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Human Rights

The first two principles of the UN Global Compact are derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They call on business to develop an awareness of human rights and to work within their sphere of influence to uphold these universal values, on the basis that responsibility falls to every individual in society.

Human rights are commonly understood as those rights that are inherent to the human being (e.g., the right to education, freedom of speech). The concept of human rights acknowledges that every single human being is entitled to enjoy his or her human rights without distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.

The responsibility for human rights does not rest with governments or nation states alone. Human rights issues are important both for individuals and the organizations that they create. As part of their commitment to the Global Compact, businesses have a responsibility to uphold human rights both in the workplace and more broadly within their sphere of influence. A growing moral imperative to behave responsibly is linked to the recognition that a good human rights record can support improved business performance.

Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

There are several types of complicity. Direct complicity occurs when a company actively assists in human rights violations committed by others. Beneficial complicity suggests that a company benefits directly from human rights abuses committed by others. Silent complicity describes a situation where a company may not be assisting or encouraging human rights violations, nor benefiting from the actions of those that commit abuses, but is viewed as staying silent in the face of human rights abuses.

Human rights remains one of the most challenging areas of corporate citizenship. In part, this is because human rights have traditionally been the concern of states, and international human rights law has generally been addressed to them only. As more companies come to realize their (legal, moral and/or commercial) need to address human rights issues within their own operations and activities, they are confronted with a number of challenges. For example, there is the need to come to grips with the human rights framework and how the company’s own activities might relate to it. There is also uncertainty around how to avoid being complicit in human rights abuse and where the boundaries of companies’ human rights responsibility lie.

Some suggested steps:

  • Develop your company’s business case for human rights (“Why are human rights relevant to your company?”).
  • Develop and encourage a transparent and rightsaware approach to your business.
  • Make use of existing human rights resources and guidance materials.
  • Find out what your company is already doing on human rights, for instance under health and safety, labour relations and human resources.
  • Establish procedures for identifying and managing risks and opportunities related to human rights, and for addressing human rights impacts.
  • Put in place management systems for human rights policy implementation, monitoring and reporting across the company.
  • Learn from sector-wide business initiatives on human rights and consider a collective action approach with industry peers where appropriate.
  • Provide mechanisms to protect employees who report potential human rights concerns within the company or with business partners.

 

 Visit the Global Compact web site for recommended tools and guidance materials

Last update: 2009-11-04