You are on page 1of 3


International and Dutch standards on business and

human rights
The first pillar of the global standard on business and human rights the UN Guiding
Principles on Business and Human Rights addresses the duty of states to protect human rights.
A. What are human rights?
The idea of human rights is as simple as it is powerful: that people have a right to be treated with dignity. Being treated
with dignity is the foundation for leading a decent human life. Human rights are therefore inherent to all people as
human beings, and not something that governments are free to grant or take away in the way they might do with
other legal rights.
The definition of human rights is referred to as internationally recognized human rights. These rights are set out in the
1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and are elaborated in more detail in two international conventions agreed in
the United Nations (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights) and in the Declaration on Fundamental Rights and Principles at Work of the International
Labour Organization.
Most states, including the Netherlands, enshrine the protection of many human rights in their own laws, and in some
cases, even in their constitutions.
Additional resources:

Human Rights Translated is an excellent baseline resource for companies and those who engage with
companies to understand what human rights are and how they can impact them. The table below is largely based
on this resource.

B. How can businesses impact human rights and what are they expected to do
about it?
The activities of companies and the activities of their business
partners affect peoples lives in ways both positive and negative.
Companies provide employment, make useful products and contribute
to economic growth. Yet business activities can also harm peoples
human rights, from exploiting forced labourers to dumping toxic
waste in communities drinking water.

In support of the UN Guiding Principles

Reporting Framework, Shift and Mazars have
created a table that explains how companies can
impact specific human rights, with examples. Many
companies use this resource to raise awareness
with employees and business partners about
human rights.

In 2005, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asked Harvard Professor

John Ruggie to clarify the responsibility of companies in regards to
respecting human rights impacted by their activities and business relationships. After years of extensive global
consultations, in 2011 Ruggies Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were unanimously endorsed by the
UN Human Rights Council.

Overview: International and Dutch standards on business and human rights

Shift Project Ltd. 2016

Today the Guiding Principles constitute the authoritative global

standard on business and human rights. Their 31 principles set
expectations of states and companies about how to prevent and address
negative impacts on human rights by business. These expectations are
not based on new laws or conventions instead, they are based on
established understandings of internationally recognized human rights.
The Guiding Principles apply to all states and all businesses worldwide
and today are being implemented by companies, governments and their
stakeholders on every continent.
Additional resources:

Short summary of the Guiding Principles and complete text

Short explanation of why the Guiding Principles matter and
how they are transformative for companies and society
More information about Ruggies mandate at the United Nations

This short video introduces the key concepts of

the Guiding Principles.

C. What are the standards and expectations in the Netherlands in regards to

business and human rights and responsible business conduct?
In your online course, Gilles Goedhart from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains the Dutch governments
commitments and expectations on business and human rights and responsible business conduct, via a video. Highlights in
the video include:

Two authoritative international standards the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN
Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights inform the Dutch governments position on business
responsibility to respect human rights and issues related to international corporate social responsibility.
The key policy instrument the Dutch government uses to address the topic of business and human rights is the
2013 National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. The Plan has five key components: 1. Active role for
government; 2. Policy coherence; 3. Clarifying due diligence; 4. Transparency and reporting; 5. Scope for

D. What do the Guiding Principles say about states responsibility when it comes
to business and human rights?
The first pillar of the Guiding Principles provides
recommendations on how states can meet their existing
international human rights obligations to protect against
business-related human rights abuses by creating an
environment that is conducive to business respect for
human rights, including by:

Working to achieve greater legal and policy

coherence between their human rights obligations
and their actions with respect to business, including
by enforcing existing laws, identifying and
addressing any policy or regulatory gaps and
providing effective guidance to business | Learn
more: toolkit from the International Corporate
Accountability Roundtable and the Danish Institute

Overview: International and Dutch standards on business and human rights

Graphic reproduced courtesy of Shift


for Human Rights that supports the development of National Action Plans on business and human rights

Fostering business respect for human rights both at home and abroad | Learn more: our webinar will focus on
what this looks like in practice, with an example from the Netherlands. The webinar is on Thursday, November 3
at 14.00 CET dont miss it!

Taking particular measures where there is a close nexus between the state and business such as ownership or
when a state conducts commercial transactions with business (such as through government procurement or the
provision of trade or export credit support) | Learn more: guidance for public procurers on respecting human
rights; guidance for development finance institutions on human rights

Helping ensure that businesses operating in conflict-affected areas do not commit or contribute to serious human
rights abuses | Learn more: Briefing on preventing corporate involvement in mass atrocity crimes

Fulfilling their duty to protect when they participate in multilateral institutions (e.g., World Bank, OECD) with
other states.

States also have obligations when it comes to providing remedy, which is addressed in Pillar 3 of the Guiding Principles.
In particular, they are responsible for providing a functioning system of judicial remedy, which can be supplemented by
state-based non-judicial remedy, such as labour tribunals or other similar bodies. For more, see the box on remedy that is
part of week 2s factsheet.
Well talk about remedy throughout this course. You can also familiarize yourself with key concepts and latest
recommendations from the UN on remedy in Shifts resource library dedicated to this pillar.
Additional resources:

Text of the Guiding Principles: specifically p. 3-12

Many countries, including the Netherlands, have done or are in the process of developing a National Action Plan
on business and human rights (NAP). The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also maintains
a webpage with guidance for states on developing a NAP, and a list of NAPs completed or underway.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre runs a government action platform that collects information
about activities undertaken by various governments in relation to business and human rights.
The Danish Institute for Human Rights one of the worlds most active National Human Rights Institutions
published in 2014 Unpacking Pillar 1 and 3 of the UN Guiding Principles Business and Human Rights, which
provides further reflections on the role of states in regards to business impacts on human rights.

Overview: International and Dutch standards on business and human rights