28.06.2021  |  Menneskerettigheder

The Shared Opportunity to Promote: A Second-Decade Priority for the UNGPs

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To mark 10 years of the UNGPs, BSR is reflecting on what additional action business can take to create a rights-respecting future. Explore our first deep dive on the shared opportunity to promote human rights

Introduction

The UN Human Rights Council endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) 10 years ago. Since then, the UNGPs have been used by a growing number of global companies, integrated into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and referred to by governments, investors, and civil society organizations everywhere.

At BSR, we have learned a great deal by helping companies implement the UNGPs in practice. Our methods have evolved with each company engagement, and we have been struck by how often referring to the precise text of the UNGPs helps identify how we may improve our approaches for the next project. Ten years later, we are still learning, and that is a testament to the richness of the UNGPs.

The three UNGP pillars of “state duty to protect,” “corporate responsibility to respect,” and “access to remedy” have provided much-needed clarity for our work with companies, providing clear direction for company action to address adverse human rights impacts.

However, we believe that a step change in the interpretation of these three pillars is needed to more effectively prevent human rights violations associated with business activities and secure the wider enjoyment of human rights.

Specifically, we believe that the business and human rights field will benefit from a framework for the enjoyment, realization, and fulfillment of human rights—a shared opportunity to promote human rights—that moves beyond a perception that the UNGPs’ three pillars are solely about avoiding harm.

Based on the premise that the absence of action to promote human rights presents very severe risks to their fulfillment, this paper draws upon BSR experience over the past decade to propose a framework for the shared promotion of human rights.

Rationale

BSR’s recommendations to companies in every human rights engagement are grounded in the UNGPs. However, over the past decade we have noted that the role of the company in taking actions that promote the enjoyment, realization, and fulfillment of human rights is an area where we have needed to chart our own path more than most. We think that promoting human rights is an essential role that companies can play, both alone and in collaboration with other actors, but also one where the business and human rights field would benefit from clearer frameworks.

The rationale for the proposed framework is grounded in our desire to see human rights realized in law and in practice. We live in a world where rule of law, accountability, and civic freedoms are increasingly under attack, where climate change and pandemics present systemic challenges, and where existential questions about the relationship between technology and humans urgently require rights-respecting resolutions. This is a context where the absence of action to promote human rights presents severe risks to them, and it is this connection—between promotion and risk—that is prompting our desire to establish further guidance on how companies can play a more complete, strategic, and impactful role.

Our proposed framework is intended to provide structure, direction, and guidance for the opportunity companies have—through their operations, products, services, and relationships—to significantly enhance, realize, and advocate for the enjoyment of human rights.

If companies are to effectively embrace the opportunity to promote human rights, it needs to be undertaken in a manner that is legitimate, accountable, and based upon international human rights standards. It needs to be principles based, not opportunistic; consistent, not ad hoc; and grounded in a desire to see rights realized in law and in practice, not solely in brand value, reputation, or revenue growth.

It is important to emphasize that a framework for promoting human rights is intended to realize the implementation of the three pillars of the UNGPs through more proactive and ambitious approaches. Principle 11 of the UNGPs states that companies should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved, and we believe this remains central. Principle 11 also states that company commitments or activities that contribute to the enjoyment of human rights does not offset a failure to respect human rights throughout their operations, and we believe this to be irrevocable.

Foundational Principles

Principle 1: Business enterprises have an opportunity to promote the fulfillment of human rights, alone and with others.

Principle 2: The full realization of human rights requires systemic solutions to systemic problems.

Principle 3: Business enterprises should assist in the fulfillment of human rights by investing in economic, social, and cultural opportunities for all people.

Operational Principles

Principle 1: Business enterprises should advocate for the respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights in their public policy, government affairs, and regulatory activities.

Principle 2: Business enterprises and their partners should enable and empower rightsholders by raising awareness of how their human rights can be affected. 

Principle 3: Business enterprises should participate in mulitstakeholder partnerships and initiatives to promote the realization of human rights.

Principle 4: Business enterprises should invest in inclusive business models and strategies.

Principle 5: Business enterprises should prepare for a range of different scenarios. 

Do you want to learn more? Contact the BSR Human Rights team. We can help you advance your business and human rights work. Hello | Human Rights | BSR

Find the full report here: The Shared Opportunity to Promote: A Second-Decade Priority for the UNGPs | Reports | BSR

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BSR - Business for Social Responsibility

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BSR is a global nonprofit organization that works with its network of more than 250 member companies and other partners to build a just and sustainable world. From our eight offices in Europe, North America and Asia, we develop sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration. We are present in the Nordics with our Copenhagen office…

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