The Business of Human Rights

The latest GoodCorporation debate at the House of Lords revealed that few organisations have a specific Human Rights Policy in place or a nominated individual responsible for monitoring their Human Rights impact.

In addition, only a handful of organisations admitted to conducting fact finding exercises to see what was happening on the ground or carrying out risk assessments to identify potential problems.

The debate was held in response to the publication last year, by the United Nations, of John Ruggie’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which stated that businesses have a duty to respect human rights and provide a remedy should violations occur.

As businesses have expanded their operations into increasingly challenging parts of the world, there has been some confusion as to the respective roles of the state and business in protecting and respecting human rights. This has resulted in an accountability gap and an historical perception in the corporate world that human rights are the concern of the state and not business. While for many NGOs and commentators it is precisely this historical lack of concern that has exacerbated human rights problems.

The aim of the United Nations Guiding Principles was to help businesses, whether international or national, large or small, to manage their human rights impact by providing guidelines that could be followed without damaging business interests. The Guiding Principles set out universally acceptable rules and standards of behaviour based on three pillars: the state’s duty to protect against human rights abuses; the duty of business to respect human rights and the duty of both state and business to bring about an effective remedy.

The debate analysed the difficulties businesses face in this area and the steps that can be taken to manage human rights issue within their organisation. Among the problems highlighted was that of on-going due diligence. How do businesses know when they have done enough?

At the debate, businesses agreed that a good human rights record enhances a company’s reputation as a good organisation, a fair employer and a producer of safely developed products. It also helps a business to reduce the risk of litigation and reputational damage.

Business behaviour, particularly that of large global organisations, remains under close scrutiny. Businesses are held accountable for their actions, be they corrupt payments, environmental damage or human rights abuses. At the debate, many businesses concurred that human rights policies, such as those suggested by Ruggie, are likely to become a key component of any Code of Conduct or Ethical Framework. This should involve allocating responsibility for human rights to a senior member of the management team, conducting due diligence to identify areas of risk, developing and implementing a human rights policy with ongoing monitoring to measure and manage the company’s impact on human rights.

To help with this, GoodCorporation has developed a Human Rights Framework that will enable businesses to assess their human rights impact and develop a policy to measure and manage this impact on an on-going basis.