The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is set out in Pillar 2 in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). It represents the commitment by companies to avoid human rights violations and take measures to address adverse impacts on people.
Respect for human rights is most often associated with the role of states, which are the main guarantors of respecting, promoting, and protecting human rights. With the development of global economies and the increasing role of busines in society, companies’ expectation to respect human rights is increasing.
Seeking accountability is a risk assessment of a business’s potential adverse impact on human rights that may occur throughout the value chain. The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is an assessment of the risks of adverse impact as prescribed by the UNGPs.
What does the protection of human rights involve?
For most companies respect for human rights includes legal compliance, care for employees, and contribution to the community through corporate social responsibility policies. These examples include some of the elements of the business and human rights principles, but the missing part is the assessment of the salient human rights risks that are at higher risk of being violated, therefore, requiring identification, prevention, and mitigation of the adverse impact.
Here comes the question of whether risk assessments should be done voluntarily or mandatory. Until now, most human rights risk assessments have been carried out voluntarily, but with the EU changes related to more accountability and transparency, more and more companies will have to carry out mandatory due diligence, which includes identifying, ending, preventing, mitigating, and accounting for adverse human rights and environmental impacts.
The corporate respect for human rights by companies comprises commitment to human rights policies, conducting human rights due diligence, engaging with stakeholders, and ensuring effective remedies. Some examples of policies are public declarations of commitment to respect human rights, codes of conduct governing relationships with suppliers where most human rights violations occur, and gender equality and DEI policies.
One of the widely used tools as part of the due diligence process is the human rights impact assessment. In relation to remediation companies could provide compensation, cease the activity that is causing the adverse impact, cover medical expenses, etc. One common practice is to set up a grievance mechanism that provides opportunities for more meaningful engagement with stakeholders or by engaging with representatives from civil societies.
The impact of business on human rights and the environment is evident, therefore, the requirements for more accountability, transparency, and care for people are increasing.
The main shift is accepting that respecting human rights is not only the duty of the state but also the responsibility of companies that can have a negative impact on people and the environment. The conclusion is that the corporate responsibility to respect human rights is a look into the future whilst assessing the present where people are placed at the center.