Over the past decade, an increasing focus has been given to the impacts of business – both positive and negative – on human rights.
There is a strong business case for respecting and supporting human rights. Respecting human rights (doing no harm) is the minimum standard expected of businesses. Businesses also have a significant opportunity to support human rights – that is, to take additional voluntary actions that promote and advance human rights, including through social investment, advocacy and engagement in public policy, collective action and philanthropy (although this cannot substitute for respecting human rights).
Benefits of a proactive approach to human rights include:
- More effective management of reputational, operational, legal and financial risks
- An enhanced social (and increasingly legal) licence to operate
- Stronger stakeholder relationships
- Higher employee morale, productivity and loyalty
Businesses which find themselves implicated in human rights violations face significant pressure from consumers, investors, employees, communities, business partners, governments and NGOs, and face significant reputational and other risks.
What are human rights?
Businesses should respect all internationally-recognised human rights. At a minimum, this means the rights set out in:
- the International Bill of Human Rights, which comprises the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and
- the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
Human rights touch on a broad range of issues, including labour rights and working conditions, non-discrimination, culture, health, water, education and privacy.
How can businesses ensure respect for human rights?
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the ‘UN Guiding Principles’) provide practical guidance on business and human rights, and are the authoritative global standard and key reference point for businesses on the ‘how to’ of meeting the growing expectations they face when it comes to respecting human rights.
The UN Guiding Principles build on the three pillars of the UN ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework: the State duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and the need to ensure access to remedy for those affected by human rights abuses.
The UN Guiding Principles set out the policies and processes that a business should have in place to meet its responsibility to respect human rights:
- a policy commitment to respect human rights;
- an ongoing human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on human rights; and
- processes to enable the remediation of any adverse human rights impacts they have caused or contributed to.
Read more about the UN Guiding Principles here.
How can businesses support human rights?
Respecting human rights (doing no harm) is the minimum standard expected of businesses. However, businesses also have a significant opportunity to support, promote and advance human rights, although this can never substitute for respecting human rights. Businesses can do this through social investment, advocacy and engagement in public policy, collective action or philanthropy, for example.
The Global Compact Network Australia convenes the annual national, multi-sector, multi-stakeholder dialogue on business and human rights, in partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission. More information on the Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights can be found here.
Key resources are available here