaration is the reaffirmation of the G20’s commitment to support and align its actions to Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, as operationalized in the Buenos Aires Update. Leaders also called for a reform of the World Trade Organization and reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement (with the exception of the United States).
As with any G20 Leaders’ declaration, the implementation of the commitments outlined will remain the crux of the issue. Stronger monitoring and accountability mechanisms need to be put in place, to ensure that Leaders’ declarations don’t simply remain paper commitments, but rather build off of each other and lead to concrete measures towards a fairer, more inclusive, and sustainable global economy.
Lessons learned and mobilizing towards the next G20
Putting human rights protection and the promotion of responsible business conduct at the heart of the G20 agenda certainly remains an important challenge. Agreement upon strong commitments on corporate accountability issues largely depends on the willingness and ability of countries holding the G20 Presidency to push the issue through the various G20 workstreams, and on strong civil society engagement, as seen during the G20 in Germany last year (see ICAR’s reflections here). During the Argentina G20, civil society organizations from around the world actively engaged, and presented detailed recommendations (see the Civil 20 (C20) Communiqué here), including in relation to business and human rights. ICAR contributed to coordinating such efforts, through leading the C20 Business and Human Rights sub-group (see statement here) and the Business and Human Rights taskforce (see statement here), and actively engaging in the C20 Investment and Infrastructure Working Group (see statement here). While this year’s G20 Leaders’ declaration can be regarded as disappointing in relation to business and human rights commitments, the Argentina G20 process provided an important platform for Latin American organizations in particular to come together and strategize. It allowed CSOs to find synergies in their work and to coordinate advocacy efforts beyond the G20, including at the regional and international level. This was achieved notably through a strategy workshop organized by ICAR and its local partners and attended by a variety of stakeholders from around the region. The recommendations elaborated within the C20 Business and Human Rights sub-group were widely shared and taken up by Argentinian CSOs engaged in the development of the Argentina National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights.
For the next iterations of the G20, to take place in Japan in 2019 and in Saudi Arabia in 2020, civil society organizations will need to be as mobilized and creative as ever, for the need to ensure responsible business conduct to be adequately considered by the G20.
Given the difficulty in gaining access to key information and to high level meetings inherent to any G20 process, civil society organizations will need to be even more mobilized at the national level, and engage their governments and G20 Sherpas early on. Those countries already displaying efforts to advance the business and human rights agenda, through having developed or being in the process of developing National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights or other policies and legislation aimed at advancing corporate respect for human rights, should be engaged in priority and called to act with coherence and to champion the issue at the G20 level. Business and Human Rights issues need to be mainstreamed in the different C20 working groups, in particular those touching on investment, infrastructure, employment, corruption and the global financial system, to present strong and coherent recommendations to advance responsible business conduct. CSOs must build off the work that has been done during previous G20 processes, redouble coordination efforts at the global level, and continue mobilizing to ensure their voices can be heard and lead to concrete actions by the G20.
Contrary to what has been said during the Argentina G20, human rights have a place within G20 discussions, and should be placed at the center of efforts towards more inclusive and sustainable development.
For more information on ICAR’s engagement throughout the Argentina G20, see here.