Introduction to human rights board guidance

Advice and Guidance

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • England flag icon


    • |
    • Scotland flag icon


    • |
    • Wales flag icon


Human rights are basic rights and freedoms for everyone based on dignity, fairness, equality and respect.

A company may affect people’s human rights through its own activities or through its business relationships. Examples include child labour or forced labour within the supply chain; breaches of individuals’ privacy or restrictions on free speech; poor safety or security practices; and environmental pollution causing harm to people’s health. These impacts on human rights can arise in business operations abroad or in the UK and can result in local or global operational, financial, legal or reputational risks, such as complaints, litigation, or operational delays that drive up costs and harm the company brand.

When companies operate with a culture of respect for human rights they become brands, partners, investments and employers of choice. This guide sets out the five steps boards should take to satisfy themselves that their companies understand the potential human rights impacts of their activities, take effective steps to mitigate or remedy them, and report on how they do this.

This guide also provides advice on how boards can meet the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the global standard, which outline the role of business and governments in respecting human rights. The Guiding Principles do not create any new international legal obligations on companies, but they can help boards to operate with respect for human rights and meet their legal responsibilities set out in domestic laws. They are also supported by the UK Government.

The UN Guiding Principles are based on a ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ framework which says that:

  • states have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, such as business, through their policies, regulation and adjudication
  • companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, that is, to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address any infringements with which they are involved, and
  • states and companies must take steps to ensure that there are effective judicial and non-judicial remedies available to people whose human rights are abused.

Last updated: 16 Aug 2019