This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At BSR, we are pleased to reflect on and celebrate the progress initiated by that landmark declaration. However, it is also important to highlight and address growing threats to the international human rights regime.

2018 has been a difficult year in this regard. The United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, signaling a retreat from multilateralism. And toward the end of the year, there were threats to the funding of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

BSR believes that this matters not just for politics, but for business—and many business leaders that we speak with agree.

Multilateral institutions and frameworks for human rights are critical to ensuring that human rights are consistent for individuals around the world—in different countries and cultures with different political regimes and histories. However, they are equally critical for business and its operations.

The unanimous adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in 2011 marked the first time that the international human rights regime, originally developed for states, was authoritatively applied to business. Subsequently, leading companies have played an active role in uptake and promotion of their implementation. Businesses rely on these Principles to guide their human rights policy frameworks and due diligence processes through which they assess, manage, and report on human rights-related risks across their operations and supply chains. Support for the UNGPs extends to influential organizations representing business, including the International Organization of Employers, the International Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Council for International Business.

Together, the UNGPs and OHCHR are a powerful force, giving business a much-needed touchstone for human rights and supporting the continued proliferation and enforcement of human rights policies around the globe, from corporate offices to supply chains.

The UNGPs help level the playing field in global competition and promote the rule of law in countries where this has historically been lacking. Additionally, the requirements embedded into the UNGPs are entirely consistent with the increase in regulation of business and human rights issues around the world, from the Modern Slavery Act in the U.K. and similar pending legislation in Australia and Hong Kong to the CLOUD Act in the U.S.

OHCHR is at the heart of efforts related to the UNGPs. As part of its global mandate to promote and protect human rights, OHCHR is the institutional home of the UNGPs and thus serves a critical function as a centralizing body for managing, stewarding, and promoting adoption and implementation of the Principles.

In addition, companies that take measures to assess, mitigate, and remediate risks related to human rights, whether concerning forced labor and human trafficking or broader labor rights, have benefited from the research and guidance developed and disseminated by OHCHR. For example, OHCHR is currently engaged in an important two-year study to help clarify the role of companies and states relating to operational grievance mechanisms for harms arising from business operations. OHCHR is taking significant steps to engage companies directly, so that the guidance adequately addresses the real-life challenges that business experiences in difficult operating contexts. As regulations around human rights due diligence and reporting continue to spread around the world, the expertise and guidance of OHCHR on how business can meet the expectations set out in the UNGPs will become even more relevant for companies. 

Together, the UNGPs and OHCHR are a powerful force, giving business a much-needed touchstone for human rights and supporting the continued proliferation and enforcement of human rights policies around the globe, from corporate offices to supply chains.

In this anniversary year, BSR encourages all companies to express their support for these institutions. Moreover, we call for continued adequate funding for OHCHR in 2019 and beyond to ensure that the various human rights challenges emerging around the world can be met by companies in a consistent and effective fashion.

For companies wishing to engage on this and other policy issues related to human rights, BSR’s Business Action Platform for Human Rights helps companies support policy frameworks that protect and promote human rights at a time when these universal Principles are increasingly under threat. For more information or to get involved, please contact us.



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