Human rights are the universal rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. They are closely connected to other societal challenges such as child poverty, discrimination, labour rights, land usage, migration, health and safety, and freedom of expression to name just a few. Human rights were enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Human rights violations exist in all parts of the world and under all types of political regimes.
Recognising the interrelationship between business and human rights, the UN Global Compact – a global standard for sustainable business behaviour – includes two principles derived from the UDHR:
- Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights
- Business should make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
While all types of business can directly infringe human rights, or be complicit in other parties’ human rights violations, recent research by John Ruggie, the UN’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, highlights a number of factors that substantially increase the likelihood of human rights violations:
- Businesses (or their suppliers) operating in post-conflict areas
- Businesses (or their suppliers) operating in poor and underdeveloped countries or countries ruled by authoritarian regimes
- Business that have big direct social or environmental impacts (e.g. large low-skilled labour force, extensive use of natural resources).
Businesses that operate in, or source from, such areas are therefore strongly encouraged to assess their exposure to human rights-related risks and ensure they are practising due diligence. This is achieved by:
- integrating human rights issues into corporate codes of conduct and policies
- ensuring human rights are considered in project plans
- putting in place monitoring, auditing and grievance mechanisms
- thoroughly addressing areas of non-compliance.
The risks for business of not doing this are vast. Apart from legal risks, local licences to operate may be jeopardised, the stability of the operating environment or the supply chain may be undermined, and the business is exposed to reputational damage through potential advocacy campaigns by non-governmental organisations that observe or perceive human rights violations in the company’s environment, by the company’s suppliers or by the company itself.
Yet, Two Tomorrows’ own Tomorrow’s Value Rating research shows that less than 20 per cent of global companies that operate in high-risk areas adequately cover human rights in their public disclosure – an indication of a wider lack of mechanisms to practise due diligence.
How we can help
Two Tomorrows can help you by:
- assessing your exposure to human rights risks in your operations and your supply chain, as well as the potential human rights impacts of your products and services
- integrating human rights into your policies
- assessing the maturity of your systems for human rights management
- developing monitoring and implementation mechanisms in alignment with international standards and guidance for best practice (e.g. Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, IFC Performance Standards, SA8000, and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index)
- delivering training
- facilitating engagement with related stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations, regulators or suppliers.