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Tuesday, November 26 • 16:40 - 18:00
Building sustainable infrastructure: Lessons from the Belt and Road Initiative and other similar multi-state initiatives

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Interpretation provided in English, French and Spanish

Session organized by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Webcast of the session:
Meeting link
Meeting number: 841 119 422
Password: Fy2ggiUD

Developing “quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure … to support economic development and human well-being” is an integral component of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Building such an infrastructure requires trillion of dollars of public and private investment. However, as highlighted in a recent report co-published by OHCHR and the Heinrich Böll Foundation (The Other Infrastructure Gap: Sustainability: Human Rights and Environmental Dimensions), integrating human rights and environmental dimensions of sustainability into infrastructure projects could not only avoid social conflicts and costly delays, but also result in developing more humane, inclusive and sustainable infrastructure.

A number of actors are involved in the design, construction, finance and operation of multi-state mega infrastructure projects, e.g., governments, State-owned enterprises, multilateral development banks, public-private partnerships, financial institutions, and institutional investors.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which apply to all sectors, outline the duty of both home and host States to protect against business-related adverse human rights impacts. They also clarify the responsibility of all business enterprises to respect human rights throughout their operations, including by conducting human rights due diligence and by establishing effective operational-level grievance mechanisms. Pillar III of the UNGPs stresses the importance of access to remedy by a range of judicial and non-judicial mechanisms for people who are adversely affected by business activities.

Effective implementation of the UNGPs in the context of the infrastructure development underway across all regions has the potential to make a significant positive contribution to the realization of the SDGs. Conversely, if adverse human rights impacts are not adequately managed and addressed, such projects can potentially undermine enjoyment of human rights and the SDGs. The UNGPs provide a robust framework for both host and home States as well as all involved businesses enterprises to manage these concerns in consultation with affected stakeholders.

Infrastructure development is a key component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Other similar multi-state mega infrastructure development initiatives are emerging. The recently announced Blue Dot Network is a case in point. The session aims to explore lessons from – and for – these multi-state mega infrastructure development initiatives, and to identify what implementing the UNGPs would imply in practical terms for infrastructure projects under these initiatives.

The importance of the UNGPs and other relevant international standards in the context of infrastructure development has already been recognized. For example, in the 3rd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, the Chinese government accepted Ecuador’s recommendation to “Promote measures that ensure that development and infrastructure projects inside and outside of its territory are fully consistent with human rights and respect the environment and natural resource sustainability, in line with national and international law and with the commitments from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The 2019 G20 Principles for Promoting Quality Infrastructure Investment stress the need to integrate environmental considerations in infrastructure investments (Principle 3) and respect human rights in design, delivery, and management of infrastructure (Principle 5.2).

The Joint Communique of the Leaders issued at the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (April 2019) also refers to the Green Investment Principles for Belt and Road. Financial institutions and corporations supporting the Green Investment Principles pledge to embed sustainability in corporate governance, incorporate environmental, social and governance risk factors into their decision-making processes, conduct in-depth environmental and social due diligence, improve communication with stakeholders including affected communities and civil society organizations, and set up conflict resolution mechanism to resolve disputes with communities.

Against this background, the session will consider how home and host States, businesses enterprises and investors could use the UNGPs and other relevant standards to integrate human rights and environmental dimensions of sustainability to prevent, mitigate and remediate risks in designing, constructing, financing and operating the BRI or other similar multi-state mega infrastructure development initiatives.

The session aims to:
  1. discuss the role of sustainable infrastructure in realising the SDGs;
  2. understand better the potential adverse impacts of multi-state mega infrastructure projects on individuals and communities;               
  3. discuss the role of States and financial institutions involved in the BRI and other similar multi-state mega infrastructure development initiatives to promote responsible businesses conduct on the part of business enterprises to achieve inclusive, sustainable development; and     
  4. underline the importance of conducting human rights due diligence and establishing operational-level grievance mechanisms in line with the UNGPs to mitigate, prevent and remedy adverse impacts on individuals and communities.  

The session will involve a moderated discussion with panellists with adequate time for questions and comments from the floor. The panellists will respond to specific questions posed by the moderator. The questions will relate to the role of infrastructure projects (part of the BRI or other similar initiatives) in promoting the SDGs, potential adverse human rights impacts of mega infrastructure projects, and the relevance of the UNGPs (especially human rights due diligence) and the Green Investment Principles in promoting responsible business conduct in relation to such infrastructure projects.

Panellists may draw on selected case studies to draw lessons about opportunities, challenges and potential solutions concerning multi-state mega infrastructure projects. All panellists and participants are expected to participate in discussion in a constructive and solution-oriented spirit.

avatar for Surya Deva

Surya Deva

Member, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights
Mr. Surya Deva is a WG Member and Associate Professor at the School of Law of City University of Hong Kong.  He holds BA (Hons), LLB and LLM from the University of Delhi and a PhD from Sydney Law School, and has taught previously at the University of Delhi and at the National Law... Read More →


Motoko Aizawa

Independent Researcher on Sustainable Infrastructure

Mohamed Athman

board member, Save Lamu
I'm a human right and environment defender community activist. I prefer to talk more on how best we can protect indiginous rights and our environment when mega projects are initiated.
avatar for Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

Professor of Law and International Affairs, Pen State University
Currently working on a monograph: "Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: A Commentary" (OUP). Research focuses generally on the institutional elements of globalization and its normative and ideological construction--thus theory and implementaton and contests over both... Read More →
avatar for Flora Sapio

Flora Sapio

Università degli Studi di Napoli “L'Orientale”

M. Wawa Wang

Senior Advisor, Sustainable Energy

Tuesday November 26, 2019 16:40 - 18:00 CET
Room XXI