UN survey reveals encouraging start to business and human rights commitments

  • 4 December 2012
ICC Responsible business

Just 18 months after the endorsement of United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, findings of a pilot survey have indicated an upward trend in awareness and engagement by businesses to consider human rights in their practices.

Assessing the extent to which businesses are implementing the UN Guiding Principles, the survey was unveiled on the occasion of the first UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, taking place in Geneva this week from 3-5 December, and shows that a broad spectrum of businesses – regardless of industry, size, ownership and geography – are putting their responsibility into action.

ICC played an influential role in the development of the Principles which were endorsed and issued in June 2011. Undertaking a major role representing business on work underway for the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, ICC – in cooperation with the Global Business Initiative on Human Rights, the International Organisation of Employers and the Corporations and Human Rights Project at the University of Denver – assisted the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights to extend the ambit of the survey and secure participation from ICC’s extensive global network.

In total 117 business representatives completed the survey which queried current approaches and practices relating to the business and human rights agenda, as well as operational challenges.

Despite revealing an encouraging beginning, the survey underscores the importance of continued efforts to instil business practices pertaining to policy commitment, addressing impacts, communicating and reporting. While approximately 80% of respondents were confident that their company had some form of human rights practice in place, the response grading dropped when asked how mature or embedded current practices were.

Since the principles first began to be elaborated in 2006, ICC has consistently conveyed the need for a balanced approach to business responsibility relating to human rights maintaining that state duty to protect human rights is fundamental for businesses to assume responsibility in this area. Encouragingly, while historical action relating to business and human rights has been mostly undertaken by member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the survey indicates the beginnings of a more widespread and diversified dialogue.

As well as assessing the extent to which companies are taking action on human rights, the survey also identified a range of challenges faced in relation to policy commitment, understanding and addressing impacts, addressing complaints and grievances, and accessing remedies.

Survey results on the major challenges faced by corporations as they seek to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles will be the focus of a UN Annual Forum panel discussion on 5 December. Featuring Viviane Schiavi, Senior Policy Manager of the ICC Commission on Corporate Responsibility and Anti-corruption, the panel will address “operational challenges” when engaging within the company or with business partners, and “systemic challenges” where action from non-business, especially government and multi-stakeholder initiatives, could help.

Ms Schiavi will emphasize ICC’s continued commitment to working closely with the UN Working Group on the shared aim of implementing the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework”.

Download the Report of pilot business survey on implementation of the corporate responsibility to respect Human Rights.