Five Legal Trends Affecting Business and Human Rights

July 8, 2019
  • Salah Husseini portrait

    Salah Husseini

    Director, Human Rights, BSR

  • Aimee Louise Bataclan

    Former Manager, Communications and Marketing, BSR

From working conditions in their global supply chains to ethical use of their products, companies have a lot to consider when it comes to protecting human rights. And while the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) provides a framework for the private sector to assess their impacts, national laws regarding how business should address human rights vary widely from country to country.

This inconsistent nature of national government-level approaches to protect human rights is just one factor—along with the climate crisis and technological disruption—that companies, particularly multinational corporations, must contend with in today’s new climate for business.

Like many challenges, the question of how business should address human rights is one that benefits from collaboration—which is why BSR established the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) in 2012. The collaborative initiative seeks to help companies implement the UNGPs by providing operational-level guidance and bringing together a global community of business and human rights professionals. The spring meetings of HRWG, held in New York, London, and Tokyo, brought together representatives from 40 companies across sectors to connect over the field’s most pressing issues.

Over the course of the spring meetings, HRWG’s discussion covered topics ranging from children’s rights to the risks of doing business in disputed territories, as summarized in Human Rights Insights: Trends from the Human Rights Working Group’s Spring Meeting, which was published today.

One topic that highlighted the challenge of inconsistent approaches by national governments to issues of business and human rights was emerging legal trends in human rights. The Working Group delved into the following trends:

  • Vedanta Lawsuit and Supply Chain Responsibility: Regardless of industry, multinational corporations with global subsidiaries should take note of the U.K. Supreme Court’s ruling in the lawsuit against British mining company Vedanta Resources, which deemed that the U.K.-based parent company could be sued for harms allegedly caused by their subsidiary.
  • Modern Slavery and Human Rights Due Diligence: More and more, countries are considering or adopting laws that will require all businesses to conduct rigorous due diligence of their operations and supply chains.
  • Discrimination Laws: Globally, there has been an increase in laws that prohibit discrimination. This is particularly salient for companies with global operations as countries that didn’t previously have laws relating to issues like gender discrimination are increasingly adopting and enacting them.
  • Labor Protections: Protections for gig economy workers are weakening in many markets. Ride-sharing apps have been sued by their drivers to be considered employees instead of independent contractors in order to access better protections.
  • Privacy:  Privacy is increasingly an issue of concern for business, particularly those who have access to, and thus must protect, sensitive data from users and customers.

As countries’ concern for human rights changes, so will the legal landscape—as will the operating environment for business. Meetings of the HRWG are a unique space in which business and human rights professionals from companies of all industries can come together to discuss such pressing and emerging issues in the field. The global community fostered by this collaboration leads not only to knowledge sharing, but it also enables individuals to bring back key learnings to their own companies and inform business strategy.

BSR members interested in joining the Human Rights Working Group should not hesitate to reach out and connect with us.


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