The report aims to look into the effectiveness of businesses to adopted (or not) the United Nations Global Compact focusing on human rights principles. The report focuses on understanding what exactly the Global Compact’s mandate is all about, its pro’s and con’s and its relationship with human rights. The main critique is that the principles lack clear direction for businesses to follow because they are too vague. At the same time, it is argued that they work best as they are because they allow for different companies in different sectors, locations to apply them in their respective industries without restrictions. We will look at relevant examples of human rights violations and the actions that were taken against the companies and governments that committed them. Various benefits and challenges for business adopting the UNGC human rights are assessed and lastly recommendations of how more companies can adopt and implement the principles, have been suggested.
The current challenge globally is that without respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, achieving lasting peace would be impossible and human security would remain an illusion (Ramcharan, 2002). Social, economic and environmental issues are intertwined and addressing them in isolation will not be beneficial therefore there is a need to be aware of rights, laws and policies governing the spaces we live in.
UN responsibility on human rights
According to the Business ; Human Rights Initiative (2010) Human rights are defined as the basic standard aimed at securing dignity and equality for all as the foundation for freedom, justice and peace. They have played a vital role in providing guidance on how to build sustainable markets and societies.
The central message behind the UN Global Compact’s human rights principles is that everyone, including businesses, must respect human rights and by all means prevent their violations (Ghaibeh, 2014).
The first two principles of the UNGC, a UN initiative aiming to persuade businesses to adopt socially responsible and sustainable practices, are inspired by this 1948 Universal declaration:
1. Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights
2. Businesses should make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses (Kopnina & Blewitt, 2014).
Robinson (2000) highlights that it is challenging for companies to implement these principles in practice to establish credible systems of public accountability because the principles are perceived as “general and vague” because the vocabulary of the principles is too broad, so companies could be seen to abide to them with almost no effort or progress made in the cause of human rights (Deva, 2006). Zenkiewcz (2016) backs up this view by bringing in the aspect of “symbolic conformity” which is when organizations make changes in their formal structures to signal conformity but then don’t actually apply these changes in their operations. This allows them to reap the social benefits of adoption without compromising managerial, freedom, autonomy, or entailing substantive adjustments.
Examples of human rights violations
A large number of businesses are guilty of human rights abuses towards the natives of their countries of operation or, even towards the peoples within their own societies all because of the power and influence of large corporations (Ghaibeh, 2014).
According to The United States Department Of Labour’s List Of Goods Produced By Child Labour Or Forced Labour (2018). The manufacture of toys in China includes both child labour and forced labour. In India, children face health and safety threats mining mica, a mineral commonly found in various makeup. According to the International Labor Rights Fund, Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, are involvement in the trafficking and forced labor of children who cultivated and harvester cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast. Child laborers are exposed to dangerous pesticides which can have suffer beatings and other cruel treatment.
Bringing it closer to home, the 2017 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour: Botswana indicates that children in Botswana are victims of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, sometimes as a result of human trafficking. In addition, children of San ethnic minority groups may be subjected to forced labor conditions on private farms and cattle posts.
With these examples, it is clear that all the companies involved are violating both principles of the human rights. However, this brings in the point of law breaking. Are these companies breaking any laws in the countries they are operating in? It’s easy to hold them accountable if they are, but if not, then it is best for governments in those countries to come up with policies that guard against the abuse of human rights as a way to protect the people and ensure ethical practices are being followed (Ghaibeh, 2014).
The Business ; Human Rights Initiative (2010) has highlighted positive reasons that may assist companies increasing their bottom line by means of adhering to human rights principles. The first benefit would be increased access to government contracts (e.g. the Dutch government requires 100% sustainability for public contractors, including ensuring respect for human rights). There is less external restrictions relating to financing of a project because the company has a positive rating on incorporating human rights concerns therefore stakeholders would view that company as being responsible.In terms of productivity, employees are more motivated, leading to increased productivity and higher retention rates. For example, in 2009, the scope of The Rooming-In and Breastfeeding Act of 1992 was expanded which meant that all public and private enterprises, were required to establish lactation stations and provide their employees with paid lactation breaks (for breastfeeding mothers) (Salcedo, 2015). This meant that mothers could take breaks to go feed their children and be back in a short time and continue work while their minds are at ease because their kids are well taken care of and if an emergency comes up, they are in the same vicinity and can attend to them easily. And lastly mmaintaining a diverse workforce makes the company better equipped to compete in the global economy, for example, hiring multinationals.
The Business ; Human Rights Initiative (2010) also highlighted some challenge such litigation costs from lawsuits related to human rights abuses such as discrimination (sexual orientation, HIV, religion, etc). The Global Compact is a multi-stakeholder initiative involving diverse actors such as governments, companies, labor and civil society organizations, and the United Nations (Deva, 2006). Therefore, socially conscious stakeholders (like government) can limit access to equity capital markets for companies as a result of human rights violations and or lack of adherence, by not approving new licenses, for example.
After having gone through different texts that talk about human rights principles and how they are likely to affect businesses, I suggest the following points can help businesses get on the right track, while they still can.
1. Have companies draw up with a statement of policy. It expresses a commitment to respect human rights while stressing the commitment of all stakeholders and setting standards and guidance for all those expected to implement the policy (Business ; Human Rights Initiative, 2010).
2. Making an assessment of the risks to human rights in the company. It acknowledges the possible negative effects of proposed and planned activities on people and the environment and sets action priorities to mitigate risks (Business ; Human Rights Initiative, 2010). This will help companies be in the forefront of issues and deal with them before they get out of hand rather than behind them.
3. Kopnina ; Blewitt, (2014) have highlighted Deontological and virtue ethics and we think ccompanies’ (managers) combining and implementing these to all of their policies will be beneficial to them ensuring human rights are not violated. Virtue theory states morality comes from an individual’s character, not from rules or laws while Deontological states that policies and practices must be will based on values such as fairness, honesty, rights and responsibility.
Human rights help companies and countries treat their people fairly and equally as to ensure good living for everyone. It is important for governments, investors, and consumers to understand the importance of human rights, laws and policies in order for each stakeholder to do their best to up ensure human life is protected and preserved and free from all exploitation and abuse.