Business and human rights

On International Human Rights Day, IOE and its more than 150 national member federations will continue to determinedly address human rights risks and their underlying causes.

The seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations next year triggers contemplation about successes and ongoing challenges of the organisation – also and perhaps particularly with regards to human rights. There can be no doubt that human rights are disregarded and infringed in too many countries around the globe, despite the passage of more than seventy years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed. The Human Rights Watch Annual Report 2019 summarises key human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide. We need to urgently increase the pace in ensuring that human rights are protected – everywhere and for everyone!

The key challenge remains how to bridge from the global to the local level. The UN Working Group’s 2018 report to the UN General Assembly underlines: “A lack of government leadership in addressing governance gaps remains the biggest challenge. A fundamental issue is that host Governments are not fulfilling their duty to protect human rights, either failing to pass legislation that meets international human rights and labour standards, passing legislation that is inconsistent, or failing to enforce legislation that would protect workers and affected communities.” The challenge is not a governance gap at a global level, but lack of implementation and enforcement at the local level.

Good governance and ensuring that legislation is in line with international human rights standards and norms are also key to promote respect for human rights within the business community. Dozens of countries, for instance, criminalize homosexuality, making it very challenging for companies to create workplaces which are free of stigma and in which colleagues are free to express who they are. Governments must show greater efforts in living up to their international human rights commitments in a comprehensive manner. Human Rights are not a pick-and-choose issue. Making the UN supervisory machinery more meaningful and robust is important to increase peer-pressure on governments to speed-up reforms and improve their human rights records.

There is an important link to informality – particularly when it comes to labour rights. More than 60 per cent of workers globally work in the informal economy, in some countries and sector, this number goes up to 80 or 90 per cent. More importantly, perhaps, is that informality has not diminished over time and is even increasing in many countries. It is in the informal economy where the decent work deficits and human rights risks are the highest.

In 2015, the International Labour Conference adopted a recommendation on the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation – ILO recommendation No. 204. Thus, we have a broad global consensus on what needs to be done. However, action is still not sufficient, and the issue of informality is also by far not enough in the focus in the debates at the international level. We need to address the elephant in the room when we want to make progress in creating a conducive environment on human rights. Measures which need to be taken are very broad and also include even issues linked to property rights, company law, labour law, tax law, corruption and more. A silo-approach to human rights will not help to address the root causes of human rights risks and violations.

Employers’ federations have an important role to play in supporting and promoting the implementation of Human rights in general and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in particular, through awareness-raising and peer-learning of their company members, through engagement with their governments as well as by holding governments accountable at national and international level. In 2015, the Global Employers community reaffirmed its commitment to promote human rights and the UN Guiding Principles as well as relevant instruments.

On International Human Rights Day, IOE and its more than 150 national member federations will continue to determinedly address human rights risks and their underlying causes.

IOE address

71 Avenue Louis-Casaï
1216 Cointrin
Geneva, Switzerland

T: +41 22 929 00 00
F: +41 22 929 00 01