Putting Human Rights at the Heart of G20 Policy

This year’s G20 is presided over by Argentina, the first Latin American country to do so. The Argentine Presidency presents important opportunities to advance standards around responsible business conduct and to elevate regional human rights challenges and priorities. However, the G20 must recognize that none of its goals can be achieved without fully considering and incorporating human rights into the dialogue.

In his opening speech at the Civil 20 (C20) Face to Face Meetings held in Buenos Aires on April 4-5, the Argentine Sherpa stated that human rights were matters to be debated in other spaces, and that the G20 should mostly focus on economic and financial issues. This false dichotomy between human rights and development, which is not uncommon in global economic fora, is fundamentally flawed. Indeed, none of the G20’s policy goals or aspirations of sustainable growth can be achieved without the realization of human rights. In response, a number of Latin American civil society organizations have called on the G20 to ensure that human rights are front and center of its agenda.

Argentina has framed its G20 agenda around the objective of “building consensus towards fair and sustainable development.” In order to achieve this goal, Argentina identified three priority themes: 1) The Future of Work, 2) Infrastructure for Development, and 3) A Sustainable Food Future. The role of the private sector features prominently across all of these areas and, as such, the G20 must continue to work towards ensuring that businesses operate in a responsible manner and respect human rights, labor, and environmental standards.

Important commitments were made in this regard during last year’s G20 in Germany. The Leaders’ Communiqué included progressive language on the role and responsibility of businesses and States in the realization of human rights in global supply chains. For example, the G20 committed to develop national action plans on business and human rights and to eliminate child labor, forced labor, and modern slavery. It is important that the G20 not lose sight of these commitments and explore ways to build on these within the context of Argentina’s priorities.

This year, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) continues to engage with the G20 process as one important and complementary forum to promote corporate respect for human rights. This blog highlights opportunities for the Argentine G20 Presidency to make strong commitments related to human rights and responsible business conduct.

 Infrastructure for Development

Infrastructure development is a top priority for the Argentine presidency. In line with the recently adopted Roadmap for Infrastructure as an Asset Class, the government of Argentina has made clear that it intends to focus on attracting and facilitating private investments in order to finance infrastructure projects. The proposed financialization of infrastructure raises many concerns, as it risks putting market preferences over the needs of the population leading to a privatization of gains and socialization of losses. Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) as a financing model have repeatedly been flagged as problematic, due to a lack of transparency, high costs and risks for public institutions, and threats to labor and environmental protections.

With such a strong focus on the role of the private sector, it is critical that these investments do not go unchecked. As such, full transparency and accountability must be ensured throughout project-cycles. This can be done through sustained disclosure of project-related information, mandatory environmental and human rights impact assessments, and ensuring that if things go wrong, individuals and communities have access to effective remedy. Meaningful and inclusive participation in the development and implementation of infrastructure projects must be guaranteed, through capacity-building and access to meaningful information. Environmental and human rights defenders must also be able to operate in a space that is safe and enabling. Finally, existing responsible business conduct standards must be effectively implemented including through the development of mandatory human rights due diligence requirements.

 The Future of Work

The Argentine presidency’s ‘Future of Work’ priority provides an important opportunity to strengthen G20 commitments related to labor rights and responsible business conduct. The jobs that the G20 seeks to foster must be decent jobs, meaning they must be safe, quality jobs, and provide a living wage.

New technologies can bring many benefits, to workers and businesses, but there are also many risks that must be effectively managed. Low-skilled workers in global supply chains will be the most affected by the displacement generated by automation and mechanization, and by the wage and benefits cuts associated with these transformations. The transition to automation must be grounded in consultation and collaboration with workers, the safeguard of labor standards and other human rights, retraining and upskilling of workers, and the business responsibility to respect human rights. The G20, in particular the G20 Employment and Education Working Group, must respond to this call for call for accountable automation. The G20 must also demonstrate how it is advancing its past commitments, including those to eradicate child labor by 2025 and forced labor, human trafficking, and modern slavery.

 Next Steps

The C20 is currently hard at work developing policy recommendations, which will be officially provided to the G20 during the C20 Summit on August 6-7 in Buenos Aires. It is putting forward important proposals towards a global economic model that works for all and puts people and the environment at its center. As the cracks in the current design of globalization are getting bigger and more visible every day, the G20 finds itself at a crossroads. It must decide if it is going to let the situation worsen, or if it is going to take bold and effective action for a truly fair and sustainable global economy.

Marion Cadier, G20 Project Coordinator