As I sit typing this on our 17-hour flight back to NZ, unable to sleep, I’m able to reflect on the fastest 2 weeks of my life, and in particular, what I learned in the 3 days of the forum. The sessions were all very different but very informative, to the point where I’m a little overwhelmed (or maybe just a little jetlagged!).
I think one of the main sessions that touched me was on integrating indigenous peoples’ rights in human rights due diligence. I went to it expecting to hear from ways people were working through grievances and solving problems, but instead heard cry after cry of various groups from across the world telling horror stories of what had happened to their communities. Literally. To the point where you almost began to feel a bit sorry for the only panellist working in a company, who was being ripped to shreds by the audience’s comments (although handled it well and said he didn’t take it personally).
One thing that hit me was after the session, I overheard two business men talking next to me, saying how they “expected this might happen”. This shocked me. I mean, I know this was my first UN conference, so I didn’t go in with a lot of expectations, but they seemed to make it sound like these grievances were being brought up at every forum. But nothing is being done to address them? If they were that big of a deal, you’d think someone would’ve taken some action by now, but instead, they’ve all pretty much become desensitised to the issue.
So no, I didn’t come out of that session with many answers to the burning questions. It made me realise that this problem is huge, ongoing and is going to need constant attention if we really want to get to the root of it all and solve it. And maybe, it’s up to us.
This leads me on to one of my favourite sessions, on how we can encourage SMEs to uptake the UNGPs. Not going to lie, I had to google what “SME” stood for before going into the session (small and medium enterprises) and wasn’t expecting to get a lot out of it, but it was better than I expected. This session was more interactive, so we got into groups to discuss ways to drive implementation, policy measures and practical support, and it was far easier to participate and feel a bit less intimidated by the fact I was probably the only one in the room under 25!
The biggest takeaway was that SMEs need to feel like the problem actually is their responsibility too, and that they can still be profitable and have the ability to address human rights issues in their workplaces and wider communities. There also needs to be a bigger focus on going above and beyond, not just taking a “tick box” approach.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of information I learned, connections I made, and free sandwiches I ate in the 3 days of forum, not to mention the whole 11 days we got to spend in Geneva. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and can’t wait to begin my research project!
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own perspectives, opinions and experiences.