New Guidance Helping Companies To Respect Human Rights

By Natasha Holcroft-Emmess, Associate Editor 13 May 2016
Economic, Workplace

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has today published a guide to help company directors show leadership in ensuring their businesses respect human rights.

The guide is accompanied by this great new animation, which explains how human rights and business interact:

Why should companies care about human rights?

Companies can have a substantial impact on human rights. Objectionable practices – like forced labour within their supply chain, breaches of privacy and environmental pollution harming people’s health – can be very damaging. A negative human rights impact puts companies at risk of legal and reputational repercussions, locally and globally.

On the other hand, businesses have a lot to gain by demonstrating a strong commitment to human rights. Companies with a culture of respect for human rights become desirable brands, investments and employers. Savvy consumers may be more inclined to do business with a company which takes steps to safeguard basic rights. Respect for human rights can therefore be significant for a company’s success.

What does the guide say?


The guide sets out five steps which boards of directors (that is, the people who run companies) should follow to ensure their companies identify, mitigate and report on the human rights impact of their activities. The guide also gives advice on how directors can help their companies to comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – a global standard outlining the role of businesses in respecting human rights.

What are the five steps?

Boards of directors should ensure that their companies:

  1. embed the responsibility to respect human rights into their culture and practices;
  2. identify and understand the relevant, or most severe, risks to human rights;
  3. systematically address their relevant, or most severe, risks to human rights and provide remedies when needed;
  4. engage with stakeholders (such as staff, union representatives and investors) to inform their approaches to addressing human rights risks; and
  5. report on their relevant, or most severe, human rights risks and meet regulatory reporting requirements.

Understanding the bigger picture…


The guide encourages companies to undertake ‘human rights due diligence’. This means asking relevant questions so that directors can assess the company’s human rights impact as a whole. The guide recommends that businesses consider asking “What is the company doing to make respect for human rights a part of how it does business?“, “How does the company know what negative impacts it may have on people’s human rights?” and “What steps is the company taking to reduce and mitigate its risks?

Due diligence aims to give directors the bigger picture of their company’s current practices. It can also generate impetus to adopt better practices: if glaring gaps in the company’s efforts are revealed, this can drive its leaders into action.

The guide provides a useful, easy-to-follow starting point to assist companies in meeting important human rights standards.

Read the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guide “Business and human rights: A five step guide for company boards”.

Read RightsInfo’s resources on the key laws protecting workers’ rights, how the Modern Slavery Act is changing business practices and a new requirement for some companies to report on gender pay differences.

Featured image © Nguyen Hung Vu, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence. Second image © The Open University, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Licence. Third image picture credit: © Equality and Human Rights Commission.


About The Author

Natasha Holcroft-Emmess Associate Editor

Natasha studied BA Jurisprudence and the BCL at Oxford University. She qualified as a solicitor at a London law firm before returning to Oxford to undertake an MPhil, researching international human rights law.

Natasha studied BA Jurisprudence and the BCL at Oxford University. She qualified as a solicitor at a London law firm before returning to Oxford to undertake an MPhil, researching international human rights law.