Human rights are inherent to all human beings. They are defined and established in more than 80 international legal instruments 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 (UNGPs), the first international instrument to assign companies the responsibility to respect human rights.

The Guiding Principles state 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 actively identify and manage the negative human rights impacts that they may cause directly, and those to which they contribute through their business practices and relationships. There are several key actions a company can take as part of this due diligence cycle: conduct a human rights assessment to determine which potential human rights impacts are most salient to their business; develop and publish a human rights policy to clearly communicate expectations to stakeholders and business partners; ensure they have robust stakeholder engagement processes in place to support ongoing monitoring of potential or actual impacts and proactive action or remedy.

This issue brief identifies the most relevant, urgent, and probable human rights impacts for businesses operating in the beauty and personal care sector. The information here is gathered from BSR’s direct engagement with beauty and personal care sector companies, as well as our 30 years of experience helping companies in all sectors manage their human rights risks.

The beauty and personal care sector comprises a wide range of businesses and activities, from manufacturing, retailing, and distribution to marketing and advertising of beauty and cosmetic products (such as makeup, fragrances, skincare, haircare, and toiletries). The sector is spread across a wide range of different businesses including specialty stores, pharmacies, and supermarkets, among others. While each of these different business activities will have its own human rights profile and challenges, this brief highlights universal risks for companies operating in the beauty and personal care sector.