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Business and Human Rights: How Can We Reconcile Them?

16 December 2014

Globalisation has significantly changed the world we live in, presenting new and complex challenges for the protection of human rights. WILPF attended the United Nations Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, which took place in Geneva on 1-3 December.

The Forum brought together corporate sector chief executives, policy makers from governments, international institutions, experts and civil society activists to discuss progress and challenges in addressing business impacts on human rights.

The United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights


UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
© United States Mission in Geneva / Flickr

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide basic principles for both states and companies, to prevent business-related human rights abuses and to ensure effective remedies and justice. States have a duty to protect human rights, take appropriate steps to investigate abuses, prosecute those responsible for human rights violations, and provide appropriate compensation for victims. Companies, including transnational corporations, must be held accountable for their human rights abuses.

Until now, most companies’ engagement with human rights responsibilities has been through voluntary codes and initiatives; it is therefore necessary to create and implement an international legally binding framework in order to ensure that transnational companies’ activities do not negatively impact peoples’ rights.

Reality looks different – the example of indigenous peoples

During the Forum, activists and victims shared with us the daily challenges they experience. We attended several panel discussions about the problematic situations that indigenous peoples have to face. They are often deprived of their social, cultural and spiritual rights, thus threatening their entire existence. They are victims of grave injustice, ranging from forced displacements to acts of genocide, and barely have access to remedies.

Governments don’t meet their specific needs as addressed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and corporations are not willing to comply with the standards that are imposed on them.

What can we do?

Here at WILPF we believe that, first of all and most importantly, it is essential to educate victims of human rights violations about their rights. The right to remedy is a general principle of international law and should be made easily accessible for all.

Annual forum on business and human rights
© United States Mission in Geneva / Flickr

All UN Member States must uphold legally binding treaties; international legal obligations have to be met and women’s rights have to be included.

We understand how important it is to establish a dialogue between all parties concerned: governments, companies and people on the ground. As a minimum requirement, we call upon all companies to respect all human rights, regardless of the sector, country or context in which they operate.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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