Companies have an impact on human rights in a number of different ways, both positive and negative. Companies are part of the wider society, and when human rights are negatively affected, there are often several factors involved. Since 2011, there has been clearer guidance on where companies’ responsibilities begin and end.
2011 saw the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). These principles apply all over the world, and Sweden and Swedish companies must also follow them. They provide clarity with regard to the responsibility of companies and governments to respect and protect human rights, and to address any abuses that have occurred.
They also state that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights in all aspects of their operations. At the very least, this includes ILO’s Core Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The responsibility exists, regardless of whether or not a government is capable of protecting these human rights. The principles provide a minimum level for what we can expect companies to comply with.
Human rights due diligence
Human rights due diligence is a key concept in the UNGPs. It is the process that companies should have in place in order to analyse whether there may be a negative impact on human rights as a result of their activities, and a plan for how to mitigate such risks.
Measures should focus on areas where the human rights risks are greatest. In other words, it is not the company’s opportunities to influence or its own interests that should determine what measures are prioritised.
Companies’ links to abuses
According to the Guiding Principles, companies can be involved in human rights abuses in three ways.
- By causing negative impact through their own activities;
- By contributing towards negative impact through their own activities or their business relationships;
- By their business relationships being directly linked to abuses or negative impact.
A company’s responsibilities may differ depending on how strong a link it has to the abuses.
A global standard
Since their adoption, the UNGPs have been incorporated into other international corporate responsibility standards, including the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, IFC guidelines and the EU’s CSR strategy. The UNGPs have therefore become a global standard.
National action plans
The EU Commission has tasked all EU member countries with drawing up a National Action Plan (NAP) detailing how they intend to implement the UNGPs. Sweden’s NAP was adopted in 2015.