Respecting human rights makes good business sense

Respecting human rights makes good business sense

December 21, 2015

The Human Rights Commission has always been involved in business and human rights through its mediation of unlawful discrimination complaints, and now the Commission is expanding its work in the business and human rights area, Chief Commissioner David Rutherford explained at a UN Association NZ forum on Human Rights Day, 10 December. 

In today’s globalised and transparent world companies are increasingly under pressure to demonstrate that they are not harming the fundamental dignity and rights of people as they go about their legitimate work and generate the jobs, wealth and growth that benefit all societies.

Human rights are basic standards aimed at securing dignity and equality for all. International human rights laws constitute the most universally accepted standards for such treatment, but there is an intuitive aspect to respecting human rights that goes beyond laws and conventions. Put simply, what feels wrong is in all likelihood wrong.

Businesses have a responsibility to ensure no human rights harm is done in their supply chains, whether onshore or offshore.  So it is not just the human rights of people in New Zealand that business needs to be concerned about. 

Human rights in business are set out in the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs):

  1. the State protects human rights (Pillar 1);
  2. the corporate responsibility is to respect human rights (Pillar 2);
  3. and the need for greater access to appropriate and effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial, for victims of business-related abuse (Pillar 3).

So, what is the Commission doing? Starting with Pillar 1 we’re assessing how many New Zealand government ministries, State-owned Enterprises and Crown Entities are meeting their obligation to protect human rights by at least having a human rights policy.

For example, we know from our Canterbury earthquake recovery work that State owned businesses like EQC and Southern Response were not aware of their requirement, as government-owned organisations, to protect human rights.

And while our government agencies have a world-leading, all-of-government procurement process, it is not yet world leading in its UNGP compliance. We have and will work alongside such agencies to help them become compliant.

All Commissioners engage in public and private advocacy on business-related human rights issues and this work will expand in 2016.

For more information read David’s Human Rights Day speech here.

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