UNGPs’ 10th Anniversary: The Next Decade of Business and Human Rights

June 22, 2021
  • Jenny Vaughan portrait

    Jenny Vaughan

    Managing Director, Human Rights, BSR

This June 2021, we mark the 10th anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Commission in 2011, the UNGPs have become the universal standard guiding business responsibility to respect human rights.

At BSR, we have seen tremendous progress over the past decade as we have worked with businesses to align their policies and practices with the UNGPs. The broad consensus around the UNGPs has given companies across sectors—and their partners in government and civil society—a shared roadmap for respecting human rights and has driven the development of corporate commitments, policies, and procedures to better prevent and mitigate harm due to business activity.

Our work is far from over, however.

Corporate commitment and process has not always translated into impact in real life, and we continue to see headlines associating companies with human rights abuses through their operations, sourcing, and sales.

Why is this? In part, this is due to the gap between commitment and implementation—the ongoing need to better resource and more meaningfully embed efforts to avoid, prevent, mitigate, and remedy human rights violations across corporate functions.

But this is also due to the scale and complexity of the great challenges of our time—climate change, rising inequality, persistent marginalization of women and people of color, and growing geopolitical tensions, to name just a few. These challenges exacerbate the risk that business activity will be involved with harm.

How can we close the gap between aspiration and impact? Throughout 2021, to mark the 10th anniversary of the UNGPs, BSR is reflecting on what additional action business and other actors can take to shape a future where human rights are realized in law and in practice. In the coming months, we will publish deep dives into emerging issues and evolving approaches that will shape the next decade of business and human rights, including:

  1. The Shared Opportunity to Promote Human Rights: Based on the premise that the absence of action to promote human rights presents severe risks to their fulfillment, our first paper draws upon BSR experience over the past decade to propose a framework for the shared promotion of human rights.
  2. Downstream Human Rights Due Diligence: This primer provides a practical overview of human rights due diligence of products and services.
  3. Climate Change and Human Rights: This paper explores the anticipated linkages between climate change and adverse human rights impacts, as well as mitigating measures that companies can take to prevent harm.
  4. Business in High-Risk Contexts: Building on the UN report on business, human rights, and conflict, this issue brief lays out practical steps companies can take to conduct enhanced human rights due diligence in conflict-affected and high-risk areas.
  5. Access to Remedy: Delving into the oft-neglected third pillar of the UNGPs, this issue brief explores challenges as well as best practices in providing remedy for human rights harms.
  6. Human Rights Assessment: Drawing on over 25 years of experience, this paper lays out BSR’s synthesized learning and refreshed approach to conducting decision-useful human rights assessments for companies.

In a world facing increased climate impacts, rapidly changing technologies, and shifting geopolitics, resilient business strategies are critical to business success. By embedding human rights approaches across business, sales, and supply chain operations, companies can not only build resilience but help to create a more just, sustainable world. Join us as we explore what this means for business in this decisive decade.


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