Human rights for all

Universal human rights, as the name suggests, apply to everyone on the planet. Every human being has the right to live with freedom, dignity, safety, equality and respect. These rights were enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This landmark document laid out fundamental human rights to be protected worldwide.

“…every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance…”
(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948)

The UDHR has since been translated into hundreds of languages and used as a basis to guide many government, community and private sector policies. To mark the 75th anniversary of the UDHR in 2023, the UN Global Compact Network Australia (UNGCNA) asked practitioners what this means to business in Australia (watch the video here).

Human rights principles for business

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights - coverIn 2011, the United Nations published the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Building on the UDHR foundation, these principles provide human rights standards for businesses. The principles acknowledge the need to prevent human harm and respect human rights impacted by business activities and decisions. They clearly state the responsibility of businesses:

The responsibility to respect human rights requires that business enterprises:
(a) Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur;
(b) Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.
(United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, 2011, P. 14)

To interpret how these principles impact businesses in Australia, see highlights from the UNGCNA event in July 2023 called Bringing Home the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Embed human rights into your business strategy

No matter what size or type of business you run, you can embody human rights principles in your values and business operations. When defining your sustainability policy and strategy, include a commitment to protecting human rights. Remember, many of these rights are protected by law in Australia and in countries you sell to, buy supplies from, or do business with.

Take a fresh look at the UDHR to see how each of the articles relates to the way you do business. Next, refer to the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as mentioned above.

Support global goals

A number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relate to human rights. For starters, look at Goal 3 (Good Health & Wellbeing), Goal 5 (Gender Equality), and Goal 10 (Reduce Inequalities). You can contribute to achieving these and other goals by identifying your business impacts and adjusting policies or practices. These may relate to areas such as recruitment, workplace safety, marketing and purchasing.

Human rights are also embedded in The Natural Step system conditions for change. Condition 4 (Be Fair) states we must use and share resources fairly, to ensure fair and efficient use of resources for meeting human needs now and in the future.

Review your supply chain

How you manage your supply chain has an impact on human rights up and down the line. To review this, find out about the working conditions of people employed by your suppliers, and of their suppliers (i.e. where they source their materials or components). For more info on risks and what to look out for, see the post about Modern Slavery. Large organisations are required by law to report on this, but investors or customers of smaller businesses may expect to see evidence of ethical practices.

You can also look at the positive impacts you can have on human rights. Explore whether your production, recruitment or sales activities could help to reduce inequalities, promote decent work or improve health and well-being.


Further information

Related Green Street resources