In June 2013, the European Commission published three sector-specific guides for businesses implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, written by Shift and the Institute for Human Rights and Business. These guides cover the oil and gas industry, the ICT industry and the employment and recruitment industry. However, they acknowledge that there may not be clear-cut lines between industries. For example, employment and recruitment agencies can operate across multiple industries.
As the guides point out, “no one size fits all when it comes to putting respect for human rights into practice.” This doesn’t just apply to differences between businesses in terms of their size and resources; rather, the guides recognise that the human rights challenges faced by businesses, and the ways of addressing them, can vary between sectors of industry.
This is most notable with respect to the types of human rights challenges that businesses in different sectors might face. For instance, companies in the ICT sector may be required to pay more attention to privacy and freedom of expression rights, whereas oil and gas companies must be more attuned to violations arising from the unlawful acquisition of land or environmental mismanagement. Each guide also includes case studies from businesses within the industry in question. This not only provides further practical guidance, but also demonstrates the feasibility of translating the Guiding Principles into working practices that can be accommodated within the frameworks of businesses in all sectors.
However, despite these sector-specific challenges, the guides make clear that there are six common elements of the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, ranging from human rights policy commitments at the outset of operations, to tracking and remediation of impacts after they occur. Further, there are certain tools that can be applied across the industries, such as conducting stakeholder engagement and establishing grievance mechanisms.
The advantage of these sector-specific guides is that advice on implementation of the Guiding Principles can be given at a much higher level of specificity than has previously been the case. Whilst the Principles themselves are applicable universally to businesses, this comprehensive scope comes at a cost: it is not possible to tailor their application in concrete terms to specific businesses, and they therefore lack meaningful guidance. website load testing tool Such industry-specific practical guidance is a welcome starting-point given the novelty of encouraging businesses, rather than states alone, to take an active role in safeguarding human rights. The reality for CSR and sustainability departments – not to mention in-house legal teams – is that companies will also need to seek detailed advice on the business and human rights issues for the particular country in which they are operating or considering investing.
Global Diligence LLP can provide advice and training on business and human rights issues for companies operating in any of the specific sectors. In particular, the design and implementation of stakeholder engagement programmes for communities affected by a company’s investment is critical to securing a ‘social licence’ to operate. We will be publishing further articles over the course of the coming months on this important issue.