The role of business in promoting human rights

By Roberta Graham Méan


This knowledge centre is divided into the following sections:

  1. A Short History of Human Rights

  2. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  3. UN Organizations and Business Associations Concerned with Human Rights

  4. Who is Who in Human Rights Today

  5. The Business Case: Why are Human Rights Important to Business

  6. Best Practices in Human Rights

  7. Statements and Quotations

  8. References

1. A Short History of Human Rights

‘Human rights’ as a concept has constantly evolved throughout human history. The foundation of human rights can be seen in the early traditions and documents of many cultures. Individuals have acquired rights and responsibilities as part of a family, a nation, a religion or another group that share common goals. The great religions of the world have all sought to establish moral codes of conduct based on divine law. Their ideas on the dignity of the human being and their concern with duties and obligations of man to his fellow human beings, to nature, and to God and all creation can be seen as the roots of human rights. They were established to avoid behaviour that might lead to conflict. (1)

In ancient Greece, human rights became synonymous with natural rights – rights that spring from natural law. According to Greek tradition, natural law is law that reflects the natural order of the universe. The idea of natural rights continued in ancient Rome, where the Roman jurist Ulpian believed that natural rights belonged to every person, whether they were a Roman citizen or not.

The next fundamental philosophy of human rights arose from the idea of positive law. Thomas Hobbes, (1588-1679) saw natural law as vague and open to differences of interpretation. Under positive law, human rights can be given, taken away, and modified by a society to suit its needs. Early legal documents specifically described these rights in detail: (2)

  • British Magna Carta 1215

  • French Declaration of the Rights of Man – 1789

  • American Bill of Rights – 1789

  • The Geneva Conventions: the core of international humanitarian law

The World Wars and the huge losses of life and human rights abuses during the World Wars were a driving force behind the development of modern human rights instruments. The League of Nations was established in 1919 at the negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles following the end of World War I. The League’s goals included disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation, diplomacy and improving global welfare. Enshrined in its Charter was a mandate to promote many of the rights, which were later included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The United Nations was created at the 1945 Yalta Conference and replaced the League of Nations. The United Nations has played an important role in international human rights law since its creation, developing bodies of law that make up international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was framed by members of the Human Rights Commission, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, who began to discuss an International Bill of Rights in 1947. The Commission proceeded to frame the UDHR and accompanying treaties. Canadian law professor John Humprey and French lawyer René Cassin were responsible for much of the research and the structure of the document respectively. Some of the UDHR was researched and written by a committee of international experts on human rights, including representatives from all continents and all major religions, and drawing on consultation with leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi.

On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), calling upon all member states to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.” The UDHR is a statement of mutual aspirations and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It serves as the foundation for human rights protection. The UDHR has been translated into over 360 different languages.

Beyond the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international human rights framework comprises seven “core” instruments:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol;

  • International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights;

  • Convention on the Rights of the Child;

  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women;

  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Race Discrimination;

  • International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families;

  • Convention Against Torture, in addition to which there are two other significant instruments: the Genocide Convention and the Convention on the Rights of Refugees. (3)

(1) “History Of Universal Human Rights – Up To WW2”, by Moira Rayner

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."

Eleanor Roosevelt

(1) "History Of Universal Human Rights - Up To WW2", by Moira Rayner

(2) Human Rights, The Pursuit of an Ideal

(3) Article on the World Bank Development Outreach by Ana Palacio

2. Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Some of the Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that are most relevant to business follow:

Preamble

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, ....

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, therefore, The General Assembly,

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article I

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.

Article 16

3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Article 20

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.



3. International Organizations and Business Associations Concerned with Human Rights

The International Labour Organization (ILO)

Devoted to advancing opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity, ILO’s main aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue in handling work-related issues. The ILO is unique among UN organisations in its tripartite structure in which employers are represented on the Governing Body along with governments and labour organisations. Its activities cover the following:

> The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work is an expression of commitment by governments, employers' and workers' organizations to uphold basic human values that are vital to our social and economic lives. The Declaration covers four areas:

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;

The elimination of forced and compulsory labour;

The abolition of child labour, and;

The elimination of discrimination in the workplace.

> ACTRAV, the Bureau for Workers' Activities: ACTRAV's mission is to maintain close relations with the trade union movement throughout the various countries of the world, to provide trade unions with the support of the International Labour Office in endeavours to strengthen their influence by promoting activities which defend and advance the rights of workers.

> Forced Labour

Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour (SAP-FL)

> Child Labour:

Global Task Force on Child Labour and Education for All (GTF)

IPEC, International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour

Latest Publications:

TACKLE – Tackling child labour through education: moving children from work to school in 11 countries

Child Labour and Education: Evidence from SIMPOC surveys

Combating child labour through education

Prevention of child recruitment and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and groups: Strategic framework for addressing the economic gap

Guidelines on the design of direction action strategies to combat commercial sexual exploitation of children

Modern policy and legislative responses to child labour

Child labour: Cause and effect of the perpetuation of poverty

The Mekong Challenge: Winding Roads – Young migrants from Lao PDR and the vulnerability to human trafficking

IPEC action against child labour 2006-2007: Progress and future priorities

> Decent Work: It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

Publications/Resources:

Decent Work FAQ: Making decent work a global goal

From Pilot to Decent Work Country Programme – Lessons from the Decent Work Pilot Programme

Decent Work Pilot Programme: Country Briefs

ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization

> Economic and social development:

Development aid

Gender and Development

Globalization

> Employment promotion

> Employment security

> Equality and discrimination

> Individual sectors and industries: The ILO holds international meetings that provide a forum for discussion and an exchange of views on current issues in the sector concerned.

> Social security

> Working conditions

> Youth employment

EBBF collaborated with the ILO in leading the research and writing of a final report on Socially Responsible Enterprise Restructuring. On several occasions EBBF has been invited to lead sessions on this topic at the ILO Training Centre in Turin.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

> Corporate Sector: In view of the increased role played by corporate actors at both the national and international level, the United Nations human rights machinery is considering the scope of business' human rights responsibilities and exploring ways for corporate actors to be accountable for the impact of their activities on human rights. In 2007, OHCHR in collaboration with the UN Global Compact launched a Human Rights and Business Learning Tool to help company managers develop a better understanding of human rights and of Global Compact principles related to human rights.

. OHCHR provides assistance to the Sub-Commission's Working Group on the Working Methods and Activities of Transnational Corporations which was responsible for developing the draft “Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with regard to Human Rights”.

United Nations Global Compact

The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) highlights the relevance of human rights for business, demonstrating the business case for human rights, emphasizing practical solutions, and pointing to useful tools and guidance materials. Their goal is to show that advancing human rights is not just about managing risks and meeting standards and expectations; it is also about realizing new opportunities. For more information about the human rights principles, including what companies can do to implement them, see the ten principles. The first of these principles is that business should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights within their sphere of influence; the second is to make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Categories of standards that can be used to develop a company's approach to human rights include the following:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

International Covenants on Civil & Political Rights and Economic, Social & Cultural Rights

International Convention on the Rights of the Child

ILO Conventions and Recommendations on labour standards

ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

UN Secretary-General's Global Compact

International standards on discrete subjects, such as the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials

Multilateral guidelines such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles on Multinational Enterprises

Global Stakeholder Initiatives, e.g., Amnesty International's Human Rights Guidelines for Companies, the Global Sullivan Principles, Social Accountability 8000 and the Ethical Trading Initiative

Case-Specific Stakeholder Initiatives, e.g., actions recommended by Human Rights Watch regarding the oil industry in Nigeria, or Business Principles for Operations in China agreed to by a group of companies and NGOs in the United States.

Businesses are taking action on human rights in various forms including:

Public acknowledgement of responsibility for human rights

Institutionalizing human rights within companies

Board level human rights oversight

Human rights training

Human rights impact assessments

Efforts to support core labour standards

Private sector collaboration

The UN Global Compact (UNGC) office continues its efforts to enhance the accountability and credibility of the initiative. Integrity measures were introduced in 2004. Companies are required to communicate annually to their stakeholders on progress made in implementing the ten principles of the UNGC. Companies that do not meet the deadline are listed on the Global Compact website as “non-communicating”.

In January 2008, a ‘delisting policy’ was implemented, and 394 companies were removed from the participant list. Since the implementation of the policy, there have been a total of 630 companies delisted and 317 companies listed as “inactive”. Inactive companies can regain their status by submitting a “Communication on Progress”. The overall number of businesses participating in the initiative continues to rise, with a total of 4,619 business participants.

The international Chamber of Commerce, Transparency International, the World Economic Forum Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) and the UN Global Compact have released in July 2008 a joint publication entitled “Clean Business is Good Business – The Business Case Against Corruption”.

There are many downloadable publications available at the UNGC website including:

A Guide for Integrating Human Rights into Business Management

Fighting Corruption through Collective Action – A Guide for Business

After the Signature – A Guide to Engagement in the Global Compact

Principles for Responsible Management Education: A Global Initiative, A Global Agenda

Caring for Climate: A Call to Business Leaders

Embedding Human Rights in Business Practice II

Inspirational Guide to Implementing the Global Compact

Inspirational Guide to Implementing the UN Global Compact – Africa

Business Fighting Corruption: Experiences from Africa

Local Network Report: Deepening Engagement at the Local Level

2007 Global Compact Leaders Summit Meeting Report

2007 Global Compact Annual Review

Business Guide to Partnering with NGOs and the United Nations

Principles for Responsible Management Education

Operational Guide for Medium-Scale Enterprises

Measuring Business Success from Sustainability Certification

Principles for Responsible Investment

Business Against Corruption – Case Stories and Examples

Business Against Corruption – A Framework for Action

Enabling Economies of Peace: Public Policy for Conflict-Sensitive Business

A joint publication of the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF), the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Global Compact Office provides an overall view of the process of implementing a human rights assessment and management program. The “Guide to Human Rights Impact Assessment and Management” can also be downloaded at the UNGC website.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

“Refugees are agents of development. Invest in them.” Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, July 2002

> What some senior UNHCR officials have to say on the growing strength of UNHCR private sector partnerships:

"Refugees and Reconstruction: How Can Business Help?" (Speech of UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner, Mary Ann Wyrsch, December 6, 2001)

"An Agenda for Business–Humanitarian Partnerships" (Article by former UNHCR High Commissioner Sadako Ogata in The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2000)

"Can Business Help? Partnership and Responsibilities in Humanitarian Work" (Presentation by former High Commissioner Sadako Ogata at the Meeting of the Business Humanitarian Forum, Washington D.C., November 1, 1999)

Former High Commissioner Sadako Ogata's statement at the Telecom 99+InterActive 99 Forum: "Telecommunications in the Service of Humanitarian Assistance" (Geneva, October 14, 1999)

You can view here further information on how the United Nations works with business and technology.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has become the world’s leading independent resource on the subject. The website is updated hourly with news and reports about companies’ human rights impacts worldwide – positive and negative. Their purpose is:

> To encourage companies to respect human rights, avoid harm to people & maximise their positive contribution

> To provide easy access to information

> To facilitate constructive, informed decision-making and public discussion

The Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights (BLIHR)

BLIHR is a programme to help lead and develop the corporate response to human rights. It is a business-led programme with 13 corporate members.

BLIHR is chaired by Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The programme was created in 2003 and will end in March 2009.

The principal purpose is to find "practical ways of applying the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights within a business context and to inspire other businesses to do likewise". In the second three-year period until 2009 they are committed to sharing tools and experiences with all interested companies.

The Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR)

DIHR offers counselling, tools and knowledge in human rights and business, diversity management, and equal opportunities. Their ‘Human Rights & Business Project’ aims to combine the expertise of the human rights research community with the experience of business in order to develop concrete achievable human rights standards for companies, and to help companies live up to those standards in practice through training and advisory services.

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

HRW is very active in the area of business and human rights. Their work is categorized into the following themes:

Corporate social responsibility

Extractive industries

International institutions

The internet and human rights

Labour

Trade

Various publications, including reports, briefing papers, and press releases can be found on their websites.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s work on economic players, including trans-national companies and international financial organizations, was developed in recognition of the power and influence they exert over states and international institutions, and the impact they have on human rights. Amnesty International aims to highlight human rights abuses in which companies are implicated and how governments fail to prevent these abuses or hold companies to account when they occur. The organization is campaigning for global standards on business and human rights and stronger legal frameworks at both national and international level to hold companies accountable for their human rights impact. Amnesty International asks companies to promote respect for human rights by:

Using their influence in support of human rights,

Including a specific commitment to human rights in their statements of business principles and codes of conduct,

Producing explicit human rights policies and ensuring that they are integrated, monitored and audited across their operations and beyond borders,

Putting in place the necessary internal management systems to ensure that human rights policies are acted upon.

Amnesty International establishes a dialogue with companies through business groups in country-level sections. The Business Group of Amnesty International (UK) is an example. This work is coordinated by the Business and Economic Relations Network (BERN). AI recently published 'Human Rights are Everybody's Business'.

International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), The World Business Organization

ICC is the voice of world business championing the global economy as a force for economic growth, job creation and prosperity. ICC has produced various codes, guidelines and rules that can be found on their website. Those most relevant to human rights are those dealing with fighting corruption and extortion.

Anti-corruption

Arbitration

Banking technique and practice

Business in society

Commercial law and practice

Competition

Customs and trade regulations

E-business, IT and telecoms

Telecoms

Economic policy

Environment and energy

Financial services and insurance

Intellectual property

Marketing and advertising

Taxation

Trade and investment policy

Transport and logistics

Transparency International (TI)

TI is a global network that fights corruption in a number of ways. They bring together relevant players from government, civil society, business and the media to promote transparency in elections, in public administration, in procurement and in business. TI also uses advocacy campaigns to lobby governments to implement anti-corruption reforms.

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority. Corruption has dire global consequences, trapping millions in poverty and misery and breeding social, economic and political unrest. Corruption of the judiciary, which is widespread in many countries deprives the individual of the judge’s assistance in asserting human rights and thus has a direct impact on those.

The ‘Business Principles for Countering Bribery’ provides a framework for companies to develop comprehensive anti-bribery programmes. TI encourages companies to consider using the Business Principles as a starting point for developing their own anti-bribery programmes or to benchmark existing ones.

To cater for the needs of smaller businesses, TI has produced an edition of the Business Principles for Countering Bribery tailored to the needs of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). More than 95% of the world’s business is carried out by SMEs, which often do not have the same human and financial resources as larger companies but are just as vulnerable to the risks of bribery.

International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF)

The UK based International Business Leaders Forum works with business, governments and civil society to enhance the contribution that companies can make to sustainable development. IBLF was founded by HRH The Prince of Wales. It is an independent, not-for-profit organisation currently supported by over 100 of the world’s leading companies. Following the release of a ‘Business and Human Rights framework for States and companies’ by Professor John Ruggie, UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, in which he makes it clear that while governments have the duty to protect individuals against human rights abuses by third parties, including companies, companies also have a responsibility to respect human rights, The ’IBLF 2008 Corporate Partner Human Rights Benchmark’ campaign helps raise awareness among their corporate partners and serves as a tool for their corporate partners to assess their own progress. IBLF also published Human Rights: It is Your Business which presents a convincing case for corporate engagement.

Business in the Community (BiTC)

Another of The Prince's Charities, Business in the Community, mobilises companies in the UK for good; they aim to inspire, engage, support and challenge companies on responsible business, working through four areas: Community, Environment, Marketplace and Workplace.

Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)

BSR works with its global network of more than 250 member companies to develop sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration.

Ethical Corporation

The Ethical Corporation Institute (ECI) is the research arm and produces business intelligence reports, issue and regional country briefings and free papers such as EC Magazine and the EC Newsletter.

The Halifax Initiative

This is a Canadian coalition of development, environment, faith-based, human rights and labour groups. Their goal is to fundamentally transform the international financial system and its institutions, namely the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and export credit agencies in order to achieve poverty eradication, environmental sustainability and the full realization of human rights.

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)

For thirty-seven years the ICCR has been a leader of the corporate social responsibility movement. ICCR's membership is an association of 275 faith-based institutional investors, including national denominations, religious communities, pension funds, foundations, hospital corporations, economic development funds, asset management companies, colleges, and unions. ICCR and its members urge companies to be socially and environmentally responsible. Each year ICCR-member religious institutional investors sponsor over 200 shareholder resolutions on major social and environmental issues.

The Human Rights Working Group is committed to promoting internationally recognized human rights standards in corporations’ operations, their suppliers and in the societies where they do business. The Working Group challenges corporations to adopt, implement, monitor and report on comprehensive human rights policies that respect the rights of employees and the rights of individuals and groups in the societies where they operate.

International Business Ethics Institute (IBEI)

IBEI promotes business ethics and corporate responsibility through two key program areas.

> It works to increase public awareness and dialogue about international business ethics issues through such educational resources and activities as the Roundtable Discussion Series, the International Business Ethics Review and its website.

> It works closely with companies to assist them in establishing effective international ethics programs. The Institute is dedicated to disseminating business ethics information to demonstrate the positive, tangible changes that responsible business can generate.

> Publications:

Reflecting an International Workforce: The Comprehensive Guide to Developing an Effective Global Business Conduct Program

International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net)

This is a collaborative initiative of groups and individuals from around the world working to secure economic and social justice through human rights. ESCR-Net seeks to strengthen the field of all human rights, with a special focus on economic, social and cultural rights, and further develop the tools for achieving their promotion, protection and fulfilment.

UNICEF

UNICEF recognizes the private sector can be an important partner in advancing its mission to ensure the health, education, equality and protection of every child. It engages with corporations in a variety of ways and on many levels. Ways to collaborate include:

innovative partnerships

strategic philanthropic initiatives

global, regional and local cause-marketing initiatives

employee-driven programmes

UNICEF’s interactions with the corporate sector range from designing multi-stakeholder partnerships to address specific problems confronting children, to mobilizing support for UNICEF’s programmes, to leveraging the assets of the private sector to advance the cause of children worldwide.

Often an introduction to UNICEF’s work occurs by building an alliance that meets both the private sector partner’s philanthropic and marketing needs and extend UNICEF's abilities to address the pressing needs of children. Corporations support UNICEF in many ways. For instance, they can provide:

financial support

research and development assistance

technical knowledge

access to logistic networks and

extensive communications channels.

Companies interested in the principles that guide UNICEF’s alliances with business can learn more by accessing UNICEF’s Guidelines and Manual for Working with the Business Community (word .doc). Alliances can take many forms including programmatic collaborations, advocacy and fundraising support or contributions-in-kind. For more information:

Learn about UNICEF and Corporate Engagement.

Learn about the Benefits of partnering with UNICEF.

The World Health Organization (WHO)

"the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being..." WHO Constitution

One of WHO's greatest concerns is disadvantaged and vulnerable groups with little political voice. WHO works with governments, foundations, NGOs, the private sector and civil society to address the needs of these populations. With today's interest in health as a route to development, WHO places their priority on meeting the unmet health needs of the deprived and defenseless. WHO sees health as a shared responsibility, involving equitable access to essential care and collective defense against transnational threats.

The Department of Ethics, Trade, Human Rights and Health Law (ETH), brings together four areas of expertise. It seeks to ensure that the principles of dignity, justice, and security in health are incorporated into programmes and policies across WHO, and to foster effective global, and national action based on these principles. ETH is composed of four teams:

Ethics and Health

Globalization, Trade and Health

Health and Human Rights

Health Law

The aim of the Health and Human Rights Team is to:

Strengthen the capacity of WHO and its Member States to integrate a human rights-based approach to health.

Advance the right to health in international law and international development processes.

Advocate for health-related human rights.

Follow this link for more information on WHO’s Health and Human Rights activities.


4. Who is Who in Human Rights

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan of Ghana, the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, served from 1997 to 2006. One of his main priorities as Secretary-General was a comprehensive programme of reform aimed at revitalizing the United Nations and making the international system more effective. He was a constant advocate for human rights, the rule of law, the Millennium Development Goals and Africa, and sought to bring the Organization closer to the global public by forging ties with civil society, the private sector and other partners. His efforts to strengthen the Organization's management, coherence and accountability involved major investments in training and technology, the introduction of a new whistleblower policy and financial disclosure requirements, and steps aimed at improving coordination at the country level.

Mary Robinson

President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, Vice President of the Club of Madrid, honorary President of Oxfam International, Member of the Vaccine Fund Board of Directors and member of the Leadership Council the UN Global Coalition on Women and AIDS.

> The mission of Realizing Rights is to put human rights standards at the heart of global governance and policy-making and to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed on the global stage. They have identified five critical global challenges to address:

Fostering Equitable Trade and Decent Work

Realizing the Right to Health

Shaping more humane migration policies

Strengthening Women’s Leadership

Encouraging Corporate Responsibility

John Ruggie

Special Representative to the Secretary General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises:

His 2008 report to the UN Human Rights Council, "Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights" (4), emphasizes the following:

> State duty to protect against abuses by third parties, including business.

> Corporate responsibility to respect rights

> Need for more effective access to remedies. (5)

Operations examined for potential impact on human rights and safeguards to ensure that company staff are never complicit in human rights abuses: (6)

Complicit behaviour (7), avoiding complicity

Direct and Indirect involvement (8)

Professor Ruggie is urging companies to discharge their responsibility to respect human rights by putting in place due diligence processes that include:

> Adopting a human rights policy;

> Undertaking – and acting upon – a human rights impact assessment;

> Integrating the human rights policy throughout the company; and

> Tracking human rights performance

Souhayr Belhassen

She is President of the Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH). A journalist and writer, Souhayr Belhassen has always wished to "give a voice to the voiceless", whether via her professional activities or in her commitment to human rights. Her great achievement was her leadership of the campaign by the Ligue Tunisienne de Défense des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH) to save 18 young Tunisians from the gallows after they had been found guilty of taking part in the bread riots of 28 January 1984. She has also committed herself on many other fronts internationally, starting with women's rights. In this arena, she co-ordinates the FIDH's women's rights action group. Souhayr Belhassen has taken an increasingly active role in the Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH), the oldest human rights organization in the Arab world.

Mark Hodge

Consultant, Twentyfifty Ltd, a consultancy working with multi-national companies to develop the strategy, leadership and practice to deliver responsible competitiveness. They focus on building engagement and commitment throughout the value chain and use a human rights based-framework to understand corporate responsibilities. Their work blends organizational change expertise with specialist knowledge of the business, human rights and sustainability agenda. The team has extensive ‘big 4’ consultancy and private sector experience, and has worked in many countries and sectors. Since 2003, they have been working with board members, senior managers and key staff in a range of industries.

He has previously worked in community regeneration, and has developed a series of leadership programs for young offenders, community activists and recent graduates to explore the connection between personal values and social change. In 2004 Mark co-founded The Hub, a unique incubator for social innovation in Central London that is now replicated in 10 cities worldwide.

Georg Kell

He is the executive head of the United Nations Global Compact, the world's largest voluntary corporate citizenship initiative with more than 2,400 participants from more than 80 countries. Following extensive experiences in Africa and Asia as a financial analyst, Kell began his career at the UN in Geneva, where he worked from 1987 to 1990 with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). In 1990, he joined the New York office of UNCTAD, which he headed from 1993 to 1997. In 1997, Kell became a senior officer in the Executive Office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, responsible for fostering cooperation with the private sector. He has served as head of the UN Global Compact since 2000. A native of Germany, Kell holds advanced degrees in economics and engineering from the Technical University of Berlin.

Alan Miller

Professor Of Law & Chair, Scottish Commission For Human Rights and an adviser to BLIHR since 2003, Professor Alan Miller has recently been appointed by the Scottish Parliament to become the first Chair of the newly created Scottish Commission for Human Rights.

Alan's involvement in the field of human rights goes back over 25 years in the NGO movement and legal profession. Recently he has helped to lead projects of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, including providing training to Iraqi judges, prosecutors and lawyers between 2004 - 2006 and to Palestinian lawyers in 2007. He is the editor of a number of human rights legal publications and is an elected Past President of the Glasgow Bar Association.

Chip Pitts

Lecturer In Law, Chip Pitts has for several years taught “International Business and Human Rights” at Stanford Law School, believed to be the first law school course specifically on the subject. He has also taught similar courses at the Oxford University/GW Human Rights Program and elsewhere. Formerly an adjunct then full-time professor at Southern Methodist University Law School in Dallas, he has also been a partner at the global law firm Baker & McKenzie, then Chief Legal Officer of Nokia, Inc., and an investor, founding executive, and consultant to various start-up businesses in Austin, Texas and Silicon Valley.

In private practice, he advised a number of pioneers in corporate social responsibility, including such companies as The Body Shop and Starbucks, and at Nokia his responsibilities included global corporate citizenship, which resulted in his drafting the company’s code of conduct in the mid-1990’s that included one of the earliest corporate commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

His long-time human rights activism includes stints working as a pro bono lawyer against apartheid in South Africa, serving as a delegate of both the U.S. government as well as NGOs including Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and the International Business Leaders Forum to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and various U.N. human rights conferences over the past two decades, and service as Chair of Amnesty International USA.

In addition to serving as an Advisor to the Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights, he is currently a member of Amnesty International USA’s Finance Committee, volunteer President of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and on the boards and advisory boards of other organizations including the University of Texas at Dallas’s Center on Negotiation, The Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Accountability, and the London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Center.

Kenneth Roth

Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, a post he has held since 1993. Human Rights Watch investigates, reports on, and seeks to curb human rights abuses in some 70 countries. From 1987 to 1993, Mr. Roth served as deputy director of the organization. Previously, he was a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington. He also worked in private practice as a litigator.

He has conducted human rights investigations around the globe, devoting special attention to issues of justice and accountability for gross abuses of human rights, standards governing military conduct in time of war, the human rights policies of the United States and the United Nations, and the human rights responsibilities of multinational businesses. He has written more than 80 articles and chapters on a range of human rights topics in such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, the International Herald Tribune, and the New York Review of Books. He also regularly appears in the major media and speaks to audiences around the world.

Sune Skadegaard Thorsen

Founder, Lawhouse.Dk, Denmark, & Director, Corporate Responsibility Ltd, Uk. With 22 years experience in international business and law, he specialized in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) from 1996. He has advised several industry leaders both in-house and as external consultant. His clients also include Governments, Development Agencies, NGOs and IGOs.

Apart from his role as expert advisor to the BLIHR, he is member of the Board of the Danish Centre for International Studies and Human Rights and the Danish Institute for Human Rights. He is part of the International Advisory Network of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and the CSR working group of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of the European Union. He chairs the Danish Section of the International Commission of Jurists and the Danish Peace Foundation.

He has extensive international experience and network. He has presented and published numerous articles and papers on CSR focusing on Business & human rights.

(4) Ruggie Report 7th April 2008 - PDF

(5) Global Compact Human Rights Index

(6) Amnesty International: "Human Rights Principles for Companies", page 7 Doc. ACT70/001/1998

(7) Human Rights Watch: "The Enron Corporation: Company Complicity in Human Rights Violations"

(8) Official Document Section of the UN - see here -


5. The Business Case: Why Do Human Rights Make Good Business Sense?

As noted in a New York Times editorial, "the ideal of universal human rights…is one of the most important political legacies of the century."

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in its "Business and Human Rights: A Progress Report" states the following.

"At the dawn of the 21st century, one of the most significant changes in the human rights debate is the increased recognition of the link between business and human rights. In the first four decades after adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Cold War was the central political framework for viewing the world. Human Rights was considered to be an issue that involved state action, not the actions of the private sector. In the ten years since the Cold War effectively ended, however, the world has begun to look very different indeed. Even before the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, it had become clear that the debate concerning human rights now places business squarely in the middle.

According to Peter Sutherland, Chairman of BP, “Business is essential to the development and protection of human rights for the six billion people on this Globe. Responsible companies see human rights issues as part of their business environment."

As described in the report published by the International Business Leaders Forum on Human Rights: It is Your Business, there are eight convincing business reasons why companies should integrate human rights into their business principles and practices. Among these elements of the business case are the following:

Safeguard reputation and brand image: The importance of reputation to a company’s share price has been adequately demonstrated. Studies have shown a correlation between companies’ reputation and price/earnings ratio. Both can be seriously tarnished by human rights scandals and violations.

Gain competitive advantage: Companies known for good human rights practices find it easier to enter new markets, win competitive bids, and develop partnerships with customers and suppliers.

Improve recruitment and staff loyalty: Lower turnover and absenteeism and more committed employees have immediate impacts on the bottom line.

Foster greater productivity: better labour relations from human rights practices create higher productivity and lower costs.

Secure and maintain a licence to operate: strong human rights and no tolerance for bribery and corruption build confidence with stakeholders.

Reduce costs: lower costs of recruitment, absenteeism, and turnover can be very significant.

Ensure active stakeholder engagement: sound human rights practices build more collaborative relationships with all stakeholders.

Better investor relations: human rights are rewarded by the increasingly important ethical investment community and can impact share prices.

Several global trends have come together to place human rights higher on the business agenda:

The emergence of the global economy as the central geopolitical fact of our time, and the emergence of foreign trade as a polarizing political issue globally;

The information technology revolution linking the world;

Increased consumer awareness and attention to labour practices of companies whose products they buy;

Privatization, which has elevated both the influence of business, as well as stakeholder assertions that companies should be publicly accountable;

Several high profile events in which businesses have been implicated in serious human rights violations;

Broad demands that companies operate in a more transparent manner, and;

The rapid growth of stakeholder groups; for example, the number of internationally- recognized NGOs has grown from 6,000 to 26,000 during the 1990s (The Economist, 11 December 1999).

An increasing number of companies have responded to these trends by beginning to incorporate concern for human rights into their daily business operations. This development, parallel to the emergence of the environment as a business issue a generation ago, is demonstrated through several recent trends:

The proliferation of corporate codes of conduct protecting the human rights and labour rights of workers employed by companies and their business partners;

Inclusion of human rights, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, into companies' global business principles;

Expanded attention paid by human rights organizations, consumers and the media to business' impact on human rights;

Growing dialogue between companies and stakeholder groups concerned about human rights;

Debate over the imposition of trade sanctions on nations broadly disregarding international human rights standards.”

Why are Human Rights Important to Business?

"Businesses are increasingly focused on the impact they have on individuals, communities and the environment. It is clear that one of the central measures of a company's social responsibility is its respect for human rights. And while most companies recognize the moral imperative to operate consistent with human rights principles, recognition is growing that respect for human rights also can be a tool for improving business performance." (9)

Many organizations have realised the importance of values-based business and promote values-based principles in business believing that building a respectful, diverse, and ethical culture is a business necessity.

The framework for determining what human rights issues are linked to business is addressed through the UN Global Compact, which calls upon business to "support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights within their sphere of influence and make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses." This approach recognizes the distinction between those issues over which companies have direct control, and those where they may be one actor amongst many which play distinct roles, and establishes distinct frameworks for defining a company's responsibilities.

Companies should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights within their sphere of influence; and they should make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

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 a company’s own activities might relate to it. In addition, companies are often uncertain how to avoid complicity in human rights abuse and where the boundaries of their human rights responsibility lie.

Some of the key human rights issues to which businesses need respond are:

Healthy and safe working conditions

Abolition of child labour

Gender equality and non-discrimination of all sorts

Social security and labour protection

Elimination of forced or compulsory labour

Freedom of association and collective bargaining

Minimum living wage and timely pay

Migrant workers

Supply chain practices

Corruption and bribery

The environment


(9) "Business and Human Rights: A Progress Report", preface by Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented to the World Economic Forum 2000.


6. Some Best Practices in Human Rights

Companies contribute in many ways to improving human rights. Above all else, they provide meaningful work and thereby enhance human dignity by creating and increasing employment. They provide training and educational opportunities to develop skills and aptitudes of their employees. In this section we describe a number of ways in which companies of all sizes contribute to human rights.

> Codes of Ethics:

Many companies have well defined codes of ethics that cover such human rights related issues as working conditions, health and safety, non-discrimination, harassment, living wages paid on time, and child labour.

> Training in Human Rights:

An increasing number of large companies have developed training programmes and manuals on human rights for employees. Examples include Novartis and Hewlett Packard.

> Sustainability reporting

Three organizations with links to the UN are making efforts to encourage more in-depth coverage of human rights in sustainability reports. The project, Human Rights: A Call to Action, has been set up by the Ethical Globalization Initiative, the Global Reporting Initiative and the UN Global Compact. These three bodies have assembled a working group to assess current practice in human rights reporting and to shape greater consensus on what constitutes good human rights practice and measurement. Workshops for companies and other reporting organizations will be held throughout the period of the project. These efforts will lead to the development of practical resources to help companies improve their human rights performance, measurement and reporting. Source: www.globalreporting.org/humanrights

> Supply chain management

An increasing number of companies have codes of conduct for their suppliers that cover these same issues. Many of them monitor suppliers’ practices either internally or by bringing in external auditors to verify respect of such codes. And suppliers can be suspended for not complying.

Telecoms company Telenor recently removed Chinese supplier ZTE from its invitations to tender for six months following an undisclosed breach of its code of conduct for suppliers. The ban on using ZTE applies to all Telenor's operating companies across the world, covering 12 countries including several Asian markets. The move follows controversy that attached itself to Telenor's Bangladesh joint venture, Grameenphone, following allegations of child labour in its supply chain. Source: Ethical Performance Vol 10, Issue 4

> Socially Responsible Enterprise Restructuring:

Restructuring has become a recurring event in many large companies due to economic conditions and increasing global competition. The ways in which companies restructure has very important human rights implications. Simply firing employees without any accompaniment can leave employees and their families very depressed. Likewise, plant closures can severely impact the communities in which they are located.

The French group Danone S.A. has very clear policies for minimizing the impact of restructuring measures that ”No employee should be left along to deal with a job problem and jobs must be created wherever they are destroyed.” Saint Gobain, like Danone, have distinct organization units responsible for ensuring that employees being laid off find jobs elsewhere. The unit Saint Gobain Developpement is said to have found alternative employment for over 16,000 employees affected by rationalization of their facilities in France over a twenty year period.

Another best practice is for companies closing factories to collaborate closely with local authorities in the search to attract alternative employment to the community.

Source: Socially Responsible Enterprise Restructuring, A Joint Working Paper of the ILO and EBBF.

> Microcredit:

Following the lead and model of the Grameen Bank in Bangledesh, small loans to permit unemployed people to start up their own microenterprises continue to be sources of work, meaningful employment, and livelihoods for many millions of people. In Asia and Africa these loans have been given largely to women; in other areas men benefited from them as well.

In 1997, the Microcredit Summit, of which EBBF is a member of its Advocates Council, launched a nine-year campaign to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest people, especially the women of these families, with small loans and credits for self-employment. The goal was nearly reached, improving thus their own living conditions and that of their families as well as the education of their children. Given an average family unit of 5 people, they thus improved the quality of life of nearly 500 million people. In 2007, the campaign was re-launched to 2015 with two goals:

Working to ensure that 175 million of the world's poorest families, especially the women of those families, are receiving credit for self-employment and other financial and business services by the end of 2015.

Working to ensure that 100 million families rise above the US$1 a day threshold adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), between 1990 and 2015.

Source: www.microcreditsummit.org/aboutmicrocreditsummit.htm

At the same time, many commercial banks have created special units to manage small loans for new enterprise creation and expansion of existing small businesses.

> Social capitalism

Can capitalism be reformed to serve the common good? The Grameen Bank has set up over thirty so-called “social businesses” which are distinguished by their social goals to maximize the social value added, to share this value with all the parties concerned, and to reinvest any profits in the business. Likewise, the French Groupe Danone has created a separate unit, Danone Communities, whose mission is to reduce nutritional deficiencies in the third world.

Together with Danone S.A., the Grameen Bank created a joint venture, GrameenDanone Foods, with the social goal to produce and sell fortified yogurt for pennies a serving to malnourished children in Bangladesh. The milk used to make the yogurt is produced locally on new small farms owned by poor people. What distinguishes this enterprise is first its overriding social goal, and, second, its policy to reinvest all eventual profits and not to distribute any dividends to investors or shareholders.

Source: “Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism” by Muhammad Yunus, PublicAffairs, a subsidiary of Perseus Books, USA.

> Social Enterprise:

Closely related to the concept of social capitalism, increasing interest is being shown in the creation of social enterprises: companies whose basic mission is social, which can be either non-profit or for-profit. Organizations like Ashoka and the Schwab Foundation provide well deserved recognition to successful social entrepreneurs while student interest is growing in many business schools.

> Employee Health

Corporate Response to HIV/AIDS in South Africa: In a country in which medical insurance is not the custom, companies are increasingly taking a proactive role to combat HIV/AIDs. These initiatives are not simply a question of compassion and good corporate citizenship, Rather these companies see assertive action as critical to their long-term profitability and some find it cost effective even in the short term. In mid-2005, The Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS published a comprehensive guide on Best Practice Action Standard, which focuses on specific actions companies can take to defining their corporate response. These best practices relate to ten specific areas: non-discrimination; prevention, education and behaviour change; testing and counselling; care, support and treatment; product and service donation; corporate philanthropy; community and government partnerships; business associates and supply chain engagement; advocacy and leadership; and monitoring, evaluation and reporting. Over 70% of South African firms reported having a specific written HIV/AIDS policy.

A set of human rights guidelines for pharmaceuticals companies has been accepted by the United Nations. They focus on meeting the needs of two billion people in developing countries who lack essential medicines, and say that all pharmaceuticals companies should have a public policy on access to medicines setting out objectives, time frames, reporting procedures and lines of accountability.

ExxonMobile has given grants of $40 million to the African Health Initiative since 2000. In 2007, the company awarded $12.4 million in grants to support awareness of and access to malaria treatment and prevention options, to promote strategies to build health care capacity at the community level, and to fund research and development of new drugs and vaccines. (exxonmobil.com/heath)

> Consultants for Implementing Human Rights

To develop, and especially implement, a vision and strategy on human rights, is a challenge to all companies. Management consultants have responded to this need. One example: Aim for Human Rights is a Dutch non-governmental organization which assists companies to raise awareness on corporate responsibilities for human rights and to put human rights policies into practice. To this end, they have developed an interactive tool called the Human Rights Compliance Assessment. This best practice guide highlights the experiences of several multinational enterprises and civil society organisations from different parts of the world.

> Improved Working Conditions

Better Work Vietnam. The ILO and the IFC have launched a joint programme in the apparel industry in Vietnam aimed at demonstrating that actions aimed at improving working conditions and compliance with labour standards (e.g. health & safety, working conditions, non-discrimination, living wages paid on time) can increase competitiveness. In this and similar projects, a convincing case has been demonstrated based on experience that productivity and profitability as well as sales are increased directly by implementation of such measures to improve human rights in the workplace.

> Socially Responsible Investing

Danske Bank, the largest banking group in Denmark, has adopted a policy to prevent the bank from investing in companies that violate international standards on human rights, arms, working conditions, environmental and anti-corruption. One top bank executive said such ‘good behaviour’ is a precondition for long-term value creation in a company.’

> Child Labour

Wal-Mart claims dramatic progress in eliminating child labour in the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan by using its purchasing and lobbying power against the country’s government. The company demanded that the government withdraw its support for the use of child labour in the annual cotton harvest. The government has since formally banned the practice, ratified the ILO conventions on child labour, and produced a national child labour action plan for all industry sectors. Other companies had stopped sourcing from Uzvbekistan earlier this year, notably C&A, Gap, H&M, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer. Source: Ethical Performance, volume 10, issue 6, November 2008