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What’s the Big Deal About Human Rights?

This week, the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights is being held in Geneva. This meeting of governments, business leaders, international organizations and stakeholders is the largest global gathering that focuses on the intersection of human rights and business, areas that too often, until recently, have been considered separately.

A new spotlight is shining on business and human rights

New momentum is driving the recognition that business has a critical role to play in the protection of global human rights. Since the 2011 unanimous adoption of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, attention to human rights issues in the private sector has been growing. At the same time, several headline-grabbing tragedies have shined a light on the dire repercussions of being lax in protecting human rights.

While human rights abuses exist everywhere, they are notoriously rampant in unstable countries where the rule of law is weak and abuses are overlooked or ignored. Businesses that operate – or source materials – in these areas need to be extra-vigilant about potential abuses of the local workforce and local community.  The reputations and brand images of companies implicated in human rights scandals suffer, resulting in the loss of brand equity and/or share value. The price of inaction on human rights cannot be underestimated. Some business leaders are starting to understand this.  For example:

What can your business do?

The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights states that “businesses should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.” But what does that mean in practice?  How can you help your company understand the risks and responsibilities that human rights present? There are some critical strategies for understanding human rights in your company’s operations:

  • LEARN about how human rights can be abused or ignored. Read and understand the obligations described in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Take a look at how GRI has worked to integrate the Guiding Principles into its reporting framework.
  • EXAMINE your company’s global operations – and your supply chain’s operations – for potential pathways to human rights abuses.  We’ve described in previous posts how human rights nightmares can hide in supply chains. Be aware of the notorious industry “hot spots” for supply chain human rights abuses:
    • Food & Beverage (agriculture and aquaculture)
    • Apparel
    • Electronics
    • Private security services
  • ADOPT AND IMPLEMENT a human rights policy. Companies that adopt and carefully implement explicit human rights policies are better prepared to prevent abuses and to deal effectively with any wrongdoing that may arise. There are a host of good reasons why your company should adopt a human rights policy.  For example, having an effective human rights policy can:
    • show that your company understands its responsibility to respect human rights;
    • build increased trust with stakeholders that you understand and will address their concerns;
    • conform to international good business practice;
    • enhance your company’s reputation, resulting in improved staff morale, which in turn produces higher motivation, productivity, and the ability to attract and retain the best employees;
    • strengthen your company’s license to operate, giving improved access to new markets, consumers, and investors; and
    • promote better community relations.

That’s quite a lot of tangible benefit from doing the right thing, or as the expression goes, “do well by doing good.”  Human rights is at the heart of this synergy!

Ready to get started? Want to find out more about how to develop a human right policy for your company?  Find out about Sustrana’s Policy Builder, where you can access much more information, step-by-step guidance, and a user-friendly, well-researched template.  Our tools will help you develop and customize a human rights policy to fit your company.