Much needed guidance underway

The European Commission appointed GLOBAL CSR to develop a practical guide on business and human rights for small- and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2012. The assignment, which is undertaken in collaboration with Bernard Brunhes International, will contribute towards much needed and detailed guidance on how to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights (UNGPs).

“We are, of course, delighted to come out on top in such fierce global competition, and we look forward to contribute to making the UN Guiding Principles easier to understand and follow for small and medium-sized enterprises”, said CEO Sune Skadegaard Thorsen in a press release following the publication of the assignment. As the available resources to implement human rights policies are likely to be relative to the company’s size, the need for this guidance is great for smaller enterprises.

A comprehensive guide

The assignment consists of six tasks, the first of which is now in its final stages. A draft version has been delivered and is now under review by the involved parties. Each task will feed into the guide, which will be available to the public in 31 languages (see full announcement). GLOBAL CSR is excited to see the lion’s share of the work on the first task completed. The first  task provides comprehensive, yet practical guidance on how businesses can relate to, and work with, all human rights, as opposed to the previous, more limited discourse. By providing illustrations on different ways in which companies can impact human rights, the guide demonstrates that alignment with the UNGPs is not necessarily a difficult task. It also suggests first-step, small-scale methods which can be used by SMEs to identify a company-specific, suitable strategy on human rights.  “The first task has two key elements. Firstly, it seeks to make apparent that SMEs have both negative and positive impacts on human rights, while making the understanding of the individual rights more accessible. Secondly, it suggests simple approaches to identify risks and opportunities. The former is a precondition for the implementation of the UNGPs; the latter for how to do the job in a pragmatic manner” explains CEO Sune Skadegaard Thorsen. All of the six tasks are expected to be published in 2012.

UN Guiding Principles create new convergence

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and human rights were issued in June 2011, providing operational guidance on the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework that was adopted in 2008. They have since received widespread approval from, among others, the OECD and the IFC, which now make reference to the UNGPs in their individual guiding documents. A few months after the launch of the UNGPs, the European Union published its new communication on CSR, which makes strong reference to the UNGPs. The broad appreciation of the UNGPs has created ground for authoritative guidance, which can now be provided to all SMEs. This, in turn, can create advantages for those who understand the inherent business opportunities of respecting human rights.

The UNGPs have indeed proven to become the authoritative reference point for how businesses ensure not to become a barrier for social sustainability; now it is time for their implementation.


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