Increasingly complex supply and value chains are increasing the risk of human rights violations through entrepreneurial activities. The result is increasing legal regulations that require companies to be more transparent and responsible. In the following, the relationship between business and human rights as well as the legal developments, social expectations and economic opportunities for companies based on this are explained by the implementation of human rights due diligence.
The development of human rights – from soft law to hard law
Human rights are those freedoms and rights that are unconditionally granted to every human being from birth, and that can not be withdrawn from other individuals or voluntarily given up. Article 1 of the German Basic Law (1949) summarizes human rights with the words “Human dignity is inviolable”.
The foundation for the universal validity of human rights was laid by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) with the sentence “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” In a total of 30 articles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets the Fundamental rights, such as freedom of thought, conscience and religion, or the right to work and equal pay, is the basis for consideration of human rights issues, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is, at first, a legally non-binding declaration of intent.
The observance of human rights became legally binding only through the central UN human rights pacts that came into force in 1976 -the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (civil package) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (social pact). At the current time, 169 states have ratified the UN Civil Pact and 165 have ratified the UN Social Pact.
In addition to international human rights treaties, the adoption of the 1988 International Labor Organization (ILO) Core Labor Standards represents a special milestone in ensuring decent work. The eight core labor standards are based on the four basic principles of the ILO: 1. Freedom of association and collective bargaining; Elimination of forced labor, 3. Abolition of child labor and 4. Prohibition of discrimination in employment and occupation.
The ILO core labor standards provide a minimum reference framework for labor standards and are internationally recognized. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Civil Pact, the UN Social Pact and the ILO core labor standards form the normative framework for corporate human rights due diligence.
Corporate Responsibility for Human Rights: The UN Guiding Principles
In 2011, the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights took the long-standing debate on responsibility for respecting human rights a giant step forward.1 In Guidelines developed by Professor John Ruggie2 (also known as the Ruggie Principles) came alongside the commitment For the first time, states have clearly defined corporate responsibility for the protection of human rights. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights distinguish the following three areas of responsibility:
1. Duties of States: States are obliged to respect, protect and actively promote human rights.
2. Duty of the enterprises: Regardless of the duty of protection of the states, companies are obliged to:
uphold human rights, avoid human rights risks in their business processes and include human rights aspects in their risk management. The responsibility to respect human rights requires that companies carefully consider the supply chain 3
to: a) adversely affect human rights through their own activities
and b) mitigate any negative impact on human rights directly related to their business, products or services by virtue of a business relationship. This is true even if they do not contribute to these effects. The responsibility of companies to respect human rights is independent of the size and sector of the company. However, the scale and complexity of the measures varies by company.
According to the UN Guiding Principles, companies should take the following actions: a) Establish a commitment to respecting their responsibility to respect human rights; b)
Establish a human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent and mitigate human rights implications and accountability for how they address them; and (C) Develop a process to redress adverse human rights implications.
3. Obligation of states and companies: States and companies must ensure access to judicial and extrajudicial complaints and sanctions for victims of human rights violations.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights serve internationally as guidelines for the human rights due diligence of international and multinational corporations. The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises also enshrine the UN Guiding Principles.