Creating a fairer Britain
Increasingly companies are operating in a global context with the progression of technology and even small businesses in the UK have transactions with countries 10,000 miles away on a regular basis. This globalisation has human rights implications for the communities in which companies operate, for their workforces and their suppliers. However many businesses in the UK do not have sufficient guidance or understanding of their responsibilities or potential course of action in order to protect and respect human rights.
Small and medium sized businesses in particular have a responsibility to observe human rights as a community employer representing 99 % of all businesses in the UK.
There is no doubt that this is a complex area of ethics with many different actors but it is one in which businesses are increasingly hungry for information and mindful of the reputational repercussions of a potential breach of human rights. Observing human rights also makes good business sense. Although the State has a certain responsibility to regulate human rights and business, it is businesses who need to take all necessary steps to avoid breaching human rights.
This new guide sets out six key areas that are particularly relevant to smaller business. It also sets out a simple model to understand and put in place respect for human rights across the whole of a business' operations and its supply chain.
It draws on research carried out by Middlesex University which found a particular gap in the support available to smaller businesses to understand what is meant by business and human rights and what they can do to ensure respect for human rights.
In response to a lack of human rights guidance for business, the UN has created a human rights framework that will assist both the State and business across the globe. Professor John Ruggie, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on human rights and transnational corporations, presented a 'protect, respect and remedy framework'. The Ruggie Framework endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 aims to shape government and business actions.
The Commission welcomes this Framework and believes that the Guiding Principles should clarify responsibilities on both the State and businesses. We strongly urge all companies regardless of size to consider the Principles and how they can mainstream these into their policies. The Principles are applicable to all companies whether or not they have overseas involvement or not. Many international human rights organisations are already using the Framework in their reporting and advocacy work. But the framework and Guiding Principles also contains practical tips for businesses and the State.
In 2011, the Commission was involved in promoting wider understanding of the practical aspects of the John Ruggie Framework during the course of the Countdown to 2011 events in association with Clifford Chance, the International Business Leaders Forum and Amnesty International UK.
We encourage you to watch a short film that was shot at the events, featuring interviews with businesses and leading commentators talking about how to mainstream human rights into business operations.
An accessible transcript can also be downloaded here.