Human rights are inherent to all human beings. They are defined and established in more than 80 international legal instruments1 and define the fundamental protections of human dignity, needs, and freedoms, such as food, housing, privacy, personal security, and democratic participation.

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the responsibility to protect human rights has primarily fallen on governments. Beginning in the early 2000s, however, it became increasingly clear that the freedoms enshrined in the framework could also be violated—and promoted—by the private sector.

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles), the first international instrument to assign companies the responsibility to respect human rights. The Guiding Principles state that governments must put in place good policies, laws, and enforcement measures to prevent companies from violating rights; that companies must refrain from negatively impacting rights even when governments are failing to create or enforce necessary laws; and that victims of corporate abuses must have access to effective remedy. As part of this responsibility, the Guiding Principles require companies to undertake due diligence to identify and manage their negative human rights impacts.

This primer identifies the 10 most relevant, urgent, and probable human rights impacts for businesses operating in the financial sector. The information here is gathered from BSR’s direct engagement with financial sector companies, as well as our 25 years of experience helping companies in all sectors manage their human rights risks.

The financial sector comprises a wide range of businesses and activities, from asset owners and managers to private equity, venture capital, and commercial banking. While each of these sub-sectors will have its own human rights profile and challenges, this brief highlights universal risks for companies operating in finance.