Business plays an important role in promoting human rights. It has the power to drive equality in both the workplace and in the community, and through offering employment opportunities it can support the advancement of social and economic rights.
However, business also has the responsibility to protect human right. Business activities can also impact the enjoyment of human rights such as through exploitative labour practices, pollutive or extractive industrial activity, data mismanagement and much more. Globalisation means that business activity can affect individuals and communities within the countries they operate in and across borders.
As a consequence, there has been increased debate in recent years about the roles and responsibilities of businesses with regard to human rights.
In 2008, UN Expert Professor John Ruggie proposed a “Protect, Respect and Remedy” policy framework for businesses to adopt, which considers the duty of the State to protect against human rights abuses; corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and greater access for victims to effective remedy.
To support this framework a universal set of principles to guide business in implementing human rights into their activities. The UN Guiding Principles call upon businesses to make a public commitment to respect human rights, carry out human rights due diligence, and provide a remedy when business-related human rights abuses occur. Human rights due diligence is the process through which a business identifies when, where and how it could have an impact on human rights, and acts on its findings. The UN Guiding Principles explain the steps that businesses should take to mitigate risks, track the effectiveness of their efforts, and tell people about their progress.
National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and their networks have a unique role in upholding the UN Guiding Principles, including by responding to gaps in corporate governance that result in human rights abuses. In 2010,
NHRIs from around the world developed and adopted the Edinburgh Declaration, which sets out their commitments to work proactively with businesses and their human rights responsibilities, and help to protect against abuses and ensure human rights are considered at every stage of business activity. The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) established the Working Group on Business and Human Rights to further support NHRIs to implement the commitments within this declaration.