Business

Company Responsibility to Respect
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. 

“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. 

Pinned Articles

Covid-19, Business and Human Rights: Challenges and Behavioral Strategies (Analytical Note)

This document proposes to consider the balance of business and human interests in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Updated BHR Country Guide for Belarus

This guide helps you quickly understand the topic of “business and human rights” and provides a basic toolkit for introducing proper approaches to business processes and government regulation.

How Can Businesses Impact Human Rights?

This concise table includes a summary list of internationally recognized human rights, provides a short explanation of each right, and offers examples of how business activities could impact the right.

Doing business with respect for human rights

‘Doing Business With Respect for Human Rights’ is a comprehensive guide designed for companies of all sizes, sectors and geographies. It is intended to equip readers with practical advice and real-life examples that help to translate the high-level expectations in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights into concrete action.

Organizing the Human Rights Function Within a Company

This UN Global Compact good practice note examines different models for how companies assign responsibility for human rights within the company, and compares relative merits of each model.

Respecting Trade Union Rights in Global Value Chains: Practical Approaches for Business

This resource seeks to equip companies with practical ideas and tools for taking action, in order to help close the gap between commitment and practice.

Nationalism, xenophobia and authoritarianism: How should business respond to these rising trends?

Businesses operating in such countries don’t seem to be concerned with human rights records of authoritarian governments, remaining silent, feigning ignorance or at worst helping authorities in their crackdown.

When government fails to protect human rights, business can play a critical role: The case of Bulgaria

As practice shows, companies are more inclined to respect human rights when governments fulfil their duty to protect and hold companies accountable for abuses. However, business can play an important role when governments fail to protect human rights and international institutions choose not interfere when abuses take place.

Company inaction contributing to human rights abuse in Belarus

Belarusian activists reached out to a large number of Western companies engaged with the Belarus Government urging them to take immediate action. Despite this direct link, most companies remained silent.

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Updated BHR Country Guide for Belarus

Updated BHR Country Guide for Belarus

This guide helps you quickly understand the topic of “business and human rights” and provides a basic toolkit for introducing proper approaches to business processes and government regulation.

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Human Rights Impact Assessment Guidance & Toolbox

Human Rights Impact Assessment Guidance & Toolbox

A useful tool for due diligence, human rights impact assessment analyses the effects that business activities have on rights-holders such workers, local community members, consumers and others. HRIA follows a human rights-based approach, which integrates human rights principles such as non-discrimination into the assessment process.

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