Scaling up Action on Human Rights: Operationalizing the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights

This issue brief by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) identifies a series of barriers and solutions to operationalizing the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The latter establish an authoritative global standard on the respective roles of businesses and governments in helping ensure that companies respect human rights in their own operations and through their business relationships.

The brief builds on the hands-on experiences of several WBCSD member companies in their efforts to implement the UNGPs, including: ABB, Anglo American, ArcelorMittal, Coca-Cola, DSM, Eni, HEINEKEN, Hitachi, Holcim, JPMorgan Chase, Michelin, Nestlé, Novartis, RWE, Total, Unilever, and Vale. It also draws from the results of the survey of WBCSD members on the implementation of the UNGPs as well as the broader experience of experts that have worked with companies on these issues across the globe.

Specifically, the brief intends to:

  • Create a better understanding of the current state of play amongst corporations
  • Highlight some of the most common barriers faced by companies in their efforts to implement the UNGPs
  • Share solutions tried and tested by WBCSD members to overcome these barriers

These insights are useful for companies at all stages of their human rights journey. For companies that are kick-starting their human rights activities – and trying to determine how best to ‘dive in’ – the brief provides a menu of practical steps that might help them get started, which their peers have found to be most important and effective. For companies with more experience, the brief identifies additional strategies that may help them to overcome persistent challenges.

The Council has been pleased to partner with Shift on this topic. Shift, an independent, non-profit center for business and human rights practice, led a series of interviews and a workshop across the summer of 2014 with WBCSD member companies and partners, which contributed to the shaping of this brief.

Human rights: An essential pillar of the WBCSD’s Action2020 platform

“Meeting basic needs and respecting human rights” has been identified as one of nine key priority areas within the WBCSD’s Action2020 platform, a science-based action plan that seeks to engage companies to implement innovative and scalable business solutions and improve the business case for sustainability. WBCSD members have highlighted the operationalization of the UNGPs as an essential business solution to contribute to achieving this priority.

However, global experience has demonstrated that this can be a lot more challenging in practice than it sounds. Despite extensive guidance material, companies, and those responsible for human rights issues within those companies, face a number of barriers to operationalizing respect for human rights across their businesses. In this context, companies have been cautious entering this space, and the voice of business has been relatively quiet when it comes to sharing corporate efforts.

The objective of this issue brief is to turn the tide, and encourage more companies to take action on operationalizing the UNGPs.

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