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Primer

Business responsibility to respect human rights: the


eight elements
The second pillar of the global standard on business and human rights the UN Guiding
Principles on Business and Human Rights addresses the responsibility of businesses to respect
human rights.

As introduced last week in this course, businesses everywhere have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout
their activities and business relationships. That means avoiding infringing on the rights of people, and addressing negative
impacts where the business caused or contributed to them.
The second pillar of the Guiding Principles is all about businesss responsibility to respect human rights. This pillar
provides a blueprint for businesses to prevent and address negative human rights impacts.
This blueprint is made up of eight elements:
Commit Embed Assess Act Track Communicate Engage Remediate
As companies implement the eight elements, they should also keep in mind these overarching concepts:

The blueprint of the Guiding Principles is a risk management approach but the focus is on risk to people, not
just risk to the business;
The responsibility to respect human rights extends throughout a companys operations, including its own
activities and all of its business relationships throughout its value chain;
Compliance with local law may not be sufficient to meet the expectations of the Guiding Principles, especially
in situations where they conflict with international human rights standards;
Companies cannot offset negative impacts on people by doing good, such as through philanthropy or staff
volunteering.

Element 1: Commit Making a public statement


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A companys commitment to respecting human rights should be
reflected in a statement of policy. The process of developing
such a policy commitment is likely to involve planning and
consultation; it creates an opportunity to build internal
understanding of the companys responsibility and is therefore
about more than merely getting words on paper.
A policy commitment should explain how the company
understands its responsibility to respect human rights. It is a way
for the company to set clear expectations and provide guidance
Overview: Business responsibility to respect human rights

Tip! Key factors to look for in a good company


commitment on human rights:
Includes all internationally recognized human rights
no cherry picking!
Approved at the highest level of the business (CSuite/Board)
Clear about who it applies to, and who has to
implement it
Shift Project Ltd. 2016

for those who need to adhere to or implement the policy, such as the companys own workforce, its suppliers and other
business partners. It should be approved at the highest levels of the organization to signal the seriousness of the
commitment.
Key resources to learn more:

Guiding Principles 12, 16 and 23 and their commentary


UNGP Reporting Framework questions A1, A1.1, A1.2, A1.3 and their implementation guidance
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide: p.26
Doing business with respect for human rights, Chapter 3.1, from Global Compact Network Netherlands, Oxfam
and Shift
How to Develop a Human Rights Policy from the UN Global Compact

Element 2: Embed Making respect part of company culture


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A policy is just words on paper without action to put it into practice. In order to implement its commitment, respect for
human rights needs to become part of the companys culture or DNA in other words, it needs to be an integral part of
how it operates.
Embedding is about creating the right macro-level environment for a policy to be effective. It includes training,
performance and accountability structures, tone at the top from senior management and the Board, and a sense of shared
responsibility for meeting the companys human rights commitments. Embedding is an ongoing process for all companies.
Key resources to learn more:

Guiding Principle 16 and its commentary


UNGP Reporting Framework questions A2, A2.1, A2.2, A2.3, A2.4, A2.5 and their implementation guidance
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide: p.26
Doing business with respect for human rights, Chapter 3.2, from Global Compact Network Netherlands, Oxfam
and Shift
Embedding the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights Within Company Culture from Shift

Element 3: Assess Moving from reactive to


proactive
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The first step of human rights due diligence is assessing how the
companys operations and business relationships can pose risks to
human rights. This means considering the negative human rights
impacts that the companys current or planned activities could have on
individuals and communities. It also means considering negative
impacts that could arise through any of a companys business
Companies can prioritize which human rights risks to address first
relationships in its value chain, such as suppliers, contractors,
but they need to prioritize based on risk to people, not risk to the
joint venture partners or business customers. The process
business. Learn more about how to identify leading human rights
should include both actual impacts that have happened as
Overview: Business responsibility to respect human rights

risks (salient human rights issues) with this video.

well as potential impacts or what are often called human rights risks.
When assessing risks, companies should seek to understand their mode of
Tip! Stakeholders perspectives are
involvement in the potential impact. Would they potentially cause, contribute or
particularly important to inform
be linked to the impact? Knowing this helps a company know what it should do
companies assessment of human
to prevent or mitigate the risk. Where the company has itself caused a human
rights risks.
rights harm, it may be more straightforward for the company to address it and
prevent it from happening again, for example through a change in policy or incentives for its staff. On the other hand,
cases where companies are linked to human rights harms, such as those deep in the supply chain, may require creative and
collaborative efforts. Well talk more about this part in week 3 on supply chains.
Key resources to learn more:

Guiding Principles 17, 18, 23 and 24 and their commentary


UNGP Reporting Framework questions B1, B2, B3, B4 and C3 and their implementation guidance (included in
links)
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide: p.36
Doing business with respect for human rights, Chapter 3.3, from Global Compact Network Netherlands, Oxfam
and Shift
Human Rights Due Diligence in High Risk Circumstances from Shift

Element 4: Act Walking the talk


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The objective of human rights due diligence is to prevent and mitigate potential impacts on peoples human rights. After
identifying human rights risks, companies need to take action to tackle them. Prevention and mitigation efforts are
forward looking they are focused on attempting to stop potential impacts before they happen, or to reduce their severity
as much as possible.
Where this involves impacts caused by third parties, a companys leverage over those third parties becomes crucial.
Leverage means the ability to change anothers behavior to try to prevent impacts from occurring. Where impacts do
occur despite efforts to prevent them, then the need for remedy comes into the picture (see element 8 below).
Key resources to learn more:

Guiding Principles 17, 19, 23 and 24 and their commentary


UNGP Reporting Framework questions C4, C4.1, C4.2 and C4.3 and their implementation guidance
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide: p.46
Doing business with respect for human rights, Chapter 3.4, from Global Compact Network Netherlands, Oxfam
and Shift
Using Leverage in Business Relationships to Reduce Human Rights Risks from Shift
From Audit to Innovation: Advancing Human Rights in Global Supply Chains from Shift *Note: we will address
supply chains specifically in week three of this course

Element 5: Track Knowing if it worked


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Overview: Business responsibility to respect human rights

The third step of human rights due diligence is tracking the companys performance
on preventing and mitigating its human rights risks, and drawing lessons from this
for the business. Tracking performance enables a company to know whether its
human rights due diligence has been effective and is central to improving over time.
For many companies, in addition to their own operations, tracking performance will
include monitoring the performance of suppliers, customers and other business
partners.

Tip! Stakeholders insights can be


particularly helpful for companies
seeking to know if the actions
theyve taken are working.

Key resources to learn more:

Guiding Principles 17 and 20 and their commentary


UNGP Reporting Framework questions C5 and C5.1 and their implementation guidance
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide: p.52
Doing business with respect for human rights, Chapter 3.5, from Global Compact Network Netherlands, Oxfam
and Shift

Element 6: Communicate Explaining the companys efforts


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The fourth step of human rights due diligence is communicating about the companys efforts to prevent and address
human rights risks. This means that the company should be prepared to demonstrate the effectiveness of its efforts in
practice.
There will be a range of audiences for the company to consider, ranging from affected stakeholders to shareholders and
investors, to human rights experts to governments and others who are interested in or concerned about the companys
human rights performance. Companies whose operations or business relationships involve severe human rights risks
should report formally on their efforts.
Key resources to learn more:

Guiding Principles 17 and 21 and their commentary


UNGP Reporting Framework: entirety
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide: p.57
Doing business with respect for human rights, Chapter 3.6, from Global Compact Network Netherlands, Oxfam
and Shift

Element 7: Engage Conducting meaningful dialogue


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Stakeholder engagement is essential to a businesss efforts to respect human rights and it needs to be meaningful if its
going to fulfill that role. While there is substantial guidance about how to conduct stakeholder engagement more
effectively, many companies still face significant challenges in getting engagement right.
Poor engagement can increase the risks of negative human rights impacts on stakeholders; failing to address stakeholder
concerns early and effectively can mean that they escalate into more serious impacts. On the other hand, meaningful
stakeholder engagement can bring benefits to company and stakeholders alike because it can lead to more informed
Overview: Business responsibility to respect human rights

actions and decisions that help prevent human rights impacts from occurring or find more creative ways to try to address
them.
Key resources to learn more:
Guiding Principles 16, 18 and 20 and their commentary
UNGP Reporting Framework questions C2, C2.1, C2.2, C2.3 and their implementation guidance
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide: p.33
Doing business with respect for human rights, Chapter 3.7, from Global Compact Network Netherlands, Oxfam
and Shift
Bringing a Human Rights Lens to Stakeholder Engagement from Shift

Element 8: Remediate Ensuring early warning and effective solutions


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When people are negatively affected as a result of the companys actions, things need to be set right. Companies will
often have a range of existing pathways for people to raise complaints, such as through trade unions, internal hotlines or
websites where customers can lodge complaints. However, these mechanisms may not capture all the kinds of human
rights impacts a company can be involved with -- so companies need to think systemically about how affected people can
raise complaints, and what processes the company has to provide remedy where it has caused or contributed to a negative
impact.
Operational-level grievance mechanisms can be one important means of providing remedy. They can also be
effective early warning systems for companies and can feed into broader human rights due diligence processes.
Key resources to learn more:
Guiding Principles 22, 29 and 31 and their commentary
UNGP Reporting Framework questions C6, C6.1, C6.2, C6.3, C6.4, C6.5 and their implementation guidance
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide: p.63
Doing business with respect for human rights, Chapter 3.8, from Global Compact Network Netherlands, Oxfam
and Shift
Remediation, Grievance Mechanisms and the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights from Shift

In the Guiding Principles, access to remedy is part of the business responsibility to respect and the state duty to protect. Thats
why this component is its own pillar in the Guiding Principles. A quick summary of this pillar includes:

As part of their duty to protect, states must take appropriate steps to ensure that when abuses occur, victims have access
to effective judicial and non-judicial state-based grievance mechanisms;
Non-state-based grievance mechanisms should complement state-based mechanisms. This includes mechanisms at the
operational level (meaning that companies are involved in implementing them), at a national level, or as part of
multistakeholder initiatives or international institutions;
All non-judicial grievance mechanisms should meet key effectiveness criteria by being legitimate, accessible,
predictable, equitable, transparent, rights-compatible, a source of continuous learning, and (in the case of operationallevel mechanisms) based on dialogue and engagement.
Learn more in Shifts resource library section on Pillar 3.

Overview: Business responsibility to respect human rights