Respect Human Rights in your Supply Chain

How your company can greatly benefit from implementing the UNGPs in your supply chain management.

Shared responsibility

How does a company ensure responsibility throughout its value chain? By encouraging respect for human rights among its business relationships. Respect for human rights is defined by a management system that can and should be implemented by all companies all over the world.

As outlined by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a company must take responsibility for any adverse impacts that may occur in their value chain. This has been a discussion topic for the last twenty years. So what’s changed? Well, now we finally have a standard set of principles that define the actions a company should take when they discover adverse impacts on human rights in their value chain.

Social license to operate 

All companies can potentially have adverse impacts on all 48 human rights of the International Bill of Human Rights. That’s why it is misleading when some western companies promote respect for human rights only with suppliers in developing economies, yet put little focus on human rights within their own business. Both companies in developing and developed economies have the same responsibility to respect human rights.

In much the same way as we take for granted that people behind the wheel of a car have a drivers license, the ultimate goal of the UNGPs is that they become such common practice that they are taken for granted. Consumers should demand and expect companies to respect human rights, not only to comply with the global standard, but because it is in the company’s own interest to know their adverse impacts in order to prevent and mitigate them in the future.

One of the main advantages of the UNGPs is that they are applicable to any company, regardless of size or sector, and therefore will over time be so commonplace that they become a company’s social license to operate.

Trust your suppliers 

No matter how responsible a company is, it can never be 100% sure that all its suppliers respect human rights all the time. Indeed, it would be naïve to expect this. Bute monitoring and auditing is never a guarantee that human rights are respected.

The lacking possibility for full control over business relationships, means we need to build a great deal of trust. The UNGPs encourage the same procedures for all companies on responsibility in their value chains. This makes it easier and more effective for business relationships to show and document their respect for human rights, as they now only have to meet one global set of principles, rather than adjust to each procurer’s own code of conduct.

Single procedure for respecting human rights 

How can a company align with the UNGPs and promote respect for human rights with business relationships? As mentioned, the UNGPs provide one single procedure for businesses to manage and ensure their respect for human rights. This procedure is human rights due diligence.

What is due diligence? Due diligence means identifying adverse impacts on all 48 human rights from the Intl. Bill of human rights. This management system provides any company with the needed information on principles to consider in order to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts on social sustainability.

Any company who can document due diligence on all 48 human rights can legitimately claim respect for human rights. This is due to the fact that they know their adverse impacts and can therefore show the actions they take towards preventing and mitigating them, on a long or short term basis. The UNGPs offer a “one-size-fits-all” source of reference, which can effectively prevent and/or mitigate any company’s adverse impacts on human rights and seek prevention in the value chain.

Solutions and problem solving

Although a company can encourage its suppliers to implement the UNGPs, and thus respect human rights, unforeseen situations that result in adverse impacts on human rights in the value chain can still create problems for a company. The UNGPs claim that a company must take action when informed that severe adverse impacts in the value chain have occurred. According to Principle 19, a company is still responsible for taking action when it is directly linked to known severe adverse impacts through its products, operations and services.

In 2013, in collaboration with the International Marine Purchasing Association and the Danish Business Authority, GLOBAL CSR developed a description of the adequate steps a company should take to correctly follow the expectations and requirements for supply chain management in light of the UNGPs. Specific tools and documents were developed, including an Issue Management Plan, that describes how a procuring company should act once informed about adverse impacts in their value chain. In collaboration with IMPA, IMPA ACT was also created, an initiative to improve CSR and responsibility in business relationships in the International Shipping and Marine Industry.

Respect for human rights- in various contexts

The UN Guiding Principles encourage companies and their business relationships to carry out specific procedures and action plans that ensure respect for human rights. Due diligence on all 48 human rights is important and doable for any company in the world. If all companies can know and show how they prevent and mitigate adverse impacts on human rights, the relation between you and your business relationship will inevitably become more equal and form the basis for more sustainable partnerships.


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