General Counsel Must Understand That Businesses Are Responsible For Protecting Human Rights

Author:Iberian Lawyer
Profession:Iberian Lawyer

In-house lawyers should conduct human rights assessments that identify potential risks in their organisation's supply chain - companies that don't do this could find their reputations destroyed

Traditionally, businesses have believed the issue of human rights is not their responsibility, but opinion is changing. In-house lawyers and corporate counsel see the need to change their mindset and learn about new norms and guidelines that define their organisation's human rights responsibilities. We have moved from the sphere of corporate social responsibility to the reality of responsible business conduct - it's not enough to do good voluntarily, businesses now must do no harm to stakeholders. The reason is that there is now an international consensus around the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, which outline how states and businesses should implement the UN "Protect, Respect and Remedy" framework to better manage human rights challenges. The principles, endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, are based on three pillars: the state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation and adjudication; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means avoiding infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts that occur; and greater access by victims to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial. Businesses in many sectors run the risk of coming into conflict with human rights standards and norms. For example, in the mining, infrastructure and oil and gas sectors, there are land issues (including the rights of indigenous people) that could lead to infringements of human rights. In the construction industry, there could be issues related to dire working conditions. Meanwhile, businesses producing garments and footwear could face labour-related human rights problems - one of the most high profile examples of this was the Rana Plaza clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, which resulted in the deaths of 1,129 people, with around 2,500 more suffering injuries. Workers in the factory made clothes for international retail chains, including the Spanish company Mango. The response of governments around the world to the implementation of the UN guiding principles has been patchy. According to the UN, ten nations have produced a national action plan on business and human rights - they are: Spain...

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