This post was originally published by Just Ground.

This is the second in a short series on rights holders at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights. Over the past four years, rights holders have comprised only 6% of the speakers at the Forum. In my last post, I explained that this matters because rights holders have unique perspectives and expertise that are essential for the constructive dialogue and cooperation that the UN Forum seeks to promote. In this post, I am going to examine data on the stakeholder groups that participate in organizing sessions, the geographic diversity of speakers at the Forum, and the breakdown of speaker categories over the past four years. My aim is to spark conversations and action that will make the UN Forum better, as well as open up a broader conversation about rights holder agency and the importance of rights holders’ ideas and contributions.

First, a quick note on the methodology. My last post explains the speaker data collection in detail, and the underlying data and detailed methodology are available for those who would like to explore it further. So here I’ll just add that I also collected information from the online session descriptions, including the session organizers and whether interpretation information was provided. If a session had multiple organizers, every organizer was categorized, employing the same categories used for speakers, described in detail here. In total, data was collected on 246 sessions at the UN Forum from 2018 – 2021, including all formats. Of those, 70% included information on the organizers.

As a side note, only 114 sessions – less than half (46%) of them – contained information on interpretation. I do not know if that means no interpretation was provided, or if the organizers simply neglected to include that information in the session description. I can say, where information was available, interpretation was predominantly provided in English (85 sessions), French (80 sessions) and Spanish (62 sessions). By comparison, there were only 4 sessions with Chinese interpretation, and only 5 with Arabic.

Session Organizers at the UN Forum

As the charts below show, sessions at the UN Forum are collaborative efforts. As Tara Van Ho explains in her blog series on academics at the UN Forum, before the COVID-19 pandemic, stakeholders sent proposals to the Working Group, who then selected panels and in some cases suggested other stakeholder groups to jointly develop the panel and to choose the speakers. This likely explains the large number of panels that civil society played a role in organizing.

While the process is less clear since the UN Working Group has stopped soliciting session proposals, the data suggests that civil society continues to play a big role. This can be seen in the breakout of organizers by subcategory in the second slide, below, which shows that, apart from the UN Working Group, civil society organizations have been the most involved in shaping session content, more so than multilateral institutions even.


Photo by Jonathan Ansel Moy de Vitry on Unsplash