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UN Framework and the Global Compact

Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

In 2005, the United Nations Human Rights Commission requested that the UN Secretary-General appoint a Special Representative (SRSG) with a mandate to, among other things:

  • identify and clarify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability for businesses and human rights;
  • clarify the implications for businesses of concepts such as “complicity” and “sphere of influence”;
  • develop materials and methodologies for undertaking human rights impact assessments of the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

As a result of this mandate, the SRSG and his team produced the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles), which were endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 16 June 2011 The Guiding Principles provide an authoritative global standard for addressing adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity, wherever such impacts occur.

They set out, in three pillars, principles concerning the State duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and access to remedy for victims of human rights abuse.

The “corporate responsibility to respect” exists independently of States’ abilities or willingness to fulfill their own human rights obligations. The Guiding Principles require that companies have a policy commitment to respect human rights, and proactively take steps to prevent, mitigate and, where appropriate, remediate, their adverse human rights impacts.

The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide

The interpretive guide was designed to support the process of effective implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Interpretative Guide focuses on the Guiding Principles that address the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. It was developed in full collaboration with the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Professor John Ruggie. The content was the subject of numerous consultations during the six years of Professor Ruggie's mandate and was reflected in his many public reports and speeches, but has not previously been gathered together in one place. Download the Interpretive Guide: لعربية | 中文 | English | Français | Русский | Español

Relevance to the UN Global Compact

Respect for human rights is a key component of Global Compact Principle 1, which calls on business to support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.

The UN Global Compact and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights developed an explanatory note on the relationship between the UN Global Compact and the Guiding Principles. Global Compact participants, stakeholders, and the broader community are encouraged to review the note to learn more about the interconnectivity of these initiatives.

In short, the Guiding Principles complement the Global Compact by establishing a framework to guide participants in fulfilling their commitment to respect human rights. This includes guidance on implementing effective policies and procedures and communicating annually with stakeholders on progress. Download the note on the relationship between the Guiding Principles and Global Compact’s Human Rights Principles.

Human Rights Due Diligence

The Guiding Principles make clear that all human rights have the potential to be relevant to all businesses, regardless of sector or country of operation. It also emphasizes that the responsibility to respect human rights is the baseline standard for all businesses in all situations. Respecting human rights means not causing, contributing to or being directly linked by business relationships to an adverse human rights impact.

Exercising "human rights due diligence" in order to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for adverse human rights impacts will help business respect human rights and avoid complicity in human rights abuses.

The due diligence process should be ongoing, drawing on internal and/or independent external human rights expertise and involve meaningful consultation with stakeholders.  The process will vary in complexity with the size of the company, the risk of severe human rights impacts and the nature and context of operations. The key steps are as follows:

  • Identifying and assessing human rights impacts: Taking proactive, ongoing steps to understand how existing and proposed activities may cause or contribute to human rights impacts, as well has how the business’s operations may be directly linked to such impacts.
  • Integrating findings: Integrating findings across relevant internal functions and processes
  • Taking action: The appropriate action will depend on the business’s relationship to the impact. See the flow chart prepared by the UN Global Compact.
  • Tracking effectiveness of response: Monitoring and auditing processes permit a business to track ongoing developments.
  • Communication: Externally communicating how the business has addressed adverse impacts: Global Compact participants are required to submit an annual Communication on Progress. Download the Human Rights Communication on Progress Guidance.  

Addressing human rights impacts involves the prioritization of business’ limited time and resources. The Global Compact offers a variety of resources to support business in their efforts to effectively address human rights within their strategies and operations:

Remediation

The Guiding Principles also provide that a business should have in place or participate in remediation processes so that it can address adverse human rights impacts that it has caused or contributed to. Effective company-level grievance mechanisms ensure that employees, contractors, local communities and others can raise their concerns and have them be considered. Such mechanisms should be legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, rights-compatible, and a source of continuous learning.

Remediation benefits companies by constituting a continual learning process and can help avoid the escalation of disputes. 

Supporting Human Rights

Many participants in the Global Compact go beyond respecting human rights to also help support/promote the enjoyment of human rights. This is encouraged — Principle 1 of the Global Compact speaks of supporting human rights as well as respecting them. Likewise, stakeholder expectations often extend to the belief that companies can and should make a positive contribution to the realization of human rights where they are in a position to do so. 

Amongst others, business can support or promote human rights:

  • through their core business activities in support of UN goals and issues
  • strategic social investment and philanthropy
  • advocacy and public policy engagement
  • partnership and collective action

These are elaborated in the Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability Leadership, which was adopted by Global Compact participants at the Leaders Summit in June 2010.

It is important to note that the expectation of supporting human rights is additional to (and not a substitute for) the requirement to respect human rights according to the Global Compact and Guiding Principles; as such, a company cannot compensate for infringing upon human rights in one aspect of their business by supporting human rights elsewhere.

Avoiding Complicity in Human Rights Impacts

Principle 2 of the Global Compact indicates that business should make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses. Complicity basically means being implicated in a human rights abuse that is being caused by another company, government, individual, group etc..

The responsibility to respect human rights, pursuant to Global Compact Principle 1 and the Guiding Principles, includes avoiding complicity, which is another way, beyond their own direct business activities, that companies risk interfering with the enjoyment of human rights. Complicity can be by way of an act or omission, and may be direct, beneficial or silent.

Contact

Ms. Ursula Wynhoven
UN Global Compact Office
wynhoven@un.org

(Last updated: 16 April 2014)