Hardly any industry can claim to be free from violations of the human rights of workers and of the inhabitants of affected countries and communities. Here it is interesting that the EU in 2011 launched a new definition of corporate social responsibility (CSR). According to this, a company has «responsibility for the entire company’s impacts on society». Only 10-15 years ago, it was impossible to get a breakthrough for such an understanding. The attention was then either directed towards a micro level , namely the conditions in the workplace. Or towards a macro level- if people’s human rights in a state were so extensively violated that companies should not invest there. The fact that it is now the overall business’s influences that is central is an important change.
6: UN Guidelines for Companies
In 2011, according to CACHEDHEALTH, the UN Human Rights Council adopted new guidelines for companies and human rights. The rules are not binding ; the foremost tool for ensuring that companies respect human rights remains in national laws and their effective enforcement .
Nevertheless, the UN guidelines are important because they are far more detailed than, for example, the Global Compact principles. Under the heading “responsibility to respect” is listed a number of measures to enable a company to better assess the consequences of its investments, and make the necessary adjustments to avoid contributing to human rights violations. The weaknesses of the UN guidelines are that Guidelines for companies, which also include human rights – do not establish national bodies that can ensure compliance with the guidelines (OECD – Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).
The UN guidelines are centered around three pillars:
- The state has a duty to protect people from violations of rights
- Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights
- People must have access to bodies, whether judicial, administrative or non-governmental, to be able to lodge complaints
We see that while states have a duty , companies have a responsibility . However, the companies’ responsibilities extend quite far. Specifically, a company must have both expertise and systems that enable it to avoid contributing to human rights violations. For example, a company has a responsibility to ensure that its suppliers do not allow practices that violate human rights. The guidelines also state that states should have sufficient political room for maneuver to meet their human rights obligations when seeking to attract investment.
7: Other standards
A number of other standards have been adopted in recent years to try to fill the control space that was presented in the text box on page two. Some of the most interesting when it comes to human rights are:
- Guidelines for responsible property management of land, fishery resources and forests, adopted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2012.
- Principles for making an analysis of the human rights consequences of trade and investment agreements
- Guide to help in analyzing the human rights implications of individual projects, adopted by the Global Compact, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the International Business Leaders Forum (a member body for companies) in 2010.
8: Positive signals – will there be changes?
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , every individual and every body in society must promote respect for human rights. In short, companies have a moral responsibility, while states have a responsibility under international law to promote respect for human rights. There are still no good enough mechanisms to hold companies accountable for human rights violations in other states.
For OECD countries and other states that have acceded to the OECD guidelines, there are national contact points that can determine whether these have been complied with. But the contact points have no judicial or judicial authority. Other development features are that the World Bank has had a far more positive view of the promotion of human rights , while little has happened in the International Monetary Fund . IFC in particular, which is the part of the World Bank that lends to private individuals, has included human rights in its new standards from 2012.
At the same time, it is too easy for companies to publicly state that they take ethical considerations into account and respect human rights, but in practice do the opposite. The most important thing is not what happens in the UN or in the OECD, but the individual state’s legislation and capacity. Such institutional changes will also affect the attitudes of those in power in various companies.