Human rights and your organisation

What are human rights?

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to all of us. They are grounded in the values of respect, dignity and equality for every person - regardless of race or colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national origins, employment status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, age or any other characteristic.

The responsibility for human rights rests with both governments and others. Governments are required to protect people’s rights. Others, like businesses and local government, are responsible for respecting people’s rights.

While many human rights are embedded into New Zealand laws, they aren’t always protected in day-to-day business activities – intentionally or unintentionally. Understanding what human rights are relevant to your business is the first step in protecting them.

What human rights are relevant to business? 

Almost all human rights are relevant to business.  Your business can have a positive and negative impact on many people, from employees and contract workers, to customers, suppliers and the wider community.

Here are some of the human rights that businesses often have the biggest impact on. Some rights will be more relevant than others in particular industries and circumstances. When you ask yourself the following questions, think about your day to day operations as well as your wider supply chain. 

Labour rights

How do you ensure your company doesn’t take part in or benefit from discrimination or harassment, wage underpayment or unreasonable working hours, an unsafe workplace, restrictions on freedom of association or collective bargaining, forced labour, or child labour?

Right to life and security of the person

What workplace policies do you have to protect against bullying, injury or death? Do you provide help and redress to people affected by your security policies? What do you do to ensure the safety of workers, particularly women, as they leave your premises at night? What have you put in place to protect workers in dangerous or politically unstable regions? Are your security staff properly trained in the appropriate use of force?

Right to health

Do you have a policy to provide help and redress to people affected by industrial accidents, spillages or contamination? Do you ensure workers are given the protective equipment and training they need to do their work safely?

Right to housing and an adequate standard of living

Do you know the impacts of your business on the land, housing, water, farming, and employment needs of the local community in which you operate? If there are negative impacts, what are you doing about them? 

Rights of indigenous peoples

If you are developing or using land or natural resources, do you need to consult with the local Tangata Whenua to seek their consent?

Rights of people affected by family violence 

The Domestic Violence Victims’ Protection Act takes effect on 1 April 2019. The new law increases legal protections in the workplace for people affected by family violence. The main provisions are: protection from discrimination, access to additional leave to deal with the impacts of violence, and the ability to request flexible working arrangements. 

It is now unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees or job applicants because they are affected by family violence.  

It is good for employers to have a family violence policy so that staff and managers know what to expect, and how to respond if their colleagues are affected by violence. A new Workplace Policy Builder gives businesses assurance that they are complying with current law when developing a family violence policy. The tool sets out how to become a business that’s working to end family violence. The tool builds on work the Human Rights Commission did with ANZ Bank, Countdown, EY, Fonterra, Ricoh, Vodafone and the Warehouse Group. 

Employees affected by family violence can complain to the Human Rights Commission or MBIE if they feel they have been discriminated against. 

Find out more about human rights