Top 6 Human Rights Resources for Non-experts

Share this post on:LinkedIn

Coffee plantation

Image by Promovision on Shutterstock

Your company, whether big or small, needs to demonstrate that it respects human rights. This involves understanding your company’s actual and possible direct and indirect human rights impacts; taking action to mitigate, address, and remediate actual adverse impacts; and transparently disclosing your efforts and goals. Your company may have in-house experts, but, more likely, you are a sustainability professional with responsibility for human rights without robust training for this important work. While nothing replaces the lens of true subject matter expertise, we have compiled some key resources for non-experts who want to grow their understanding and better support their company’s efforts to uphold human rights.

Why does your company need to uphold human rights?

All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights and to provide accessible, effective channels for feedback about their human rights performance. This is not optional, even in jurisdictions where human rights are not meaningfully enshrined in law or practice. The obligation includes the rights of a company’s workers and those in its value chain, as well as the rights of people outside the company who may be impacted by its operations or those of its value chain.

All international human rights are captured in the International Bill of Human Rights, with the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment being the most recent addition to the list in 2022. Worker-related rights, in particular, are further defined in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. These human rights apply to everyone, everywhere. Nations are responsible for enshrining these rights into law and ensuring that they are not violated and cannot be taken away (alienated), except in very limited and specific circumstances (e.g., a person who has been convicted of a crime can temporarily lose their right to liberty).

What is expected of companies

Companies are required to uphold human rights in their operations and broader business relationships, which includes their supplier relationships, investments, lending, subsidiaries, or other business arrangements. Leading companies typically set out their commitments in a human rights policy with board-level accountability and develop management systems to guide, ensure, and check its implementation. Worker and community feedback mechanisms, including whistleblower channels, are an important part of identifying and ensuring the effective mitigation of possible adverse human rights impacts, provided the mechanisms are accessible, effective, trusted, and free from risk of retaliation or reprisal. To help ensure they meet this bar, leading companies co-design these mechanisms in collaboration with the people who may need to use them.

Companies are also required to conduct due diligence of human rights performance in their operations and business relationships (ongoingly or, at least, regularly) and they can expect more formal obligations to do so, as jurisdictions across the world are enacting supply chain human rights due diligence requirements with a particular focus on modern slavery, including forced and child labour. Companies must prioritise and disclose their most salient human rights issues, based on actual adverse impacts and the greatest human rights risk. And lastly, companies are expected to develop management plans to address and remediate impacts and demonstrate year-over-year progress toward achieving their goals.

Key Resources

With those expectations and obligations in mind, here are some key resources to help you familiarise yourself with key concepts and sources to grow your understanding of human rights in a corporate context and to better support your company’s efforts to uphold human rights.

1. UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, also known as the “Protect, Respect, and Remedy Framework,” set out 31 principles for states and companies to prevent, address, and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations and the communities around them. The framework is founded on three pillars: the state's duty to protect human rights; the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights; and access to remedy for victims of business-related abuses. This document is a foundational piece for companies on how to respect and advance worker and community human rights.

2. The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide: This companion guide to the UN Guiding Principles provides additional background information, interpretation, and explanation of the UNGPs, to help ensure companies have a full understanding of the objectives and intent of the principles.

3. Corporate Human Rights Benchmark and related sector methodologies: The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) assesses the corporate human rights policies, governance, processes, due diligence, remediation, and transparency of large, publicly traded companies, as well as their responses to allegations of human rights abuses. The related sector methodologies currently cover the apparel, automotive manufacturing, extractives, food and agricultural products, and ICT manufacturing sectors, but provide helpful insights into what’s considered leading practice no matter what sector your company operates in.

4. Corporate human rights due diligence – Getting started, emerging practices, tools and resources: This report by the Working Group on Business and Human Rights focuses on emerging and leading approaches for corporate human rights due diligence and includes learnings and practical insights, recommended actions, good practice approaches, factors that enable change, and a range of tools and resources for those tasked with human rights due diligence oversight or implementation.

5. Human Rights Impact Assessment Guidance Toolbox: This toolkit from the Danish Institute for Human Rights offers useful guidance and tools for human rights impact assessment (HRIAs) as part of company due diligence obligations, whether your role is to commission, conduct, or review such projects. The primary focus of the toolbox is on large-scale business projects but can be adapted for other contexts or business activities. It includes guidance for each phase of the process, for stakeholder engagement, and offers relevant case studies and resources.

6. Business & Human Rights Navigator: This resource is a good high-level introduction to salient issues where business activities intersect with the human rights of workers, including child labour, forced labour, discrimination, living wages, and gender equality. Each of the issues they identify includes a summary; an explanation of the “dilemma” the issue poses for business; key data and trends related to the topic; the related possible impacts on businesses and on human rights; and key thematic resources and guidance for companies.

And, for additional useful content, the Re:Structure Lab conducts and synthesises academic research on forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking into practical briefs for companies with actionable recommendation to help improve human rights performance.

While these resources will not make you an overnight subject matter expert on human rights (there is no such thing!), they will provide structure, context, and content to inform and improve your company’s human rights journey. If, as part of that process, you find yourself wanting to dive more deeply into specific human rights and themes, the Rights and Wellbeing at Work and Rights and Resilience in Communities section of our Issue Snapshots provide curated content, ready for you to explore.