“Business enterprises should respect human rights. This means that they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved,” explain the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).
Businesses can play a powerful role in promoting and advancing human rights, such as those to food, livelihood, safe working conditions, and development. However, they also can also have negative impacts — intentionally or unintentionally — on rights such as those to a safe and healthy environment, access to water, and non-discrimination.
Businesses are increasingly expected to respect human rights, with new laws on corporate governance and human rights due diligence continuing to emerge. Corporations are increasingly held accountable for rights violations through judicial systems, both in the country where the abuse took place and the country where the company is headquartered. The European Union is seeking to pass even more laws regulating business and human rights, including emerging legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence.
Many businesses already have commitments and principles related to human rights — often in the form of sustainability, social investment, corporate social responsibility, or ESG. While there is significant overlap between these approaches, the “business and human rights” framework focuses first and foremost on avoiding negative human rights impacts. While philanthropy and investment projects are encouraged, they cannot “offset” negative impacts. See our page on intersecting agendas for more information.
Businesses are expected to avoid causing negative impacts on all internationally recognized human rights, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further explored in binding treaties and UN commentary.
The Doing Business With Respect for Human Rights website provides information and guidance on why it is important for businesses to respect human rights, which human rights businesses are expected to respect, and how businesses can embed human rights into their practices.