Human Rights, Business and other Organisations

Human Rights are not just the responsibility of governments, but also of organisations.

For a long time, Human Rights were regarded to apply only between governments and citizens. Slowly but surely this is changing. This is not just the opinion of Human Rights organisations or the UN, but also - and growing - of companies and organisations themselves.

Businesses have come to recognise that they are an important actor in the field of Human Rights. Such awareness obviously has been sparked by the growth of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). A big part of business now realises that Human Rights and environmental protection have to be integrated in their corporate policies. Arguments that move this change are: more profit in the long run, customers want a fair product and staff wants to be proud of the company they work for.

Also, partly due to the growth and implementation of CSR, internationally one could distinguish a shift from " Corporate Responsibility" when an organisation would choose to take Human Rights into consideration to "Corporate Accountability" and thus liability; where an organisation, including daughter companies abroad, do not comply with Human Rights. Many big international corporations have committed themselves to respect Human Rights. Many of these companies have – for instance – signed up to the United Nations Global Compact.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2005 appointed Harvard Professor John Ruggie as ‘special representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and business’ in 2005. After having submitted an interim rapport in February 2006, Ruggie – on behalf of the Human Rights Council – in april 2008 and april 2009 presented two reports that both had great impact. Corporations, Ruggie argued and the Human Rights Council adopted, have a responsibility to “to respect human rights”.

Parallel to these developments at the UN level, more and more liability cases are being started (most in the USA and UK), settled and won. The first Dutch case was started last year, where several individuals and Milieudefensie (Dutch Section Friends of The Earth) have brought a case against Shell’s -The Netherlands based- mother company for human rights violations of and environmental damages by Shell Nigeria in Nigeria. Few organisations, however, have actually contracted experts in the field of Human Rights and Business to assess where the organisation stands. Or whether the (good standing of the) organisation would be at risk or even liable because of non compliance. Or how to implement human rights into their policies.

JustLaw has this expertise. Examples of what we could do for you are: a Human Rights Scan (does your company comply (policy and practice)?). Or a specific advice on sub areas such as labour conditions, equal treatment or environmental impact. You could also contract us to do a presentation on Human Rights and Business or CSR based on Human Rights. For instance for your management, CSR department , but also for your clients.

This way Human Rights and environmental protection could be institutionalised into your organisation.


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